- "Virtual Natives" have known nothing their entire lives but fully digitized versions of what were originally analog activities.
- The current average for Gen Z to hold a job is two years and three months.
- In 2022, 65% of Gen Zers — over 40% of all American workers — reported planning to leave their jobs within six months, which suggests a “great reshuffling.”
With Virtual Natives (VNs) most naturally thinking of their digital skills and fanbases when planning their careers, it’s no surprise that Human Resources departments have a tough time matching today’s abilities with yesterday’s job requirements. Virtual Natives are hustlers. Between gigs, or part-time work to stay afloat, and “side hustles” in which they pursue passion projects, and with their high tolerance of the ramifications of failure, VNs are entrepreneurs, constantly seeking ways to outperform the competition. Whether it’s measuring their own social media performance against peers, managing their investment portfolios, crypto wallets, developing virtual assets and more, VNs are actively pursuing their own careers, and on their own terms.
Stacy, for example, is studying investment banking at university, but her side hustle is fashion content creation for TikTok. Even though the two fields aren’t directly related, she says that her fashion work gives her an edge in her banking outlook. “Creating content for brands and working with marketing teams, it’s allowed me to have a different perspective and be more unique and creative in how I approach things. . . I’m definitely continuing my side hustle post-grad.”
Ali, another university student, has a different side hustle, one that earns her five digits annually. She looks for good-quality clothes at local thrift stores, then resells them on apps like Poshmark and eBay. This put her in a strong position to continue earning money when the pandemic hit. “I was super-fortunate, because if I [had had] a more conventional job, I probably would have been let go.” Hustling on digital platforms is a natural way for Virtual Natives to retain control over their own destiny.
The hustle mentality is a far cry from the “loyal employee for life” mindset of earlier times. A 2022 study found that Gen Z was changing jobs at a rate 134% higher than they were in 2019. In comparison, the same study found that Millennials were switching jobs only 24% more, and Boomers 4% less.
Ask a Virtual Native what they think is a reasonable tenure to stay in a job today, and many will respond that “about a year” is a reasonable time to remain in a given role. In fact, the current average for Gen Z to hold a job is two years and three months, the shortest period of any generation.
Twenty-one-year-old Arial Robinson explains that she once liked the idea of being loyal to her employer, but experience in the working world quickly make her rethink her priorities. “I feel like these companies don’t really have loyalty to us . . . at the end of the day, they’re trying to make money and run a business and they will get rid of us just as quickly as we could get rid of them.”
Employment is a mutually agreed contract between contractor and contractee. But the balance of power is shifting.
For decades, employers had the upper hand, keeping most employees loyal due to scarcity of employment and cultural norms that convinced people to demonstrate loyalty to the companies where they worked. That no longer obtains.
In 2022, 65% of Gen Zers reported that they planned to leave their job within six months. That represents over 40% of overall workers, which suggests that a great “reshuffling” is taking place. But why?
The first motive is fairly obvious: money. Nearly 40% of study respondents claimed that salary and/or potential bonuses were their primary reasons for wanting to leave their jobs. In 2023, Adobe’s Future Workforce Survey found that 85% of upcoming and recent graduates would not apply for a job if the salary was not listed. And visible examples of successful content creators abound. Eric Sedeño, who streams on TikTok as @ricotaquito, left his corporate job as an art director at an advertising agency and is now earning “more money” as an online creator through brand sponsorships, largely thanks to his warm, authentic personality. For VNs who see these success stories in their feeds on a daily basis, the lure to do the same is powerful.
The second major motive, perhaps surprising to older generations, is learning. What can VNs learn on the job they can’t get from TikTok or YouTube? This is actually a serious question. When employees spend more time working from home, what opportunities are companies offering for upskilling and development that VNs aren’t already learning from YouTube University, or peer discussions in social media?
In addition to salary and opportunities for skill growth, a third factor of importance to Virtual Natives is ideals. A 2022 Employee Retention study found that, even more than money, 42% of Gen Z would rather be at a company that gives them a sense of purpose, and another study reports that a whopping 80% of Gen Z sought jobs that were aligned with their interests and values. Compare this with Boomers, those former flower children who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. Only 47% of Boomers felt values and interests had much to do with their work.
Another set of ideals that is important to VNs, linked to their radical acceptance of others, is expecting the working world to be accepting and respectful of them — as they are. Virtual Native TikToker @adminandeve posted a video explaining that she rescinded her application for a position earning a six-figure salary for two reasons: (1) The company would require her to dye her hair a natural color, and (2) the two interviewers on the Zoom call repeatedly muted her so that they could talk to each other. Her followers were shocked by the lack of respect indicated by both behaviors. One commented, “People always tell me to take my nose ring out for interviews — nope. I can’t work for an organization that thinks that impacts my work.”
A fourth driver for job change is flexibility, particularly around commuting and working from home. McKinsey found that Gen Z workers are nearly 60% more willing to quit than older generations if the option to work remotely becomes unavailable. VNs are also more likely to answer job postings that specifically mention flexibility of work location. Virtual Natives are technologically the most advanced generation alive, and they have no time for pretense or outmoded systems and protocols. They won’t travel several hours every single day and wear a jacket and tie just because that’s the norm.
Things most generations passively accepted as “work culture” are now being questioned, because Virtual Natives now have the digital tools to do things in ways that make more sense to them.