Millennials on the Move: Generation Y and the Great Resignation

by Resource 1 on November 18, 2021


millennials changing the workplace


Millennials, the largest and most studied generation in history, has played a large part in the ongoing Great Resignation phenomenon. Also referred to as Generation Y, the digital pioneers, the 2nd Me generation, and the hipsters, this generation has earned quite the reputation.

The Millennial Experience

Born between 1981 and 1996, Millennials came of age during many significant moments in American history. They grew up in a world defined by the tragic 9/11 terror attacks and they endured the subsequent War on Terror. Millennials were the last generation to witness these events firsthand, an important factor that differentiates them from Gen Z. Demographer Neil Howe notes that the rise of the War on Terror reinforced a sense of community and social responsibility among Millennials, aligning them with the generational archetypes theory proposed by Howe and William Strauss. The theory, based on cyclical, historical trends, predicted that Millennials would take on the role of the “Hero” archetype, who comes of age during crises and plays an active role in resolving these issues.

This “Hero” archetype can be seen in Millennial’s response to the Great Recession of 2008 and what followed. At the time, Millennials were beginning to enter the workforce, but with some difficulty due to the ongoing economic challenges. By 2012, the unemployment and underemployment rates for high school graduates were at 31.1% and 54% respectively, while those for college graduates were about 9.4% and 19.1%. Additionally, by 2014, the average wage of employed Millennials had decreased 8% since the onset of the Great Recession. Yet, the cost of education was four times more expensive than in 1994, and buying a home was 39% more expensive than in the 1980s.

Beyond economic challenges, the Great Recession reshaped Millennials’ expectations of the social contract between employers and employees. As corporations collapsed, workers were stripped of their pensions and companies downsized or closed their doors, leaving many workers and their families financially vulnerable. Understandably, these experiences have significantly influenced Millennials’ feelings toward climbing the corporate ladder and remaining loyal to one company. According to the Deloitte 2019 Millennials Survey, only 37% of the 13,416 surveyed believed business leaders make a positive impact on the world, and 55%, the majority, viewed “generating profit” as business’s main achievement. In a follow-up study,  Deloitte’s 2021 Millennials and Gen Z Survey,  62% of the 14,655 surveyed said businesses have no ambition beyond wanting to make money.

Millennials have also come to understand that work, in many ways, is treated as equivalent to one’s life, and they tend to prefer a work-life balance. In 2016, it was revealed by the Principal Financial Well-Being Index that Millennials are the first age group to work less than the typical 40 hours a week. Millennials reported working an average of 38.8 hours per week, in contrast to Gen Xers’ 47.8 hours and Baby Boomers’ 47.1 hours. The Deloitte 2019 Millennials Survey also revealed that 49% would quit their current job in the next two years if given the choice, and about 25% reported that they had already left an employer within the past two years. Reasons included dissatisfaction with pay/financial rewards (43%), not enough opportunities to advance (35%), lack of learning and development opportunities (28%), feeling unappreciated (23%), lack of flexibility (22%), boredom (21%), and disliking the workplace culture (15%).

Multiple studies conducted throughout 2021 yielded similar results. For instance, Adobe’s 2021 Future of Time Report found that 49% of the 1,058 Millennials surveyed are likely to switch jobs in the next year, and Millennials were the most likely group to switch jobs for a better work-life balance (78%), more control over their work schedule (73%), and the option to work remotely (66%). Personal Capital’s Great Resignation Survey found that 78% of Millennials are interested in switching jobs right now, and 75% have found employers’ communications surrounding post-COVID life to be lacking. Additionally, Visier’s Stop the Exit Report, which represents over 10.7 million employees, observed that employees aged 25-30, 30-35, and 35-40 have all maintained more than a 20% increase in resignations since 2020. The report cites burnout, workplace culture, and lack of recognition as reasons for these increases. Even though Deloitte’s 2021 Millennials and Gen Z Survey only found that 36% of 14,655 Millennials are interested in leaving their jobs in the next two years, 25% still said they would like to work in the office “a little to a lot less often” after the pandemic, 44% said they feel stressed all or most of the time, and as mentioned above, 62% say that businesses have no ambition beyond wanting to make money. Only time will tell how many Millennials ultimately leave their jobs during the Great Resignation, but research has made this generation’s dissatisfaction evident.

