The Guardian • Issue #2028

Why young people do dream of labour but not as we know it

Photo: Cajsa Lilliehook – (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Our first jobs are meant to be harsh. Or so is the belief, considered by some as a right of passage upheld by the fallacy that bad treatment breeds grit and resilience. But we can clearly see the dangers of subscribing to the idea that young people should “suck it up” and be grateful to work at all.

Young people make up the majority of the casual workforce, and are more likely to experience wage theft and insecure work. They’ve also come-of-age during a seismic shift in the way that we work, where work is less of a place and more of a concept, and where the line between work and home is constantly blurred.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, young people are marred with a misleading perceived generational laziness while simultaneously having to contend with the pressure of “hustle culture” and the challenges of remote work.

An article published in Vox stated: “Gen Z does not dream of labour.” This “anti-work” sentiment has trended across social media by creators on TikTok mocking the idea of a “dream job” – there is no dream job they say, because we don’t dream of work.

However by 2030, Gen Z will make up thirty per cent of the workforce. It’s not that young people don’t want to “work” – it’s that they don’t dream of labour as we know it.

And as the workforce and commerce change, so do the problems that workers face, meaning that the solutions to combat these rising issues require a renewed sense of resistance too.


Gen Z faces a future of work that integrates technology into most roles and demands technical skills as well as soft skills like emotional intelligence; a future where remote work is the norm and gig work through app-based companies is a go-to.

These shifts in work culture have come from technological progress but also from insidious companies undermining laws to exploit gig workers. With these shifts, come new worker rights issues, such as a right to disconnect, and the monopolisation of entertainment and social media platforms by exploitative corporations.

However, as more Millenials progress in their careers and Gen Z begin to make up the majority of the workforce, young people could be changing the meaning of work to benefit all workers.


Younger generations are ready and willing to be open about issues like mental health and burn out and they want flexibility in their jobs – they expect their jobs to fit in with their lives, rather than fitting their lives into their jobs.

They want better work-life balance, fulfilling roles with a higher purpose, and want to work hard for companies that share their values. They care about fairness and equality – principles that unions have been advocating for nearly 200 years.

So it’s no wonder that young people are unionising in large numbers.

Using platforms like TikTok and Twitter to organise, young people in US are forming digital picket lines to stand up against exploitative corporations like Amazon, Starbucks and Conde Nast.

What is exciting about this emerging digital activism is that many young creators have their own large platforms and are able to contend with big business – it is no longer a David and Goliath battle. By incorporating traditional collective action into contemporary digital spaces, young workers are paving a new kind of organising.

Young workers are looking out for their workmates here in Australia too. Whether it be standing up against the denial of ten-minute breaks or embedding climate action into the workplace, young union members are making progress for now and the future.

Digital union platforms such as Gen United provide new ways of young workers to come together and create better workplaces and a fairer society.

Young people don’t dream of exploitation, burn-out and poor work life balance. They dream of equality, fairness and worker’s rights – and that’s why they are unionising, because unions are the key to unlocking a vision of work that young people do dream of.

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