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Seeking purpose, finding stress: New Gen Z and millennial research finds these generations stay true to their values in a changing world

by | May 23, 2024 | Public Relations

Millennials and Gen Zers grew up in a vastly different world than older generations. As digital natives, or very nearly, they were more informed about the world around them, and found their core selves and developed lifelong values at an earlier age as well. Even still, it probably didn’t prepare them for today’s world and the mindsets that emerged from a complete global shutdown. But these are the generations that soon will be in control, and aspiring to recreate society in their image. 

So how’s that going? Marketers and communicators have been trying to crack the code of rising generations for a long time, and find that each new one becomes more complicated. That’s not surprising—the world keeps getting more complex, too, after all. Comms pros were puzzled by millennials, and have been completely mystified by Gen Z. But in our everlasting quest to discover what drives their behavior as consumers, we keep looking for puzzle pieces. New research from Deloitte brings us closer to understanding their worldly outlooks.

Now in its 13th year, Deloitte‘s 2024 Gen Z and Millennial Survey connected with nearly 23,000 respondents across 44 countries, examining the evolving circumstances shaping the workplace and the societal experiences of these generations globally.

Gen Z marketing

“This year’s survey spotlights two generations who are grappling with financial insecurity, high stress levels, and mounting climate anxiety. They are also considering how rapidly evolving technology, like GenAI, will impact their jobs and their longer-term career decisions,” said Elizabeth Faber, Deloitte global chief people & purpose officer, in a news release. “But they see reasons for optimism in the year ahead and they continue to push for the changes they want to see, in the workplace and society more broadly.”

Economic optimism on the rise despite continued financial concerns

For the third year in a row, the cost of living is Gen Zs’ and millennials’ top concern. Roughly six in 10 Gen Zs (56 percent) and millennials (55 percent) live paycheck-to-paycheck—up five points for Gen Zs and three points for millennials since last year. And around three in 10 say they do not feel financially secure.

Yet, there is cautious optimism that circumstances may improve. Just under a third of Gen Zs and millennials believe the economic situation in their countries will improve over the next year—the highest percentage since the 2020 Millennial Survey, fielded just before the onset of the pandemic. And, nearly half of Gen Zs (48 percent) and four in 10 millennials (40 percent) expect their personal financial situations to improve over the next year.

Purpose is key to job satisfaction

Purpose is key to workplace satisfaction and well-being, according to nearly nine in 10 Gen Zs (86 percent) and millennials (89 percent). And increasingly, these generations are willing to turn down assignments and employers based on their personal ethics or beliefs—half of Gen Zs (50 percent) and just over four in 10 millennials (43 percent) have rejected assignments. Nearly as many (44 percent of Gen Zs and 40 percent of millennials) said they have rejected employers. Reasons for rejecting an employer or an assignment include factors such as having a negative environmental impact, or contributing to inequality through non-inclusive practices, and more personal factors such as a lack of support for employees’ mental well-being and work/life balance.

Gen Z marketing

Businesses have an opportunity and the necessary influence to drive climate action

Protecting the environment is the societal challenge where Gen Zs and millennials feel businesses have the most opportunity and necessary influence to drive change. And, as roughly six in 10 Gen Zs (62 percent) and millennials (59 percent) report feeling anxious or worried about climate change in the past month, Gen Zs and millennials are using their career decisions and consumer behavior to push for action.

Around half of Gen Zs (54 percent) and millennials (48 percent) say they and their colleagues are putting pressure on their employers to take action on climate change, a trend that has increased steadily in recent years. And two in 10 Gen Zs (20 percent) and millennials (19 percent) have already changed jobs or industry due to environmental concerns, with another quarter planning to in the future.

As consumers, about two-thirds of Gen Zs (64 percent) and millennials (63 percent) are willing to pay more to purchase environmentally sustainable products or services. And many are taking personal actions, or plan to in the future, such as avoiding fast fashion, reducing air travel, eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, or purchasing electric vehicles.

Gen Z marketing

Gen Zs and millennials are uncertain about GenAI, but positive perceptions largely increase with frequent use

Gen Zs and millennials believe GenAI will have a significant impact on their career paths and the way in which they work. Nearly six in 10 Gen Zs (59 percent) and just over half of millennials (52 percent) believe the prevalence of GenAI will make them look for job opportunities that are less vulnerable to automation, such as skilled trades or manual labor.

Uncertainty is the top emotion Gen Zs and millennials report feeling when they think about GenAI. The survey also finds that women in particular express greater uncertainty about GenAI than men do and are less likely to feel comfortable working alongside it. A lack of familiarity may accentuate feelings of uncertainty. Gen Zs and millennials who use GenAI at work all or most of the time are more likely to feel trust and excitement than uncertainty. They are also more likely to believe GenAI will free up their time, improve the way they work, and improve their work/life balance. But, conversely, frequent users of GenAI are also even more likely to have certain concerns, such as believing that GenAI-driven automation will eliminate jobs and make it harder for young people to enter the workforce.

In response to these types of concerns, both generations are focused on reskilling and training. However, only about half of Gen Zs (51 percent) and millennials (45 percent) say their employer is sufficiently training them on the capabilities, benefits, and value of GenAI.

Gen Z marketing

Work/life balance is a top priority

Work/life balance remains the top priority for both Gen Zs and millennials when choosing an employer. The ability to maintain a positive work/life balance is also the top thing they admire in their peers, well above other traditional markers of success like job titles and material possessions. Yet many are not achieving the balance they seek. Around a third of respondents who regularly feel anxious or stressed say their job and work/life balance contribute a lot to their stress levels, fueled significantly by long working hours (51 percent of both generations), and a lack of control over how or where they work (44 percent).

The last year has seen a continued shift towards more on-site work, with nearly two-thirds of respondents saying their employers have recently implemented a return-to-office mandate, either bringing people back fully on-site or moving to a hybrid model. These mandates have yielded mixed results, with some reporting benefits like improved engagement, connection and collaboration, while others are experiencing increased stress and decreased productivity.

Despite a dip this year, stress and workplace mental health stigma remain

Stress levels and mental health continue to be a concern, although there are some signs of improvement this year. Only about half of respondents rate their mental health as good or extremely good. And up to four in 10 Gen Zs (40 percent) and millennials (35 percent) say they feel stressed all or most of the time (down from 46 percent and 39 percent in 2023). While work is a big driver of this uneasiness, respondents emphasize their finances and the health and welfare of their family as the top stress drivers.

Employers are making some progress when it comes to better workplace mental health, but there is still much room for improvement when it comes to speaking openly about mental health. Nearly three in 10 Gen Zs and millennials worry their manager would discriminate against them if they raised stress or other mental health concerns, and roughly three in 10 don’t believe senior leaders are prioritizing mental health in the workplace.

Gen Z marketing

“Gen Zs and millennials expect a lot from their employers, and from business more broadly. But what they are asking for is what most employees in the workforce, regardless of age, likely want: meaningful work within purpose-driven organizations, the flexibility to balance work and personal priorities, supportive workplaces which foster better mental health, and opportunities to learn and grow in their careers,” Faber added. “Employers who work to get these things right will have a more satisfied, productive, engaged, and agile workforce who are better prepared to adapt to a rapidly transforming world.”

Download the full report here.

The Deloitte Global 2024 Gen Z and Millennial Survey reflects the responses of 14,468 Gen Zs and 8,373 millennials (22,841 respondents in total), from 44 countries across North America, Latin America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific. The survey was conducted using an online, self-complete-style interview. Fieldwork was completed between 24 November 2023 and 11 March 2024.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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