Everyone is trying to understand Gen Z. They would like it all: purpose. It's a work-life balance. It's flexibility! The door will swing on their way out if they don't get it.

It is most likely because you first heard it when you were a part of the workforce. They were criticized for jumping from one job to the next in pursuit of a career that still gave them room to breathe.

Are these priorities actually a shift in priorities in the workplace or are they just the way young workers like to work? There is an old debate on the legitimacy of generations. Researchers, demographers, and economists use labels for cohort to analyze history. Research from a decade ago has shown that there aren't many differences in workplace attitudes between generations.

"Generations are not natural laws, they're just ways we have of understanding things." Some of them can be useful. It is important not to see them as fixed.

Broad strokes can be used to paint a picture of a group of people. We shouldn't just ignore Gen Z's behavior as a mistake of youth. The question is not easy to answer.

The answer is that Gen Z's attitudes about work are the result of both identity and life stages. Gen Z was encouraged to speak up about the desires of the past generation. These idealistic 20-somethings have stars in their eyes but are overshadowed by the economic crises. This is not the first time that young people have trod this ground. According to some, workplace idealism began with Gen X.

A July 2007 Fortune cover story explored the challenges bosses face trying to manage 20-somethings.

Idealizing passion and flexibility is part of the 20-something life stage, regardless of generation

Thanks to the rise of automation and a few recessions, today's idealistic view of work has roots in an economy that shifted from manufacturing to information services and technology in the 1960's.

It created a cultural aspiration to find enjoyable work that is more than just a paycheck.

The dot-com bubble began to affect young adults in the 1990s. He found that many people wanted identity-based work because they looked forward to it when they woke up. It was similar to how they viewed love, idealizing a soulmate. He thought it would become the norm for 18- to 25-year-olds in future generations to view work and love in a different way.

He says that the changes we have with us today are the same as before.

There's a lot of research showing how much fun 20-somethings like to have at work. The Charlotte Observer reported in 1999 that Gen X wanted to have fun at their job. The study found that the younger generation picked passion over pay when it came to wanting to go to the next level. Gen Z wants better career alignment in their interests and values.

Flexibility and the work-life balance that come with it are two popular young worker priorities. According to the Charlotte Observer, Gen X wanted flexible schedules. In 2015, Inc described the young people as "hell-bent" on flexibility. Gen Z is the leader with the same demands.

As we age, the romanticized desire for having a job becomes less important. The oldest member of the group, who was 36 years old, already valued stability over passion. People dream big in their early 20's. People have ideals, but they eventually have to compromise.

The pandemic has made these workplace desires stronger for Gen Z

The 20-something dreams of flexible work have become more pronounced with each new cohort since each generation is more progressive. Many of Gen Z entered the workforce during the era of remote work.

Lauren Stiller Rikleen says that work-life integration demands are part of a demographic sea change. She says that boomers were more focused on surviving in a workforce that lacked guidance and training, but that more workplace support has allowed young workers to take their values into the office.

Rikleen tells Fortune that it means being able to have flexibility around raising a family and living a more complete life.

She says that Gen Z is more proactive in getting these changes across the line than the younger generation.

Graduating into the Great Recession made the younger generation less inclined to ask for things they wanted because they just felt lucky to have a job, while the older generation was more free to make their own demands.

After having their career plans upended and experiencing job loss, Gen Z is placing higher priority on pursuing their passions and work-life balance than previous generations did.

Gen Z can find a new job if they don't work for an employer that will meet their demands. They have a reputation for being anti-capitalist and anti-work, which may seem to be at odds with the idea of identity-based work. Gen Z feels that meaningful work is just one part of who they are, as opposed to the other way around.

Gen Z feels that their identity starts outside of work. They don't have to define themselves through their current job.

The taste of work-life balance has given a lot of people a reason to be happy. Pre-COVID, Boomer's wanted more structured schedules. Older workers would like to choose their own schedules, but it hasn't been easy for them.

He says that circumstantial has changed things. It will be interesting to see if the younger workers can keep up.