What do Millennials Think?
Sandwiched snugly between generations X and Z, Millennials, it's fair to say, have had it tough. Entering the workforce around the time of the Great Recession and now enduring the disorienting forces of the so-called fourth industrial revolution (also known as Industry 4.0), their world has been one of constant flux. History is accelerating faster than ever and technological progress in some areas is exponential, rapidly changing the face of work. And yet, with the possibility of abundance now a reality, Millennials are experiencing their economic opportunities reduce, many privileges enjoyed by their baby-booming forbears – improving living standards, home ownership etc. – increasingly out of reach.
Compared to previous generations they live longer with their parents; earn less money, while working longer hours; are more stressed; and reportedly, have less sex. To compound this, they know it needn’t be this way, that their reality – sex put to one side – is a political choice that theoretically could be changed. With this in mind, it’s little surprise that the annual Deloitte Global Millenial Survey paints a picture of a demographic consumed by disillusionment and mistrust – bestowing Millennials the moniker the ‘disrupted generation’. Comprised of the views of over 13,000 Millennials from 42 countries and territories, the aim of the survey is to gauge the general Millennial mood, glean their opinions on the present, and judge their expectations of the future. The following is a brief summary of some of the larger takeaways.
A lack of trust
Faced with continuous technological and societal dislocation, Millennials are experiencing what was described as a growing sense of ‘uneasiness and pessimism’: the feeling that something isn’t right, that the cards they were dealt weren’t fairly distributed. Much of this found articulation in their general disregard and mistrust of traditional institutions, particularly politicians and religious leaders, neither of whom – in the view of the majority – are making a positive impact on the world. In addition to being thought of as inept, they’re also viewed as dishonest, almost half of the respondents having zero faith in either set of leaders as ‘sources of reliable information’.
Trust, in fact, seems to be a diminishing commodity, falling elsewhere too. Over a quarter of respondents reported having no trust in conventional media as a source of accurate information. Indeed, it barely outranked social media platforms as a dependable means of accessing news, raising the question: who exactly do Millennials trust to disseminate facts? The internet offers something of an answer, having borne witness to a huge proliferation of alternative media. And yet, it still leaves much unclear. What can be said is that the declining faith in traditional pillars of trust, and the absence, as of yet, of an institution or group filling this void, is further fuelling the generational sense of uncertainty. Facts are an orienting force, foundations through which the world can be framed. Their lack, therefore, perceived or otherwise, is a thoroughly disconcerting influence.
Falling trust, falling optimism
Businesses have not escaped Millennial ire either, and are held in marginally higher esteem than their political and religious counterparts. Just 55% believed businesses were making a positive impact, after four consecutive years in which the figure hovered in the 70s. These results were driven by the growing sense that businesses operate in their own interest with little regard for society at large. Given the steady stream of scandal – the recklessness, for instance, that prompted the recession – environmental devastation – in which big business is routinely implicated – and everyday worker exploitation, it’s hardly surprising. Businesses, generally, were thought out of step with Millennials’ priorities, neglecting both their societal and environmental responsibilities. This misalignment has made them the focus of much scorn.
Declining trust has, perhaps predictably, developed in parallel with a decline in optimism. While there is an acceptance that the economic situation in which they live is not a good one, Millennials have little expectation that things will improve in the foreseeable future – only 26% were expecting improvement in their countries in the next 12 months. From a personal perspective, over half were convinced that their own financial situation would either remain the same or worsen in the same time period. With ample time to have fixed, or at least better repaired, the damage wrought by the recession, what Deloitte has called pervasive 'pessimism,' could easily be called pragmatism.
The forces of Industry 4.0 – visible now in the majority of workplaces – are expected to ramp up the disruption of the already disrupted careers of Millennials. Since their entry into it, the job market has been in constant fluctuation, and change, which has become its defining characteristic, is set only to increase. For some jobs, this has meant the assimilation of new tech, while for others it has meant full automation. With a convergent scientific community predicting that this trend will transform economies over and over, it was surprising that a quarter of Millennials thought the forces of industry 4.0 would have no bearing on their jobs at all. Equally strange was that just 49% thought new technologies would only ‘augment’ their jobs. These responses reflected an uncharacteristic optimism, or possible naiveté, that could have great consequences if they translate into political choice. Governments must ready their populations for automation and there is little indication that incumbents are up to the task. When choosing their successors, Millennials will have the decisive vote.
The disrupted disrupt
While Millennials have been the subject of much disruption, some disturbances have also been of their own making. Their behaviour, both passively – in delaying large purchases and having fewer children – and actively – their preparedness, for instance, to quit their current jobs – has, and is, profoundly affecting society and business. For example, Millennials expressed loyalty to companies that ‘deliver best on financial performance, community impact, talent development, and diversity and inclusion’. When these criteria are left unfulfilled, they indicated they would likely end their relationship with said company. Further disrupting business is their willingness to engage in freelance and contractual work, which many explained as paying better and affording greater flexibility.
The ethical stance taken with regard to work is mirrored in how Millennials consume, the younger generations speaking with their wallets, rewarding companies they believe most respect their values. Again, making a positive impact on society was high on their list of priorities. This is forcing a profit-driven and, at times, callous business community to reassess the way it works, a response that has been slow but is underway. It also poses a serious challenge to companies that desire a stable workforce, as most do, for if left unimpressed Millennials will walk.
Entering the job market as the recession unfolded, beginning careers in a post-crash world; it’s hardly surprising that optimism among the young is in short supply. Millennial lives have played out against a backdrop of perpetual social, political and economic commotion, with periods of stability practically non-existent. And yet, although disillusioned and often distrustful, they have remained both ambitious and altruistic, the survey showing most are still are confident that their life goals will be achieved. They may be down, but the ‘snowflakes’, as they are sometimes derisorily called, are far from out. To the contrary, they are intent on making a decent fist of it, despite living in a present defined by change and facing a possible future of even greater uncertainty.