Walk into any restaurant or bookstore these days, and it’s easy to see that there is a worker shortage. Signs around the country promise longer wait times and short staff in many service industries. What began in the heart of the pandemic with a lack of workers has continued, and people are wondering why that is. Are workers lazy? Is capitalism dying? Have the socialists taken over? There are as many opinions about the work shortage as there are people, it seems.

Socialist Tendencies?

For Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, the reason for the lack of workers is that “socialists are taking over” in the US and that young people “don’t seem like they want to work.” Reason Magazine, a monthly libertarian publication, published Mackey’s thoughts last week.

“They’re marching through institutions. They’re taking over everything. It looks like they’ve taken over a lot of the corporations. It looks like they’ve taken over the military. And it’s just continuing. You know, I’m a capitalist at heart, and I believe in liberty and capitalism,” he said. “Those are my twin values. And I feel like, you know, with the way freedom of speech is today, the movement on gun control, a lot of the liberties that I’ve taken for granted most of my life, I think, are under threat,” Mackey said.

Fortune Magazine reports that Mackey has a history of complicated opinions that he has expressed over the last few decades. He likes his vegan diet, a free-market, and libertarian ideologies. However, he does not appreciate unions, processed and frozen foods, and having to keep his mouth shut. He really doesn’t like socialism. In 2020, he called socialism “trickle-up poverty” at the same time as he called capitalism ‘the greatest thing humanity’s ever done.’”

The Young People Just Don’t Want to Work

Maybe the trend isn’t so much socialism, as another version of ‘back in my day,” with the pandemic thrown in to complicate matters further. Every older generation seems to look down on the generation that comes after them, citing any number of reasons why they are inferior. According to Mackey, “Younger people aren’t quick to work because they want meaningful work,” Mackey told Reason. “You can’t expect to start with meaningful work. You’re going to have to earn it over time.”

Fortune Magazine explains that young people today really DO want their jobs to line up with their personal and private values. “A whopping 80% of Gen Zers want to work for an employer that lines up with what they believe in, according to a Linkedin survey.” To put that into perspective, having a job that matches up with an employee’s values and interests seems far less important to other generations, with only 59% of millennials, 49% of Gen X, and 47% of baby boomers interested.

Mackey is not the only one who claims that Gen Zers don’t want to work. Earlier this year, Kim Kardashian sparked backlash when she said, “It seems like nobody wants to work these days.” Since the pandemic began, many people have been spouting this mantra, but these ideas have actually been around for years.

According to the BBC,  “The reality is that Gen Z is coming of age facing a variety of challenges that other generations have not faced at the same life stage, most notably the Covid-19 pandemic and the always-on pressure of social media directly to their smartphone,” says Jason Dorsey, president of the Center for Generational Kinetics, a generations research firm based in Austin, Texas.

Honestly, old people calling younger generations lazy has been going on for centuries, but now we have the memes to explain things better and poke fun at other generations.

Dorsey says there is hope of bringing people together, “It’s awareness of what these different generations have gone through, why they are the way they are,” he says. “The best way to get older generations to stop dumping on younger generations is to create a dialogue that simply does not exist right now. Instead of having candid conversations across multiple generations, we have viral memes that say younger people are snowflakes and older people are dinosaurs. But the truth is that we’re all human.”

A Different Perspective on Work

While Gen Zers are getting a bad rap that they just don’t want to work, that is not actually the case. They are just seeking a different work/life balance than those who have come before them. By 2025, Gen Zers are expected to make up 27% of the workforce, and they are currently pioneering the Great Resignation, disillusioned with the old expectations of a 9-to-5 job paradigm.

People are starting to speak out. Sara Stewart, a 49-year-old Gen Xer, recalibrated her office job in New York into remote work as a freelance writer, saying that her generation was expected to follow “some pretty unhealthy ways of work.” She admires the Gen Z work ethic, treating their lives as their full time job and fitting in their work around it, taking mental health days, creating boundaries.

“As a society, specifically in America, we’ve gotten so used to work being your life. You work all day, you eat, and you go to bed, and then you do it all over again, five days a week,” Avery Monday, 21, said. The rest of the world does not work as voraciously as Americans do.

“Older generations, if they could wrap their minds around it, they would be able to be a lot more fulfilled and be able to have hobbies and do different things,” Monday said. “My hope is for them one day to also take part in that and enjoy it, because every generation deserves a good work life balance.”

So what the country is seeing from the workforce does not necessarily seem to be socialism or laziness, but rather a concerted effort to make the most of life by not being chained to a job. Although definitely difficult for older generations to fathom, the Gen Zers are seeing a work/life balance that will give them more life in their years.