6 minute read 17 May 2023

Making waves: How Gen Zs and millennials are prioritizing—and driving—change in the workplace

With high expectations and a passion for social impact, Gen Z and millennial workers can be catalysts for change in building a future-proof workforce.

Michele Parmelee

Michele Parmelee

United States

They’re values-driven. Striving for work/life balance. Concerned about the environment, the state of the world, and the future they see developing ahead of them. And they’re looking for employers who will empower them to make a difference.

Gen Zs and millennials are the change agents helping shape the future of work, and organizations that embrace and enable their passion for social impact and a values-first workplace will reap the benefits of a highly engaged workforce.

In this year’s Deloitte Global Gen Z and Millennial survey, which gathered feedback from 14,483 Gen Z and 8,373 millennial respondents across 44 countries, Deloitte explored how Gen Z and millennial workers are navigating challenges and how organizations can ride the waves of change fueled by these rising workplace leaders.

Leading workplace change: Gen Zs and millennials are up for the challenge. They just need the opportunity.

The good news is that Gen Z and millennial respondents are seeing employers make progress in some key areas, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic. Around a third of Gen Zs and millennials in full- or part-time work say they are very satisfied with their work/life balance, compared to only one in five in 2019. Satisfaction with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts has also increased. Respondents tend to feel they can positively influence their organizations in areas related to products and services, DEI, development/training, and workload management.

But influence in other critical areas is lagging—fewer respondents say they feel they can influence their organization’s social impact and sustainability efforts (figure 1), with roughly one-thirdsaying decisions are made from the top down and employee feedback is not often acted upon.

For values-driven generations like Gen Z and millennials, the ability to drive change on social issues has the potential to make or break recruitment and retention efforts. Nearly four in 10 (44% of Gen Zs and 37% of millennials) say they have rejected assignments due to ethical concerns, while 39% and 34%, respectively, haveturned down employers that do not align with their values. Gen Zs and millennials have high expectations for businesses around social impact—expectations that are not always met. Less than half of Gen Z (48%) and millennial (44%) respondents believe business has a positive impact on society,although among Gen Zs, this is the first year that percentage hasn’t dropped in over five years.

Leading change on climate change: Gen Zs and millennials are holding organizations to higher standards when it comes to sustainability

Gen Zs and millennials continue to demand greater climate action from their employers: Fifty percent of Gen Zs and 46% of millennials say they are pressuring businesses to act on climate change, which marks a slight increase from last year. Only 20% of Gen Zs and 16% of millennials say they strongly agree that their employers are working to address climate change, and around half of Gen Zs (53%) and millennials (48%) think their companies have already deprioritized sustainability in recent years due to external factors like the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

But an organization’s response to climate concerns plays an important role in attracting and retaining Gen Z and millennial workers. Climate change remains one of the top three concernsfor both generations: Over half of Gen Zs (55%) and millennials (54%) say they research a brand’s environmental impact and policies before accepting a job offer.One in six Gen Zs (17%) and millennials (16%) say they have changed jobs or sectors due to climate concerns, with a further 25% of Gen Zs and 23% of millennials saying they plan to do so in future.

“Sustainability plays a big role for me. An employer that is supposedly committed to it but hardly knows what to do with the topic behind the scenes has no future for me.”—Gen Z respondent in Austria

They also see a critical role for employers to provide the necessary skills training to prepare the workforce for the transition to a low-carbon economy. And, with approximately 800 million jobs worldwide highly vulnerable to climate extremes, this will likely continue to be a critical focus area.

Leading change on work/life balance: Gen Zs and millennials are rethinking the priority of work in their lives

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred more than the Great Resignation among Gen Zs and millennials—it prompted a rethinking of the role work plays in their everyday lives. On the heels of the pandemic, with work pressures continuing to drive high levels of burnout among millennials and Gen Zs (figure 2), they are reprioritizing the importance of work, with a much stronger focus on achieving better work/life balance.

While nearly half of Gen Zs and majority of millennials say their job is still central to their identity, they’re not willing to sacrifice their well-being and are seeking new ways to maintain work/life balance.

When asked how organizations can foster better work/life balance, Gen Zs and millennials are placing new priority on reduced or flexible working hours. Despite concerns about the potential impact that working fewer hours may have on finances and promotion/skill development opportunities, respondents prioritized better career advancement opportunities for part-time jobs, condensed four-day work weeks, job-sharing, and allowing employees to work flexible hours (figure 3),with three-quarters of respondents saying they were interested in reducing their work hours.

The focus on part-time jobs and job-sharing is a shift from last year when these ranked toward the bottom of the list. Overall, these responses indicate a growing demand among Gen Zs and millennials for more flexibility in terms of when—and how much—they work.

Leading change despite economics: Gen Zs and millennials are feeling the financial pinch, but not giving up on values

The current cost-of-living crisis created by the largest inflation surge in 40 years is a top concern for Gen Zs and millennials, and they’re feeling the financial pinch, especially when it comes to the ability to live and work according to their values. Many are postponing big life decisions like buying a house or starting a family, and adopting behaviors that save money (and help the environment) such as buying second-hand clothes or not driving a car.

While Gen Zs are more likely than millennials to believe that their personal finances will improve in the next year, over half of Gen Zs (51%) and millennials (52%) say they live paycheck to paycheck (up five points from 2022). And despite their desires for better work/life balance and the ability to reduce working hours, more Gen Zs and millennials have taken on either a part- or full-time paying job in addition to their primary job to make ends meet.

“My main financial concern will be with regards to ensuring I can have a comfortable work/life balance, as at present, I am struggling to maintain this due to picking up a lot of overtime to make ends meet.”—Gen Z respondent in the UK

Financial concerns are also putting a damper on their environmental sustainability efforts. While six in 10 Gen Zs and millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable products and services, more than half think it will become harder or impossible for them to continue to do so if the economic situation does not improve. They’re also concerned that a potential recession will lead employers to backtrack on climate action. They are looking for their employers to reinforce and support their priorities around sustainability.

Through their values-driven decision-making and overt focus on initiating change within their organizations, Gen Zs and millennials are ensuring they will have a direct impact on the future of the work force—and the world at large.

Read the full Deloitte Global 2023 Gen Z and Millennial survey report to learn more about how organizations can embrace the changing values and norms of their next generation of leaders and create a highly engaged workforce.

Cover image by: Alexis Werbeck

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Michele Parmelee

Michele Parmelee

Global People & Purpose Leader


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