After a year of intense uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, political instability, racial discord, and severe climate events, millennials and Gen Zs around the world are determined to hold themselves and others accountable on society’s most pressing issues. These generations have long pushed for social change, but many now feel the world is at a pivotal moment. They are demanding accountability to drive changes that will result in a more equitable and sustainable world.
Deloitte’s 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey, now in its 10th year, finds respondents are channeling their energies toward meaningful action—increasing political involvement, aligning spending and career choices with their values, and driving change on societal issues that matter most to them. In turn, as we have repeatedly found over the years, these generations expect institutions like businesses and governments to do more.
“In the 10 years Deloitte has been conducting the Millennial Survey, millennials and Gen Zs’ lives have changed, but their values have remained steadfast. They have sustained their idealism, their desire for a better world, and their belief that business can and should do more to help society,” said Michele Parmelee, Deloitte Global Deputy CEO and Chief People and Purpose Officer.
Environment remains a top issue
Climate change and protecting the environment was millennials’ No. 1 personal concern a year ago. Perhaps unsurprising, this year, health and unemployment fears topped the list of personal concerns for millennials. Yet, their continued focus on environmental issues (coming in third), and the fact that it remains the No. 1 concern for Gen Z—even during a global pandemic, when other threats to their health, family welfare, and careers may feel more imminent—demonstrates how important this issue is for younger generations.
Many believe (37% of millennials and 40% of Gen Zs) that more people will commit to take action on environmental and climate issues after the pandemic. This could include anything from recycling more to increasing use of public transportation, to changing their eating and shopping habits. As consumers, millennials and Gen Zs continue to make decisions aligned with their values. More than a quarter of respondents say businesses’ impact (both positive and negative) on the environment has influenced their buying decisions.
However, approximately 60% of millennials and Gen Zs fear business’ commitment to helping combat climate change will be less of a priority as business leaders reckon with challenges brought on by the pandemic.
Millennials and Gen Zs believe discrimination is widespread, likely enabled by systemic racism across society and major institutions
Six in 10 Gen Zs and 56% of millennials say systemic racism is widespread in general society. However, the past year has prioritized the issue of racial discrimination in such a way that 55% of all survey respondents believe society is “at a tipping point and there will be positive change from this point forward.” Millennials and Gen Zs are doing what they can to address the problem, but are also looking to government and other institutions to accelerate change.
The issue is personal for many. At least one in five respondents say they feel personally discriminated against “all of the time” or frequently because of an aspect of their backgrounds. A quarter feel they have experienced discrimination by their governments, and approximately the same number feel they have been targeted on social media. Thirty-four percent of millennials and 38% of Gen Zs believe racism in the workplace is systemic.
Because discrimination can become embedded in organizations over time, three in five respondents agree that positive change will only come from the top down—from a change in attitude and actions from those in power. Yet, they don’t believe institutions are living up to their potential. When asked to rank who is making the greatest effort to reduce systemic racism, individuals and activists topped the list ahead of education systems, the legal system and governments.
The role of business in the conversation is uncertain and is potentially downplayed by millennials and Gen Zs. Business’ perceived potential to help bring about significant change is about half that of individuals, education systems, and government. And in terms of who is making the greatest effort to address systemic racism, businesses and business leaders ranked last among the eight choices offered.
To fill the void left by institutions, millennials and Gen Zs are taking change into their own hands. Respondents say they are educating others, sharing informational content on social platforms, voting for progressive politicians, and boycotting businesses and brands that don’t share their values on the topic of discrimination.
Stress and anxiety permeate the workplace, highlighting a growing need for business to focus on better workplace mental health
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought stress to the forefront of social consciousness—41% of millennials and 46% of Gen Zs feel stressed all or most of the time. Finances, family welfare, and job prospects have been the main stress drivers.
This stress spills over into the workplace. About a third of all respondents—31% of millennials and 35% of Gen Zs—have taken time off work due to stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic. However, nearly half of this group gave their employer a different reason for their absence, likely due to a continuing stigma around mental health in the workplace. In fact, only 38% of millennials and 35% of Gen Zs have felt comfortable enough to speak openly with their supervisors about the stress they’re feeling. And approximately 40% say their employers have done a poor job supporting their mental health during the pandemic.
“Fostering open and inclusive workplaces where people feel comfortable speaking up about stress, anxiety, or other mental health challenges they are experiencing is critical,” said Parmelee. ”Employers have a responsibility to create a work environment that supports employees’ mental health and well-being and allows them to thrive.”
Pandemic heightens financial worries and concerns about wealth inequality
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened millennials and Gen Zs’s uncertainty about their financial futures. Two-thirds of all respondents say they “often worry or get stressed” about their financial situations. The same number say that the pandemic has caused them to reassess and alter their financial goals.
Looking ahead, only 36% of millennials and 40% of Gen Zs believe their personal financial situations will improve by 2022.
While personal financial concerns increasingly are on their minds, so is wealth inequality as a larger societal issue. Two-thirds of millennials (69%) and Gen Zs (66%) surveyed think wealth and income is distributed unequally throughout society.
Many believe government intervention may be needed to drive change. Nearly a third have voted for or otherwise supported politicians who want to reduce income inequality. Roughly 60% of respondents say legislation to limit the gap in rewards between senior executives and average employees would significantly help, as would legislation that requires business to pay workers at least the minimum required to live on. And more than half of respondents say universal basic income could help remedy this issue.
Views on business’ social impact continues to decline, as job loyalty slips
Continuing a steady decline over the last few years, less than half of millennials (47%) and Gen Zs (48%) think business is having a positive impact on society. This marks the first time that figure has dipped below 50%. Of note, it has dropped almost 30 points since 2017.
Job loyalty also slipped a bit from last year’s record high. More millennials and Gen Zs would, if given the opportunity, leave their current employers within two years (36% and 53% respectively, compared to 31% and 50% in 2020) while about the same say they plan to stay at least five years (34% millennials, 21% Gen Zs). And, 44% of millennials and 49% of Gen Zs say they have made choices over the type of work they are prepared to do and the organizations they are willing to work for based on their personal ethics over the past two years.
“Over the years, this survey has consistently shown that millennials and Gen Zs are values-driven and action-oriented, and they are holding themselves, and business, accountable,” said Parmelee. “Even during a difficult year, they continue to push for positive societal change. Businesses that share their vision and support them in their efforts to create a better future will come out on top.”