Mr. Gutensohn, you, at 30 years old, belong to a generation that questions work. The title of the book you wrote is called.
“Generational complaint” (advertisement): Many older people realized this…
David Gutensohn: Yes, for some time now more and more voices have been heard stating that young people are lazy and do not want to work. I hear it from business associations, but also from politicians. For example, the former federal Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière, who considers the balance between personal and work life silly.
What did he say exactly?
Good boy: He summarized his criticism of the young generation as follows: “Working at home three or four days a week when you are in your twenties to order another champagne from Lieferando around 10 p.m. And the delivery man in precarious working conditions pedals in the rain with the bottle in November and is then allowed to go up to the fifth floor. “This is not how a social society is created.”
What went through your mind when you read that?
Good boy: I was angry. My first thought: the person sitting on the bike and delivering, that's the young student and not the one drinking champagne. This is nothing more than feeling and perceived truth. Yes, we should talk about the younger generation thinking differently about work. But based on facts.
For example, what facts are you thinking about?
Good boy: Let's take what De Maizière explained in more detail in the interview. The work factor must be valued more and the demands of young people go against the grain, she stated. To be honest: I don't know any young people who don't want to work. Surveys show that the young generation has a desire to succeed. And if you do that in a four-day week, you're not doing it to watch more Netflix or go to festivals. According to a study, two thirds of young people would invest the time they have free in their family. Half would be used for daily tasks. A small percentage for more sport and free time. Accusing this generation of laziness is baseless.
Can you refute that too?
Good boy: Naturally. There are surveys that show that 81 percent of children are willing to achieve a lot if they see meaning in their work. And further: The Volunteer Survey 2024, a survey by the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, showed that 42 percent of my generation does volunteer work. They are at the food bank, saving food or caring for refugees. Others are volunteer football referees, teach language courses or are committed to climate protection. And yet, De Maizière and others spread the image that young people are selfish.
And who are the others?
Good boy: Jens Spahn spoke last year about Germany becoming a theme park. Andrea Nahles, head of the Federal Employment Agency, said: “Work is not a pony farm.” Markus Söder stated that “we are not a country of amateurs.” Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke out in favor of compulsory service for young people. It is ignored that many young people already participate in a federal voluntary service or in a social or ecological volunteer year: in total, 94,500 people each year. There are also several thousand working abroad. That's more than in recent years of community service. But let's not stop at the numbers, they are not crucial. Rather, it's about the attitude behind it. And they have always existed.
What do you mean?
Good boy: It is not new to speak disparagingly of the young generation. The pattern runs through history. “Young people are impious and lazy,” one could say as early as 1000 BC Read on clay tablets. Aristotle called youth irresponsible and intolerable. People continue to act as if the end of the world is imminent because young people think differently.
But if this kind of thinking is a pattern, doesn't that excuse older people to some extent?
Good boy: Maybe, but I would still like us to move away from clichés. Generalizations are useless. There is no such thing as a young man. Young people are heterogeneous and diverse, just like the elderly. Given the many crises we are experiencing, we must not divide ourselves, but rather look at how generations can learn from each other. Young people must see what has been achieved in the past, older people must understand that they too benefit when the world of work changes.
Good boy: Working conditions improve for young people, who have a good position due to the shortage of qualified workers, not only for them but for everyone. If it's no longer appropriate to brag about working long hours or coming to work sick, this helps everyone. When companies try the four-day week or pay attention to their employees' mental health, everyone feels better. It is right for young people to make sure that people do not work themselves to the point of ruin, because that can be dangerous.
It almost sounds like you're speaking from experience.
Good boy: When I was a young professional, I once worked at a burnout clinic. What I experienced there was shocking and left an impression on me. How can it be that people pay so little attention to their needs and push boundaries to the point of collapse? Boys want to avoid it and have, as youth researcher Klaus Hurrelmann says, a “barrier against exhaustion.” I don't think it's presumptuous, but rather intelligent. To put it bluntly: the job is not a pony farm, but it is not a slaughterhouse either. Young people like to work and that is why their own work is so important to them. I think it's time to have a rational debate. And fortunately there are many interesting new features.
Good boy: For example, a pilot project is quite current in Portugal. Many companies introduced the four-day week last year. 95 percent want to continue like this. I find it particularly exciting that the number of sick days taken by employees has decreased significantly. Pilot projects in England have demonstrated something similar. It is also interesting to see how companies in Germany react. There are increasingly so-called buddy systems: when young employees start working in the company, they are paired with older employees. Then they support them as godparents for a year. I think that's just as important as mixed teams, that everyone works together and not just talk over each other. This cannot be stressed enough: intergenerational exchange is essential to address the difficult situation on the labor market. Controversies have the opposite effect. Unfortunately, many people use it to divide.
Do you have an explanation for this?
Good boy: This is purely about politics and some people have their older voting groups in mind. You try to score points and use simple patterns. By doing so, you criticize some, but you also take the other's side. But honestly, we don't need such zealous debates, let's just talk about how we can counteract the shortage of skilled workers and how we want to work in the future.