Millennial Values & Beliefs

Having witnessed the global digital revolution that followed the dot com crash, Millennials developed a unique relationship to technology. As the digital pioneers, Millennials recognize the progressive implications of technology and how it can change the world for the better. Millennials’ strong connection to and passion for technology may be one of the major contributing factors that led this generation to advocate for flexible work arrangements. Even before COVID-19, Millennials were pushing for more options to work from home. In 2018, education publisher Pearson surveyed 2,587 respondents between the ages of 14 and 40 years old and found that Millennials are 19% more likely than Gen Zers to take as many online classes as possible.

Remote work has been said to improve employees’ flexibility in when and how they work, but what’s less known is the impact flexibility has on the bottom line. Back in 2016, Gallup’s How Millennials Want to Work and Live Report, representative of millions of US employees 18 and older, revealed that only 29% of Millennials are fully engaged, and that this cost businesses around $30.5 billion in lost productivity annually. In 2020, The Gallup Panel, which represents around 75,000 US adult employees, found that 29% of Millennials still working onsite since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic are fully engaged, versus 41% of Millennials who have been working remotely, and 75% who work remotely, feel strongly that their supervisor keeps them informed, and feel well-prepared at work.

The way managers treat and communicate with their Millennial employees has also been a recurring theme throughout Gallup’s research on the topic. For example,  Gallup’s How Millennials Want to Work and Live Report  revealed that while 61% of Millennials had regular meetings with their manager, only 19% reported that they received routine feedback, and only 17% said they received meaningful feedback. Additionally, only 28% of Millennials strongly agreed that their manager focused on their strengths, in contrast to the 31% of non-Millennials who said the same. Interestingly, of the Millennials who strongly agreed that their manager responded to their messages within 24 hours, 53% reported that they planned to stay at their current organization for at least one year.

How Millennials Are Changing the Workplace

When considering their feelings toward work, it may seem odd that the Millennial generation is consistently described as confident about their career ambitions. Although they reported feeling considerably dissatisfied with their jobs, the aforementioned Deloitte 2019 Millennials Survey also found that two-thirds of Millennials who want to reach senior levels in their career believe it is attainable, 7 in 10 who want to “see the world” think it’s possible, and three-quarters who want to buy homes are confident they’ll be able to. Ultimately, Millennial optimism may exist not in spite of, but because of economic stagnation. This generation realizes that while economic instability is daunting, it provides opportunity for change.

Millennials currently comprise more than 35% of the US workforce, and by 2025, they are projected to comprise 75% of the global workforce. What should company leaders be learning from their Millennial coworkers and employees? Gen Zers are already taking after their predecessors in many aspects of work and life, which indicates that Millennials’ workplace preferences will soon become standard practice.

Millennials value a work-life balance, the flexibility to work when and wherever they please, and to feel recognized and supported by their superiors. This generation led the digital revolution as they pushed for more opportunities to use technology in work and school, and ultimately their engagement at work has since increased significantly. Millennials recognize the value that employees bring to a company, and they believe that productivity should be measured by the output of the work performed rather than the number of hours worked at the office. They are driven by purpose and development, and they care about having constructive conversations and connecting with others.

In the workplace, Millennials have taught us all the importance of employee engagement and nurturing employees as humans rather than just workers. After all, for decades, studies have shown that increased personal wellbeing is positively correlated to increased productivity. Most importantly, Millennials have taught us to welcome change and technological innovation with open arms. 

Want to learn more about Millennials and how to retain top talent for your team? Reach out to Resource 1.