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Ask A Therapist: Gen Z Navigating Toxic Work Culture

Career, Ask a Therapist
5 min read

Dear therapist, I’m considered Gen Z, and I’m noticing that my expectations of what a workplace should be like are very different from the reality of corporate America. My manager and most of my coworkers are older than me and expect me to be “ON” all the time. Sometimes I just want to say, “You all need better work life balance!”. How can I navigate these toxic work cultures? And continue prioritizing MY work-life balance?

Frame therapist, Ellen Line, weighs in...

 Ugh! This is very real and can be really tricky! 

I’m hearing there’s a mismatch between your values and the culture of your workplace. Corporate America definitely has some messed up culture and values, and capitalism is here to exploit workers as much as possible. Remember that the workplace needs you, and you are valuable. Hiring is time-consuming and annoying and many managers don’t want to do it. You have a lot of leverage in navigating this dynamic. 

At the same time, being the person who is advocating for a healthy work-life balance in an environment where that is not the norm can definitely be draining and frustrating. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. It is ABSOLUTELY okay to set boundaries around when you are working and available to answer phone calls, emails, texts, etc. and when you are not. You should not be expected to be on-call 24/7. Decide for yourself what works for you (for example: I’m logging off at 6 or not working more than 40 hours) and stick with it
    • When you set boundaries, reference your values. For example: “I value having time to de-stress each day so I can show up refreshed and able to do my best work. That’s why I stop checking messages after 6pm.”
  2. Work on building relationships with the folks who have direct power over you and the folks in your company who hold informal power. Folks are more likely to give you what you want or listen to you if they know and like you. 
  3. Build trust with your colleagues by doing your job well when you are at work. If you consistently show up when you say you will and they can count on that, they may not pressure you to be “ON” as much. 
  4. Consider sharing resources about work-life balance with your supervisor and folks who pressure you to work after-hours or on weekends. 
  5. Connect with colleagues whose values are more aligned with yours. Are there colleagues who have to leave at a certain time to pick up kids? Folks who don’t send emails on the weekend? Ask how they’ve navigated setting those boundaries. 
  6. Reflect and decide how long you can hang on in this culture if nothing changes. Hopefully, folks will understand and accept your boundaries. Maybe they will even learn about better work-life balance from you! And yet, it’s possible that nothing will change. If that happens, and you’ve reached your limit, it’s time to start looking for a new job. When you’re interviewing for your next role, you can ask the interviewers questions about the culture and how the company supports work-life balance to find a company culture that’s a better fit for you. 


Remember that your work needs to work for you. And it’s okay to take whatever steps you need to take to ensure that’s the case. Good luck!!


About the author: Ellen Line, LCSW-C is a healer and creator who helps folks heal not-good-enoughness to transform their relationships with themselves, others, and the collective. She is the founder of ROAR Wellness Co. which is home to her psychotherapy practice and the ROAR Wellness Co.mmunity, an online healing space. She enjoys crafting, doodling, cooking, spending time with friends, figuring out ways to smash the cisheterosexist, white supremacist patriarchy, and learning about herbs. She lives with her partner in Baltimore, MD. learn more about Ellen or view more of her work on her Frame profile.

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