Millennials and Gen Z: Leading and retaining talent in the multigenerational workplace [REPORT]

Deloitte’s annual Millennial and Gen Z Survey—fielded a year into the COVID-19 pandemic—reports insights that C-suite leaders should consider when redefining the future of work across multigenerational teams.

As companies refine their return-to-office policies, many are grappling with the uncertainty of COVID-19 variants, as well as the fall-out from the Great Resignation. There is another variable at play, however: the dynamics of managing multiple generations of employees.

Within this multigenerational workforce, two generations—millennials and Gen Zs—who were recently surveyed by Deloitte Global, are commanding particular attention. These employees—collectively born over the two-decade period from 1983 to 2003—account for nearly half (46%) of full-time US workers.1 And they are making a significant impact on workplace culture with their fluency in technology, as well as their willingness to speak up to persuade their employers to have a purpose beyond profit, and to prioritize actions such as addressing climate change and creating more diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environments.

Now, as some of these so-called “digital natives” return to on-site work, they have a few requests for their employers in terms of flexibility and adaptability. And as outlined in Deloitte’s annual Millennial and Gen Z Survey—fielded a year into the COVID-19 pandemic—there are some signs (think stress) that should give C-suite leaders pause when considering the complex challenges these two generations face. Still, the report also found hints of optimism among these generations that promise to further redefine the future of work.

Rising anxiety

The survey, now in its tenth year, polled 14,655 millennials (born between January 1983 and December 1994) and 8,273 Gen Z employees (born between January 1995 and December 2003) in 45 countries. It examined how the pandemic affected these generations’ behaviors, stress levels, and opinions about pressing business and societal issues. Taken together, the results reflect two generations deeply affected by societal upheaval and determined to hold themselves and their organizations accountable across a range of issues.

One of the loudest warning signs is stress. Roughly half of millennial and Gen Z women respondents said they were stressed all or most of the time—a finding that may reflect the disproportionate share of job losses and caregiving responsibilities borne by women during the pandemic. Still, this theme emerged across several dimensions: half of Gen Z respondents were stressed about job prospects, while 46% of millennials said concerns about their long-term financial future contributed to feelings of anxiety or stress.

The stress associated with the pandemic has also taken a toll on mental health. Around one-third of all respondents (millennials 31%; Gen Zs 35%) said they’ve taken time off because of stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic. For the two-thirds who didn’t take time off, four in 10 reported feeling stressed all of the time, but choose to push through it. In addition, nearly 40% of respondents felt their employer did not take actions to support their mental well-being during the pandemic. The higher their stress levels, the less supported by their employer they felt.

Attitudes around discrimination were also gauged in the Deloitte Global survey. Six in 10 Gen Zs and 56% of millennials see systemic racism as very or fairly prevalent in society in general. At least one in five respondents feel personally discriminated against “all of the time” or “frequently” because of something in their background. Thirteen percent of millennial women and 22% of Gen Z women ranked discrimination and inequality of opportunity as a top-three personal concern.

Many of these employees also take climate change personally. In fact, Gen Zs (26%) ranked climate change/protecting the environment as their top personal concern, while millennials (26%) ranked it as their number three concern, following health care and unemployment. Moreover, about 60% of millennials and Gen Zs fear that corporate commitments to reversing climate change and improving the environment will wane as business leaders continue to wrestle with the pandemic and other challenges.
Undercurrents of optimism

Though pessimism about social and political topics has reached the lowest point in the history of the survey, some millennials and Gen Zs see signs of improvement. About 40% of respondents believe that as the pandemic subsides, people’s commitment to taking personal action for environmental issues will increase. Some have begun to do just that: 28% of all respondents said they’ve started or deepened relationships with businesses whose products and services they believe benefit the environment. Conversely, around the same number have cut back or stopped patronizing organizations whose offerings they see as harming the planet.

In other words, many millennials and Gen Zs are channeling their energies toward meaningful action—and they expect institutions to do the same. Many millennials and Gen Zs want organizations to prioritize mental well-being and are pushing leaders to reevaluate how they hire to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Many also want companies to examine their role in helping workers overcome economic uncertainty and financial stress, and to ensure that the environment does not fall down on the priority list. How C-suite leaders respond may determine how successful they are in the war for talent and in redefining the worker-employee relationship.

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