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Gen Z in the Middle East isn’t lazy, they have balanced priorities

Gen Z is mindful of the importance of mental health and work-life balance, even as they grapple with financial stability concerns.

Gen Z in the Middle East isn’t lazy, they have balanced priorities
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Working overtime has long been ingrained into hustle culture, especially for fresh graduates eager to make a good impression. Gen Z is no exception, as they try to find their footing in the workforce.

While they prioritize other aspects of their life, research shows that Gen Z still puts major effort into their jobs, perhaps for different reasons.

According to ADP Research Institute’s People at Work 2023 report, 18 to 24-year-olds tend to put in an extra eight hours and 30 minutes of “free” work per week. This includes starting early, staying late, and working during breaks and lunchtime. 

This beats the seven hours and 28 minutes for 45-to-54-year-olds and just five hours and 14 minutes for those 55 and older.

According to Cigna International Health’s 2023 survey of almost 12,000 workers worldwide, 91% of 18 to 24-year-olds report being stressed.

While 25-year-old Nayra Ismail is not one for working overtime, her concerns reflect the stress most Gen Z feel and might explain their tendency to put in unpaid work. 

Ismail says a full-time job can be incredibly exhausting, leaving her no time or energy to balance a social life alongside her career. “This especially in an economy that makes you feel like you’ve just set yourself up for failure no matter what,” she says.


According to PwC’s 2023 Global Consumer Insights Survey, 48% of consumers in the Middle East claim to have experienced rising prices for household goods, with this price inflation ranking as the most pressing issue for 27% of regional respondents.

Last year, consumer price inflation reached 9.9% in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The average consumer price inflation was 6.3%. As a result, 79% of regional consumers are concerned about their finances.

The continuous rise in prices contextualizes Gen Z’s rising anxiety when it comes to maintaining and excelling at their career and how, despite their desire to maintain a healthy work-life balance, they might feel the need to over-exert themselves to keep a job.

Corporate coach Noona Nafousi highlights economic instability as one of young people’s main concerns, “Gen Z is highly aware of the volatility of job markets, having come of age during global financial and environmental crises.” 

“I don’t think a lot of us in this generation have huge aspirations when it comes to our jobs. Honestly, most of us want properly paying jobs at this point; most are just trying to get by,” says Ismail.

When asked about her opinion on working overtime, she says, “I don’t like the concept of unpaid overtime; I find it demeaning and under-appreciative of the effort and energy that goes into the work we do in overtime.” 

Ismail explains she would gladly do minor tasks that take 10-20 minutes, but working extra hours or working on the weekend is a different story, “I would not accept it and would either demand to be paid for my hours or just simply refuse to do the tasks if it’ll be unpaid.

“None of us can afford to do long hours of labor and not get paid for it.”


Deloitte’s 2023 Gen Z and Millennial survey shows 79% of Gen Z are highly concerned with their mental health, which contributes to their stress levels, creating a worrying “feedback loop.” 

Over 60% of respondents cite work-related factors as contributors to their high-stress level, such as heavy workload, poor work-life balance, unhealthy team cultures, and inability to be their authentic selves at work. 

People are also struggling to disconnect from work, with 23% of Gen Zs and 30% of millennials saying they answer work emails outside of business hours at least five days a week.  

Despite their desire to disconnect from work, Gen Z still feels pressure to work overtime during this financial instability. Despite the looming pressure, Ismail has recently been trying to prioritize other aspects of her life. 

“Right now, my mental health is the most important thing to me; doing my best every day is what’s most important; maintaining good, healthy relationships and friendships is important.”

A study by GulfTalent found that 76% of Gen Z prioritize work-life balance and value flexible work arrangements.

According to Nafousi, Gen Z are far less likely to glamorize the “hustle culture,” having seen the burnout’s adverse effects on previous generations. As mental well-being takes the forefront of their priorities, this generation instead prioritizes efficiency and effective outcomes over the time spent on tasks.

“Instead of emphasizing the hours worked, Gen Z places value on the results and outcomes achieved,” she adds. 

Nafousi also recognized mental health as an important factor Gen Z considers when choosing career paths. “They are much more informed on it due to the education around it on social media. They’re drawn to companies that recognize its importance and provide support to ensure a healthy work environment.”


Founder and Community Manager of personal development platform Girl’s Space, Rana Adel, shared her firsthand experience working with her Gen Z employees, reinforcing the sentiment that Gen Z is looking to prioritize other aspects of their lives.

Adel says that while overtime is one of her demanding job requirements, which she has become accustomed to, her younger employees don’t seem to share the same sentiment.

Adel says this generation differs from their older counterparts: “Gen Z, who grew up in a digital era and value work-life balance, are less likely to work overtime than their predecessors. They tend to prioritize their personal interests, hobbies, and well-being over their work tasks.”

She explains that Gen Z is not likely to work overtime or respond to work-related messages after hours unless it is an emergency. “They believe they can be more productive and creative with a balanced lifestyle and enough rest. Some may see this attitude as lazy or irresponsible.”

Gen Z values financial incentives more and needs more than a stable job or a sense of purpose. It’s a reflection of today’s economic landscape. Adel says young people are likely to switch jobs or careers if they feel underpaid, overworked, or undervalued. 

On the other hand, older generations tend to view overtime as a sign of dedication and loyalty.

“Older generations, shaped by more traditional and hierarchical work cultures, are more likely to work overtime and take their work tasks seriously. They also value stability, security, and recognition from their employers,” Adel says. 

However, Mohamed Fahmy, Business Development Manager – Gaming at Lenovo Egypt, believes Gen Z is not a monolith.

“Some prioritize work over other aspects of their life, while others prioritize family, friends, or hobbies over their work. It is up to each individual to decide what is most important to them.”

Yet Fahmy cements that Gen Z values flexibility above all else in the workplace, saying, “They may prioritize finding jobs that offer more flexibility that help them to achieve balance in their lives.”

Overall, Gen Z faces a disparity between their workplace hopes and reality. They prioritize other aspects of their lives and mental well-being over their careers and look for flexible jobs and healthy work culture. 

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