The world of work has changed way faster than anyone could have ever imagined. Yet it is not just because of the digital transformation or the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because of the generational gap. Millennials are seeing the world of work in a different light than their employers, and it is time for employers to address this turning point and adapt to it.
In the face of financial upheavals and unprecedented health and climate crises, millennials and Gen Zers are eager to build a better future for work. Not simply for their own financial stability and mental health, but also for the planet and the economy.
According to the 2020 Deloitte survey on millennials, stress, financial instability and mental wellness remain prime issues that aren’t yet addressed adequately in the world of work. Mental illness is rising around the world, costing the global economy about $1 trillion a year in lost productivity, according to the World Health Organization.
The report also sheds light on the effects of the pandemic and how it radically affected the work and careers of young employees. 69 percent of millennials and 64 percent of Gen Zers agreed that having the option to work from home in the future improves their mental health, though almost 30 percent of Gen Zers and nearly a quarter of younger millennials (25-30 years old) said they had either lost their jobs or been placed on temporary, unpaid leave.
Being a junior employee now has become different from what it used to be, and companies and organizations need to adapt. They are a generation that grew up with a more global perspective, pushing them to see the future of work and the world much differently than older generations, with more concern for mental health, diversity, and the environment. “Companies must do more to demonstrate how they are positively impacting employees and society. Job loyalty rises as businesses address employee needs, from diversity and inclusion to sustainability to reskilling,” Deloitte Global Chief People and Purpose Officer Michele Parmelee says.
Inside the Minds of Millennials Changing Work for the Better
Mahmoud Shireen, 26, a millennial working in the private sector, believes that young employees are often shouldering education and work duties simultaneously. Since joining the workforce during the 2008 recession, millennials have never experienced financial security, he adds, resulting in many resorting to low-skilled jobs.
“We have to literally work while studying so we can get experience, but there is no such thing as undivided attention, you must give either 100 percent to your studies or to your work, and so one thing must be sacrificed,” Shireen says. “A lot of people resort to customer service jobs, because that’s the first thing they can find to support themselves.”
Psychological health conditions are also never taken into consideration or discussed, yet he believes that the time is now to change the future of work for the better, post the COVID-19 pandemic, which proved that change is possible. “You can’t take a day off unless there is a medical condition, they don’t take psychological issues as part of it,” he says. “You have a fight outside of home, trying to keep your job, and a fight inside your home, trying to convince your parents that you need this job.”
The 26-year-old believes his generations’ attitude to work and productivity may have informed the corporate world’s approach to managing the workforce in the time of COVID-19. “COVID-19 proved that we can change a whole work culture and work standards, such as working remotely. It does save a lot of money in terms of finances, and allows us to explore other opportunities,” Shireen adds. “It shouldn’t take time to [recognize] the [generational] gap and adapt to it, because every generation has a different turning point.”
Nourhan ElRifai, 27, who works in both civil society and the private sector, says that young people are facing a skills gap dilemma, with many entry level jobs requiring years of experience that often put too many expectations on what young people can deliver. This pushes her to apply for too many part-time jobs or internships that end too soon and don’t create a sense of stability, making her feel “uncompensated and insecure.”
“I’m dreading the future because of this inconsistency, it makes me anxious and depressed, and I feel like we are not even acknowledged for applying. It makes people feel like they are disposable, which is not a good sign for the future,” ElRifai says.
She adds that perceiving young people ‘as spoiled’ is a common challenge, as it makes it easy for many companies and organizations to avoid paying their junior staff. “They think that it is okay to pay you nothing because your parents already pay for your expenses, but we all reach a certain age where we cannot depend on our parents,” Rifai remarks.
According to 24-year-old Norah Ici, who works in the private sector, companies need to invest in millennials’ growth and training, focusing on how they can improve their strengths and not just their weaknesses. “I don’t think the [labour market] meets our needs to grow,” she says. “We are doing everything we can, but it doesn’t match with the reality of the future of work.”
The Future of Work: More Human
While there is a lot of talk about the future of work becoming more robotic, digitized or automated, we need to also talk about how to make it more human.
This COVID-19 crisis has shown that we are all human first and employees/employers second; we are all living with families, roommates and face real human experiences that can impact our work performance.
Nearly 75 percent of millennials believe that remote work or a telecommuting company policy will lead to more work-life balance and improve their mental health.
As we enter a new decade, it is time to consider how to make the workplace more human, and encourage people to bring their ‘true selves’ to the job, as well as address some of the mental strains, financial instabilities and skill gaps that many millennials struggle with.