wellness

The lie millennials were sold about work. And the truth Gen Z taught us.

There's a scene in The Devil Wears Prada that perfectly sums up the lie millennials were sold about work. 

It's right at the start of the cult movie, where a fresh-faced Andy arrives at the offices of Runway magazine for her first day of work as Miranda Priestly's second assistant. 

Miranda Priestly's first assistant, Emily, a woman who has been fetching her coffees and girding her loins against the brunt of Miranda's wrath for several years, is showing Andy around the office. 

At one point, Emily, walking briskly through the office, dressed head-to-toe in black designer clothes, reminds Andy that "A million girls would kill for this job." 

She wasn't exaggerating. 

The Devil Wears Pradwas released in 2006, just as the 'elder millennials' (or God help us... the 'geriatric millennials') were entering the workforce. There was an oversupply of overqualified new graduates and not enough shiny new jobs to go around. By 2008, when the financial crisis hit, those entry-level jobs were as rare as Miranda Priestly's curt nod of approval. 

Watch: The star signs when there's a problem at work. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia.

A million millennial women would have 'killed' for a low-paying, entry-level job with outrageous hours and a demanding, unpredictable boss. 

After all, it was a foot in the door. The first rung on the ladder towards the dream of being a "girl boss" and "having it all". 

This was a dream that seemed so unattainable to new graduates who were applying for hundreds of roles and maybe getting a handful of interviews. Then refreshing their email every five minutes to only occasionally receive a short, general rejection letter explaining they didn't have enough experience for the role, a role that would give them exactly the kind of experience they needed.

It was also a dream that seemed completely out of reach to those who had been out of school or university for a few years at this point and hadn't been able to land a permanent role. Or maybe they had a role for a brief moment, but a restructure or the end of contract meant they needed to start from scratch again. They spent their days working in casual jobs in retail or hospitality and spent their nights applying for hundreds of more entry-level roles. 

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But they never let go of that lie they had been sold. The dream job. The hustle. The first rung on the ladder that would, after many years and a lot of hard work, lead them to 'having it all'. 

Those millennials would (hopefully) eventually land that dream job and begin to make their way up the ladder. 

From the start of our careers there was a sense that we were "lucky to be here". It was ingrained in the culture of work. It was implied. Sometimes it was said out loud. And we believed it. After all, we had the rejection letters and the hundreds of unread job applications as proof. 

We internalised that message and used it to motivate us to turn up to work and try a little harder each day. To clock on/clock off and to always be working towards the next opportunity. 

Building a 'personal brand' off your job, working ridiculous hours, and undervaluing your worth were the norm. 

Soon came the era of the #GirlBoss and a woman named Sheryl Sandberg taught us how to lean in. 

Lean in, step up, start up, don't stop. Be grateful. Don't rock the boat. Don't burn your bridges. After all, you're lucky to be here. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, many of those same millennials had now reached the top of their ladder. They had followed the rules. Put their heads down. Worked hard. They had received promotion after promotion, and with each promotion, more work, more responsibility. 

They were lucky to be here. 

Some of them had gone out on their own and created start-ups. Some of them were managing large teams. 

It was around this time that Gen Z began to enter the workforce. And millennials noticed there was something different about them. 

While millennials were still feeling 'lucky to be here', Gen Z wholeheartedly believed companies were lucky to have them

They came in confident. They knew their worth. They set boundaries around work and communication and actually created a work/life balance from the start. They didn't punch the clock. They didn't even really believe in 9 to 5. 

They spoke up and spoke out and they were unapologetically themselves. 

They weren't afraid to ask for what they wanted, which left many millennial and Gen X people managers shaking in their boots. 

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The boomers had absolutely no idea what to make of them. 

In October 2021, The New York Times published an article titled: "The 37-Year-Olds Are Afraid of the 23-Year-Olds Who Work for Them." 

It was quietly and quickly shared in group chats and in private Slack channels. 

It put into words what many millennials have been feeling for the last couple of years. We're terrified of this new, confident breed of juniors and we feel completely out of our depth managing them. 

But what the article, which has now been shared millions of times around the world and has spurned many think pieces and podcast segments, didn't say is that many of us are also in awe of Gen Z and their approach to work. 

By watching them come into workplaces, and quickly and confidently dismantle a system that has been working against us all this time, we have begun to reassess our own approach to work. 

We've witnessed a radical shift in self worth, and we're beginning to think that maybe we got it all wrong. 

Maybe we're not just lucky to be here? Maybe they're lucky to have us? 

LISTEN: Are you afraid of your Gen Z colleagues? Post continues below. 

It's probably not a coincidence that Gen Z entering the workforce, combined with the pandemic, has led to what economists are calling 'The Great Resignation' or 'The Big Quit'. 

Millennials have spent the last decade or two truly believing they were 'lucky to be here'. Working from home during the pandemic has given them the first opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the office. To take stock. 

Combine that with the influx of Gen Zs to the workforce, and it's no surprise that millennials are looking for a change.

The Devil Wears Prada is probably not a movie that would be made in 2021. But if it was, I imagine it would look a little different. 

Emily would likely welcome Andy with open arms, keen to handover to her before leaving to pursue "other opportunities". 

"Thank God, you're here," she'd say. "The last three assistants left after they became big on TikTok." 

Keryn Donnelly is Mamamia's Pop Culture Editor. For more of her TV, film and book recommendations and to see photos of her dog, follow her on Instagram and  TikTok

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