Tech Layoffs & Gen Z: Beyond Employment 

Gen Z professional in front of a newspaper headline that says "Layoffs"

By Flora White

Layoffs. We’ve all seen them.

Last Thursday, I was getting ready to meet my Girls in Tech NYC advisory board for dinner, when I got a text from a new colleague that said “Do you have a minute?” Uh oh. I called her.

She had just signed on to support an essential pillar of our board’s strategy and was concerned about how other board members would receive her, because she had just gotten laid off by her employer. How should I introduce her?

It hurts to be laid off. Regardless of the circumstances. Separating from an employer – whether you went to work one day and couldn’t log into your work email, elected to take a package, or recognized that you have hit a glass ceiling and it’s time to leave — can be daunting, discouraging and isolating, in addition to being financially stressful.

Employers offer financial security, tuition assistance benefits, and professional development opportunities. In this virtual world, they bring a sense of community and belonging. But is it real?

I reassured my colleague that despite separating from her employer, she still brings the same level of expertise to our group. And now after navigating this latest experience, she brings an even more nuanced perspective that will help us support our members as many others navigate the same thing.

Just as we are not our thoughts, or our worst day, or our most embarrassing relative at Thanksgiving, we are not defined by our relationship with a former, or current, employer.

Take Gen Z.

On that Thursday night, I asked two engineers who are two years out of college and who are thriving at a preeminent data company, how they decided to be engineers. One said that her dad told her engineers get paid more than psychologists. Her decision was that simple.

I then asked what their respective career plans were. Without hesitation, they both said that their goal was to reach “a level that is considered senior,” and then look at other employment options.

The sentimentality of the boss/employee relationship is gone. In AMC’s Mad Men, there’s a famous scene where Peggy tells Jon she’s leaving the agency. Her boss kisses her hand – and she cries. Real tears.

That display of human affection seems quaint, if even a bit problematic, especially juxtaposed against today’s transactional tech bloodbath. And this new reality has shaped the attitudes of modern professionals.

From pre-seed startups to corporations, work-life and its perceived benefits are still largely defined by office perks, career development opportunities, DEI hashtags, and competitive salaries or negotiations for equity. But they can all be deleted, without a kiss on the hand.

So it’s no wonder that Gen Z is less likely to be loyal to their employers. Instead, they’re turning to platforms like Handshake, to find their next jobs.

Gen Z Career Stats:

  • Gen Zers are switching jobs at a rate 134% higher than 2019, before the pandemic, according to LinkedIn. Comparatively, millennials changed jobs 24% more, and boomers switched 4% less.
  • Gen Z is more likely to work multiple jobs (25%) than the professionals of previous generations (16%), according to McKinsey.
  • Switching jobs paid off: Gen Z job-hoppers got nearly a 30% average raise from changing jobs in the last year, according to the Bank of America Institute.
  • One of Gen Z’s main reasons for job-hopping is to upskill in their next role: 67% of Gen Zers want to work at companies where they can learn skills to “advance their careers.”

Time is our most valuable asset and where we invest it, matters. As my former CEO used to say, “today is the slowest day of the rest of your life.” And it’s true – in this digital world of virtual work and comparison shopping, you must be intentional about owning your digital narrative.

So before another minute passes, here are three ways you can regain control after a layoff:

  1. Become a Thought Leader Research and publish your observations and points of view on your area of interest and/or expertise. This approach is proven to lead to new opportunities and career growth. If you are employed, you may need to get permission first – but you can almost always find an approved angle to highlight your transferable skills, how you think – and ultimately, show employers and future collaborators that you can be more than just your current job title.
  2. Start a Side Hustle Justin Welch, the Diversified Solopreneur does it well, and offers practical how-to tips. He advises that you start your side hustle while you’re still employed. You may need to seek approval from employers for this, but monetizing digital content is an opportunity we should not, Welch advises, pass up. Chat GPT is a natural language processing tool for businesses and individual users that generates relevant content based on specific input and user interests.
  3. Build Community Your professional network knows you both professionally and a bit outside of work.  They remain a constant in between jobs, networking with you, training, mentoring, coaching, and sponsoring you along the way. As I’ve learned at Girls in Tech NYC: volunteering benefits everyone involved.
  4. Learn a New Skill Continually building your skillset through stackable certifications is a great way to differentiate your skillset and show that you’re a lifelong learner. Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, Edx, LinkedIn Learning, and Udacity, are designed for you to learn at your own pace. Google Career Certificates are available on Coursera and widely recognized by employers. Data Analytics, UX Design, and IT Automation with Python are just a few of the areas that Google Certificates covers. And for anyone who’s interested in exploring the world of coding, here is a list of platforms where you can learn coding for free. Python is a great place to start if you’re looking for an easy and fun programming language that reads like English.

Regardless of your employment status, it’s up to you to define – and continue to redefine – your professional narrative along the way.

Girls in Tech NYC offers mentorship, job boards, free technical training, networking events, and other opportunities to engage with our community – both virtually and in-person. Register for free and become a member here.

Flora White is Founder of Evolution Content and Volunteer Managing Director of Girls in Tech, NYC.

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