China’s Gen Z workers are gaining more leverage, and they’re demanding changes

·4-min read

Chinese businesses are being forced to become more accommodating of employee demands for flexible workplace arrangements, as young jobseekers flush with options find they have more leverage.

Traditional employment relationships are being overturned in the world’s No 2 economy, as Gen Z becomes the dominant force in the labour market and the pandemic accelerates digitalisation of workplaces, according to preliminary results of a survey by job recruitment site Zhaopin.

For Chinese employees, respect for workers, living up to promises, pay in accordance with contribution and equal opportunities are the most valued qualities in an employer, according to the survey, which will be published in December.

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The findings underscore the structural changes taking place in the Chinese workforce, which were the subject of a seminar hosted by Zhaopin at Peking University on Wednesday.

As China’s economy has grown and evolved, the range of occupations has multiplied.

Why China’s youth are ‘lying flat’ in protest of their bleak economic prospects

Since 2019, the labour ministry has published more than 50 new occupations across Chinese industries. Meanwhile, a 2020 report from Zhaopin said more than 70 new jobs had been created on Meituan – a super app that provides a wide range of services from food delivery to ride hailing – in emerging industries, including postings for escape room designers and delivery workers.

“If Gen Z are not respected in one company, or their values cannot be fulfilled, they can easily jump ship because they have plenty of other options,” Chen Long, a postdoctoral fellow in sociology at Peking University, said on Wednesday.

“Gen Z are also more rational, they are unwilling to work overtime or put in extra effort without extra pay and they don’t accept empty promises from their bosses.

“They value happiness and think there’s much more to life than just work, so they are no longer willing to put up with unfairness and change jobs more readily.”

While employers traditionally dismissed workers, now Gen Z workers are doing the firing, Chen said.

Business leaders from older generations need to adapt, rather than the other way around, Yao Yang, dean of the National School of Development at Peking University, said at the same seminar.

“Development of a society is always driven by newer generations and the older generations will have to bow out eventually,” Yao said.

“Like the great man once said, ‘The world belongs to young people’, so they should get to decide where our society goes,” he added, referring to Mao Zedong.

For Chinese companies, attracting new talent is becoming more challenging, said Wang Shengtong, head of employer branding at JD.com.

Instead of money, this new blood hopes to find a sense of identity in their jobs, and a sense of value

Sun Xianhong

He said students were less eager to go to campus recruitment events, and companies need to stand out by offering more benefits, a better work environment and, more importantly, sincerity over empty promises.

Compared to older generations, making money is no longer the only goal for Gen Z workers, said Sun Xianhong, head of hiring at Oriental Yuhong, a Shenzhen-listed material company.

“Instead of money, this new blood hopes to find a sense of identity in their jobs, and a sense of value,” she said.

“People born in the 70s and early 80s work to survive, they value accomplishments brought about by the material aspects and their payback for their family.

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“But for the Gen Z, or people born after 95, their financial situation is better off and they never had to starve. So they are looking for higher goals, such as having more say at work, more freedom, and shared values with the company.”

The younger generation is also abandoning the notorious 996 work culture, a gruelling schedule adopted by many Chinese tech companies spanning from 9am to 9pm, six days per week, the seminar panellists said.

Young workers no longer accept overtime for the sake of it, and employers need to be committed to growing with individual employees, while finding a balance between increasing profits and helping staff find their passion, said Li Qiang, executive vice-president of Zhaopin.

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