Why are millennials and Gen Z leading 'The Great Resignation'?

Why are millennials and Gen Z leading 'The Great Resignation'?


It was a moment of frustration that led to Izzy quitting her job in PR.

Having worked in that industry for five years, Izzy, 27, was desperate for a change – with a fantasy she once had as a child starting to look like a more tangible and appealing reality.

‘Something clicked,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘I realised, no matter how hard I worked that month, I would always see the same paycheque.

‘My progression in my career had been delayed due to furlough – and in that time, I reflected on how I got there, and the future I wanted for myself.’

And so, after four months away from her usual office environment, Izzy decided to take the plunge – setting up her own floristry business, Seed and Stem.

Izzy is not alone when it comes to pursuing a new career, as millions have decided to permanently put on their out of office and join what’s been dubbed ‘The Great Resignation’; a wave of people leave employment for new opportunities.

In the UK, job vacancies soared to an all-time high in July, with available posts surpassing one million for the first time.

It’s younger people that are paving the way for this change. A survey by Employment Hero found that people age 25-34 are the most fed up, with a staggering 77% looking to change roles within the next year. Close behind is Gen Z – 74% of 18-24 year olds are hoping to be in new work within 12 months, with half of all those looking to start a new career having already reached out to recruiters.

It’s easy enough to link these seismic changes to something as pervasive as the coronavirus pandemic, which forced great numbers of people to stop their usual routines, take the step back and reassess their lives.

Elle, 25, believes that, like Lizzy, the pandemic had a huge impact on how she viewed her job. While she says she was grateful not to have been put on furlough from her corporate role, the nature of home-working left her struggling to set boundaries.

‘I personally felt my company had shifted the goalposts to be considered successful during the pandemic,’ she explains. ‘It was not an environment I wanted to be in.

‘I was working remotely, but perversely, I felt like I could never leave the office. I suffered from extreme burnout, which was not healthy for me or anyone around me.

‘Recognising the situation, I needed to find a way to make home working effective and enjoyable for me, and so the pandemic served as a catalyst to me starting my own PR and communications firm.’

Burnout was something that certainly increased during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly amongst younger generations. A study by Indeed found 59% of millennials, and 58% of Gen Z reported suffering from burnout – up from 47% reported pre-pandemic.

Barnaby Lashbrooke, author of productivity manual The Hard Work Myth, believes ‘The Great Resignation’ is symptomatic of two generations’ worth of collective burnout.

‘Employees, often on a skeleton staff, kept many a business afloat for the past couple of years,’ he explains. ‘They dug in as colleagues were furloughed or made redundant. People were often facing bigger workloads and worked longer hours.

‘At that time it was not sensible to be scrutinising job satisfaction, but thankfully, things have changed.

‘Businesses have regained some confidence and employees are now looking, with a critical eye, at how their employers have treated them these past two years. And many of them will be taking a long, hard look at what’s making them happy – and what isn’t.’

Not everyone struggled with burnout in the pandemic. With lockdown putting an end to the daily commute, others found they had more spare time to socialise with friends or develop hobbies – some of which evolved into lucrative side hustles.

While there are some companies that have moved away from office working entirely, or have adopted hybrid structures, there has been a government-backed push to try and get people back in the office full-time, which hasn’t been welcomed by people who previously felt shackled by their commute. In fact, a survey found that 40% of people would consider walking out their job altogether if working back in the office full time is made mandatory.

‘Post-pandemic Gen Z and Millennials are looking for, putting a higher priority on, and are able to find, opportunities that offer more of a work life balance,’ Will Packer, co-founder of Directly Apply, explains.

‘Remote work brought by the pandemic has changed the manner in which a large number of people are able to and want to work, and it is this that appears to be driving the current Great Resignation.’

The lifestyle overhaul that the coronavirus pandemic prompted has companies now playing catch-up; a study by the Harvey Nash Group found that eight in 10 digital leaders report that, post-pandemic, new life priorities amongst staff are making retention even more difficult – yet only 38% of companies have redesigned their working structure to make themselves attractive to staff in the new hybrid working world.

A general feeling of dissatisfaction among younger workers is another contributing factor for why many may be looking to quit work. Both millennials and those in Gen Z have found themselves graduating in a grim economic climate, and changing jobs is a means of control.

‘There’s a general sense of dissatisfaction with society and the system,’ Rod McMillan, marketing manager at jobsite Monster, says. ‘Work is just one place where the quantitative impact of this is more obvious

‘Right now so many things seem out of our control – from climate change to populist politics and lockdown levels.

‘Where we choose to sell our labour is, generally, an area where we can express some of our will and which then has a significant impact on our daily life.

‘If people are unhappy, work is an area they can change.’

While McMillan says no industry is really ‘exempt’ or ‘safe’ from swathes of their employees leaving en masse, there are some key qualities millennials and their younger counterparts are looking for in new careers.

‘The latest Monster UK research from October shows not only do 57% of candidates want to know about a company’s values before applying for a specific role, but 29% of candidates want to know about it before they would even consider them as an employer,’ McMillan explains.

‘Companies need to be ticking the boxes in flexible work, ethical values and great benefits – which will help retention.’

One of the biggest turn-offs for millennials and Gen Z appears to be the idea of a faceless corporate brand, instead favouring companies that strive to genuinely look after their employees. An employer being thoughtful and attentive to a company’s needs means more to them than having higher salaries.

‘From our most recent research, what people ranked as most important was “care”, that it’s obvious a company cares about and supports their employees,’ McMillan says. ‘21.7% ranked care as most important – slightly ahead of the economic factors – (ie that the pay and benefits are competitive and there is job security – 20.7%) and a close third with 18.6% was the requirement for a stimulating and innovative work environment.

‘That’s striking. People value more how a company cares about their employees than how much they pay.

‘That’s possibly the influence of the pandemic. People definitely had good or bad work experiences in how they felt they were treated.’

So instead of demonising or fearing ‘The Great Resignation’, companies should instead view these new perspectives on employment as opportunities to better their businesses, and foster healthier working environments all round.

‘Forward-looking organisations should turn the situation to their advantage: as much as individuals have had the chance to review what their ideal future looks like in the wake of the pandemic, so should organisations – and this is why,’ Dr Andy Brown, CEO of leadership consultancy ENGAGE, explains.

‘They need to be thoughtful and purposeful in identifying what they want to achieve in the post-pandemic landscape. Is it about fostering more innovation; increasing diversity and inclusion to better understand their customer-base; offering a superior customer service; pivoting their operational model to be less reliant on face-to-face interactions?

‘Whatever it is, they should start with the business objectives and then ask what sort of people must we employ to deliver this.’

And for those who are tempted to try a new role, it’s reassuring to hear that neither Elle, nor Izzy, have any regrets about leaving.

‘Looking at my financials I am set to earn just over double my corporate salary by the end of February 2022 which will mark my first year in business,’ Elle says. ‘Flexible working has opened people’s eyes to the possibilities of making a career work for them, on their terms.

‘I have no regrets whatsoever about quitting my job, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.’

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