Illustration by Clara Nicoll

Young life: How will Gen Z survive another recession?

Like many people in my generation, I started the year without a full-time job. The arduous process of finding one made me worry for my peers
February 15, 2024

Two men sit before me. They ask me questions about why the last thing didn’t work out, and about my “biggest failure” and how I “overcame it”. No, this isn’t a twisted first date. It’s a job interview.

It is 18 months since I last applied for a job and one week since I was given my notice at my previous position. I had barely come to terms with my redundancy, let alone the absolute art that is job applications.

“Of the 15 people I spoke to on Monday, only one of them had not been made redundant,” one of my interviewers says, meaning well. Unfortunately, what I hear is: “The competition is hotter than ever.” And I barely have two years’ experience to my name. 

I know I’m not the only one who entered 2024 without a job—we are living in a recession, after all. 

Bizarrely, one of my earliest memories is couched in the 2008 financial crash and ensuing economic shitshow. I remember sitting cross-legged on a sticky hall floor, looking up at a larger-than-life-sized image of Gordon Brown on a projector. I was huddled in a crowd of other children in assembly, who were also about to unwillingly learn some hard economic truths. 

Until one gatecrashes your personal life, there’s nothing tangible about economic catastrophes—to the eight-year-old girl who sat in that crowded assembly hall it all seemed rather abstract. Even as a 24-year-old woman, it still feels rather abstract. I’ll be honest, if quizzed on it, I wouldn’t be able to accurately define “recession”. To me it just means: more unemployment, less money floating about, something to do with house prices and all-in-all bad economic vibes. But I’ve never known any differently to this set of circumstances; I’ve never truly experienced an era of economic prosperity (and I’ve barely been privy to any period of stability, either).  

Losing my job—as a direct result of the shitty macroeconomic circumstances we find ourselves in—has made the recession feel like a very real thing indeed. 

I was offered the option to wrap up my work with my former employer within a few days of being made redundant. They understood I needed time to move on and find my next gig. I had four (fully paid) weeks to land myself another job. Time was ticking so I dove straight into the job hunt, trying not to think too hard about my extortionate London rent, our unreasonable energy bills and the ever-increasing cost of just about everything. 

I begrudgingly updated my LinkedIn. Although I love publicising frivolous (and arguably unsavoury) parts of my life, I cannot stand making my professional achievements known to the world. Posting on LinkedIn would shatter the air of Gen Z irony and nonchalance I’ve worked so hard to cultivate. 

But needs must. 

I cast aside the part of me that shares my generation’s general ambivalence towards the world of work. An anti-capitalist, anti-work mindset may keep many of us sane, but it will never pay the bills. I reconnect with my adolescent self—the girl who was laser-focused on smashing her A-levels, attending Oxford and going on to become a corporate lawyer (honestly, I barely know her).

I’m well aware that I frequently bash “productivity culture”, “hustling” and the millennial “girlboss” persona in this column. You see, online, much of my generation expresses contempt for work and office life. With the economic and environmental climates being as dire as they are, it’s become unclear what we’re supposed to be hustling our way towards. 

An anti-capitalist, anti-work mindset may keep us sane, but it will never pay the bills

More and more young people (especially those who have opted for life in London) are giving up on the idea of homeownership before their careers have even begun. Then there’s the woeful state of modern dating; many feel that apps have made long-term commitment impossible (although I, an ardent commitment-phobe, exacerbate this problem). We’re not saving up or scaling the career ladder in order to have families. 

Working in mission-driven start-ups has helped me find a purpose at work. I’ve worked in small companies, as a part of a small team trying to achieve big things. Instead of focusing so closely on my own progress, my own “professional development”, I’ve always leant into the company mission. I don’t care, personally, for working myself to the bone to get promotions, earn loads of money and acquire social status. And I certainly don’t care for LinkedIn.

While it’s important that companies create clear avenues for progression (something my various employers did well), I think it’s as important for people to understand why the work they do is important—and how their work might be making the world a better place. 

Rather than moaning about Gen Z being lazy, work-shy quiet-quitters whose ambivalence towards work endangers productivity, maybe older generations should do a better job of giving us something to work towards. Because the majority of us aren’t thinking about houses, or babies—we’re (by and large) worrying about the state of the world and how on earth we’re going to live in it.