College graduate caught working during commencement sparks conversation about Gen Z's fixation with corporate life: 'Gotta save that limited PTO'

Despite the number of headlines that blame Gen Z for “quiet quitting” — or doing the bare minimum at work — “corporate girl summer” is upon us.

Corporate girlies have accumulated millions of views on TikTok with their get-ready-with-me videos, what’s-in-my-bag compilations and weekly outfit looks filmed in fluorescent office bathrooms. The trend may be attributed to the growing interest in preppy, “steal wealth” aesthetics, but it’s seemingly in complete opposition to what media companies are proclaiming about the entering workforce.

Insider dubbed them “generation quit” and “the hustle generation“; BBC warned about Gen Z not caring about “prestigious jobs” like previous generations; Vox quoted a TikToker for a lede in an article about Gen Z’s supposed aversion to jobs that said, “I don’t have goals. I don’t have ambition. I only want to be attractive.”

In contrast to the seemingly growing panic that Gen Z doesn’t work, there’s a subsect of young workers — specifically women — who are aestheticizing their office commutes and posting Amazon storefronts of “corporate girlie must-haves.” These TikTokers seemed to have embraced traditional, stable office jobs to the point of building a trend around them.

In one recent viral video, a college graduate was filmed working on her phone during her commencement ceremony. The clip was captioned, “When you already started working and you forgot to take PTO for your grad ceremony so you have to do work on your phone.”

The video’s tone doesn’t suggest the creator was angry she had to work during her graduation — with her even commenting “gotta save that limited PTO” in response to someone praising her multitasking.

It makes sense Gen Z wants to work hard and make a lot of money. The college career site Handshake found that there is huge growth in applications for jobs in government, law, politics and energy. Tech companies didn’t even make the top 10 most popular fields for 2023 college graduates. Students voted that they cared more about having heard of the company they’ve applied to than a company that advertises itself as “fast-growing.”

“The class of 2023 has deprioritized company brand and growth rate as factors in their job search,” Handshake reported. “With layoffs and inflation top of mind, they’re focused on practical bottom-line benefits — like stability and starting salary.”

Gen Z was old enough to now remember parents losing their jobs during the 2008 recession. Then COVID hit as they were either starting out in their careers or deciding their college majors and they watched more people lose their jobs. For the most part, they’ve already experienced two major economic collapses in their lifetime — why wouldn’t they pursue more stable jobs?

“[With] Gen Z being more socially dynamic, they’re going to want that sort of confirmation and reassurance in terms of having help with defining their goals, tracking their progress, [achieving] those things and getting the recognition for it,” Victoria Sicilia, a senior associate at Environics Research, told the Globe and Mail.

This confirmation could contribute to the growing number of TikTokers sharing how many hours they worked in a week or their preferred ergonomic computer keyboards. Posting on TikTok is publicly tracking their progress and highlighting their accomplishments in hopes that viewers and other corporate girlies reassure them that it’s the right thing to do.

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