They are considered lazy and unmotivated because private life is more important to them than work: the post-millennials, born around the turn of the millennium. They hold up a mirror to this meritocracy. Finally.

Generation Z – also known as post-millennials – is still young, at most 27 years old, but their reputation has already been ruined. Employers say she is lazy, unmotivated and not resilient. No regular table talk, but the result of a survey by the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Almost half of this generation would “rather be unemployed than unhappy at work,” according to a recent study by personnel service provider Randstad. The management floor attracts little this generation. Work-life balance is more important. In the “Welt” an agency boss recently complained that he would no longer give internships to people of this generation. “Anyone who has to go to yoga after six hours is no help for us.”

I really like people who want to do yoga on time. Generation Z is right in its criticism of the world of work. It’s overdue and will hopefully change things up. Finally.

We were always too many. All over.

I am a baby boomer, born in 1965 (1,325,386 births). The year before, 1,357,304 children had been born; it was the cohort with the highest number of births in the Federal Republic. Today, baby boomers say that we “live to work”. Not entirely wrong. But we didn’t choose that. There were always too many of us. That was good on the playground. At school less, the classes were simply too full with over 30 students. And when it came to finding an apprenticeship or enrolling for a degree, things got really tight.

Depending on the subject and even with good grades, the waiting time for a place at university could be long. In the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s there were years when apprenticeships were a rare commodity. In the mid-1980s there were almost 680,000 applicants for training places and only around 500,000 positions. Hair salons wanted high school seniors. Main school students had bad cards.

In 1984 almost 87,000 young people were unemployed. 155,000 worked – albeit without vocational training. They were badly paid and exploited. Hundreds of thousands received no vocational training. The “Ausbildungsförderungsgesetz”, which allowed companies to pay that did not want to train apprentices, achieved little. Young people in Germany were still taking to the streets in the mid-1990s. “Unemployed at 16,” they wrote on their posters.

existential fears from adolescence

I got an apprenticeship. With vitamin B. That made me feel bad for a long time. Until it was discovered that five out of six apprentices in one class had gotten the apprenticeship position in a large law firm through relationships. Baby boomers like to celebrate themselves as particularly tough, especially when they supposedly “made it”. In their time, “survival for the fittest” applied. The truth is, money and connections made things easier even back then.

After the training, the existential fear did not diminish. Jobs were hard to come by. Not in all sectors, but in many. From 1980 to 1985 the number of unemployed in West Germany rose from 889,000 to 2.3 million. In 1997, 2.9 million people in Germany were unemployed. Unemployment was one of the biggest social problems in Germany. In the “employment offices”, as they were then called, people stood in line.

No questions were asked about work-life balance. It was important to find a job at all. And to keep. The employers knew that. They had the power. There were enough “human resources”, i.e. “human performance potential”, as business administrators call personnel. Supply and demand determined the labor market. The large number of applicants pushed prices down, not everywhere, but often. A good education was already considered insurance against unemployment back then. She wasn’t a guarantee. The employer’s unspoken warning was: If you don’t do what I say, there will be dozens of people outside the door who would do your job in a heartbeat. So: Shut up and work hard.

Generation Z: Labor is becoming scarce

The unemployment rate has been falling continuously since 2005. In 2020 it rose slightly (5.9 percent). Nevertheless, “Germany is running out of workers,” as Detlef Scheele, Chairman of the Federal Employment Agency, recently said in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung. In 2021 there were almost 150,000 fewer “workers of typical working age” than in previous years. Scheele predicted that this development would become “much more dramatic” in the coming years. He estimated that Germany would need 400,000 immigrants a year to close the gap.

Up to 40 percent of the training positions are currently vacant. In the construction industry it is even 60 percent. That means: bosses have to make an effort. Life is not easy at the bottom? Forget it. Supply and demand. Now “Human Resources” are in the driver’s seat, even if not in all sectors. This may be the end of unemployment. Even people with shorter educational backgrounds or unskilled workers now have better opportunities. Because they are needed. The balance of power is flipping—for some jobs, at least.

When I was working in a law firm decades ago, my boss, the partner in a well-known law firm, was not ashamed to put work on my desk just before closing time. He didn’t mind making me work 12 hours – although it wasn’t urgent. Eight per day are allowed, in exceptional cases ten. The Working Hours Act is the law in Germany that is broken most often. A lawyer recently told me that he was desperately looking for someone to organize the office. He couldn’t find anyone. He “of course” pays the person who is currently working for him every overtime. He cleared a room in the office for the child, which she was “of course” allowed to take to the office.

Lack is opportunity

Restaurateurs are also desperately looking for staff. Jobs used to be badly paid, there was little free time, and the tone was so harsh that many gave up their training in the kitchen. In the meantime, restaurateurs lure visitors with days off and company cars. And does anyone seriously believe that politicians would deal with better working conditions in hospitals if there were enough staff? The German Hospital Society has counted 22,300 vacancies.

This lack is perhaps an opportunity to change the world of work. And post-millennials play an important role. They hold up the mirror to this workaholic, meritocratic society. It is clear that employers are howling: they are losing their power. Have to pay more and be nicer because they are running out of people. Finally there are young people who can refuse. Who are allowed to take their time. You don’t need a complete CV to outperform the big competition. The agency bosses give the finger because they don’t feel like working nights in an agency. And go to yoga. Who are wondering whether an SUV is really needed to get from A to B. Whether house, car and boat really make you happy. Or whether it is also possible with less money, work and consumption. Who would rather be unemployed than unhappy at work.

they are right. You only live once.