If there’s one thing that will reliably drive clicks on the internet, it’s flame-throwing posts dragging one generation or the other. Whether it’s eye-rolling “OK, boomer” takedowns or oldsters firing back at the entitlement and touchiness of younger generations, one of the best ways to cause a ruckus online is to pick a fight with a particular age group.
Mark Cuban is apparently not afraid of generating a little noise.
In a recent conversation with best-selling author and Wharton professor Adam Grant for Grant’s Re:Thinking Podcast, the outspoken TV shark and Dallas Mavericks owner wasn’t shy about proclaiming which generation he thinks is the best. “Gen Z in particular, I think is gonna go down as the greatest generation.” he told Grant, while “boomers are gonna go down in history as the most disappointing generation ever.”
Why is Gen Z Mark Cuban’s favorite generation?
Cuban isn’t making this judgment in reference to taste in music or environmental stewardship. He’s talking about striking the right relationship between work and life, money and other values. Which is a question that’s definitely been on our collective minds lately.
Since the pandemic shook up Americans’ relationship with work, the media has been filled with a procession of trends with catchy names, from the Great Resignation to Quiet Quitting, that all boil down to a renegotiation of what employees have a right to expect from their employers and vice versa.
Are employers asking too much of workers, and offering them too little in return? Are employees right to put more emphasis on well-being and balance? Do many people need to reconsider how much of their self-worth they derive from work alone?
Cuban apparently believes that Gen Z is on the right track in answering these types of questions. “When your entire focus is only your earnings per share or the cash… that short-term focus at some point, it will backfire on you. Now, you still may make money. But your stress levels as the CEO or entrepreneur or C-suite are going to skyrocket is so high that equation or that equilibrium, you’re trying to find between mental, physical and financial health will fail miserably,” he cautions.
Too much hustle will cause you to crash and burn, and according to Cuban, the young know it. “I have three kids, 12, 15, and 18, and I can see it in them, a little bit in their friends, emotional health, mental health equilibrium is something that they place a premium on,” he says. It’s this quality that will earn today’s teens and young adults the distinction of being the “greatest generation,” he feels.
“They take all the ingredients into account when they’re making decisions. And I think that’s beautiful,” Cuban concludes.
You can disagree but you can’t hide.
I value my mental health too highly to wade into the question of whether or not he’s right about the beauty of Gen Z’s approach to work (y’all can duke that out in the comments). But I will underline Cuban’s follow-on point: like it or not, companies are going to have to adjust to Gen Z expectations.
Talking about Gen Z’s emphasis on balance and values, he tells Grant, “I think organizations will have to understand that more and more and more as we go forward. Not only for how you treat your employees, but what your customers expect as well. Boomers aren’t your customers anymore,” he says. “Either you accommodate for your employees and your customers or they’ll find somebody who does,” he insists.
Recent evidence shows that Cuban may be onto something. Efforts to strong-arm employees back to a regular nine-to-five in the office, for instance, have been met with open rebellion, while stubbornly high quit rates and the rise of ‘antiwork‘ and ‘quiet quitting‘ discourse as well as a spike in labor organizing, all demonstrate that many workers are willing to fight the flexibility and humanity they glimpsed during the pandemic. These aren’t all Gen Z-specific phenomena, but they do testify to just how fed up workers are.
If a recession cools the labor market significantly, the picture may change. But for now at least employers face a choice: they can embrace the Gen Z approach or try to strong-arm determined employees back into old ways of working. You now know which option Mark Cuban thinks you should opt for.