How millennials and Gen Zs were impacted by the pandemic

Stress, mental health, employment, income, climate change and systematic racism are top of mind, according to a Deloitte survey.

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Image: Deloitte

Millennials and Gen Zs aren't just resilient—they're channeling their energies into holding themselves and others accountable, a new report finds. They're the people most likely to call out racism and sexism and to shun companies and employers whose actions conflict with their personal values, according to Deloitte's Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z survey.

This year's global survey followed up on topics related to the pandemic, including its effect on respondents' behaviors, stress levels and opinions. The survey also dug into the issues that matter to millennials and Gen Zs, especially the environment, social equality and discrimination.

SEE: Gen Xers are "thriving" with digital work while millennials struggle (TechRepublic)

"On the heels of an immensely challenging year, our 10th Annual Millennial and Gen Z Survey reveals two generations who believe the world is at a tipping point on environmental issues, inequality and racism," said Michele Parmelee, Deloitte global deputy CEO and chief people and purpose officer, in a statement. "They are focused on driving social change, but they don't feel institutions, such as government and business, are living up to their potential."

Foremost on their minds

There were several findings in six areas: health and employment, mental health, stress, business societal impact, wealth and income and systemic racism.

Health and employment. While their health and employment status are top concerns, millennials and Gen Zs remain deeply concerned about climate change and the environment, according to the report. More than four in 10 millennials and Gen Zs agreed that we have already hit the point of no return when it comes to the environment and that it's too late to repair the damage.

However, a majority expressed optimism that people's commitment to take personal action to address environmental and climate issues will be greater post-pandemic. For their part, more than a quarter of millennials and Gen Zs said that certain businesses' impact on the environment has influenced their buying decisions.

Mental health. There is still a stigma around these challenges, especially at work, the report said. About a third of all respondents (millennials 31%, Gen Zs 35%) said they've taken time off work due to stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic. Among the two-thirds who didn't take time off, four in 10 characterized themselves as stressed all of the time--but chose to work through it.

Further, approximately 40% of millennials and Gen Zs said they felt their employers have done a poor job of supporting their mental well-being during this period.

Stress. Stress has returned to pre-pandemic levels, with more than 41% of millennials and 46% of Gen Zs saying they felt stressed all or most of the time. Notably, the pandemic has created much uncertainty and stress around millennials' and Gen Zs' financial futures. About two-thirds of each group agreed (to some degree) that they often worry or become stressed by their personal financial situations. Their families' welfare was also a main cause of stress for millennials; uncertainty about jobs/career prospects was top for Gen Zs.

Business societal impact. Continuing a steady decline over the last few years, slightly less than half of millennials and Gen Zs said they feel that business is having a positive impact on society. Yet, their views on business's ambitions are beginning to stabilize. A slightly lower percentage of respondents this year said they believe businesses are focused solely on their own agendas or that they have no motivations beyond profitability, the report said.

"This may indicate that they view business leaders' discourse around stakeholder capitalism as sincere, but they still want to see concrete impact to match corporate promises," the report said.

Wealth and income. These two groups have serious concerns and misgivings about the scale of wealth and income equality. Two-thirds of millennials and Gen Zs said they see wealth and income as unequally distributed in society. A majority believe that legislation and direct government intervention would significantly close the gap, according to the report.

Systemic racism. Six in 10 Gen Zs and 56% of millennials see systemic racism as very or fairly widespread in general society. At least one in five said they feel personally discriminated against "all of the time" or frequently because of an aspect of their backgrounds. More than half see older generations as standing in the way of progress.

Other key findings

The report further found that transformation social change may be coming soon. Slightly more than half (55%) of all survey respondents agreed that "we are at a tipping point and there will be positive change from this point forward." Sixty percent said they agreed that true change on racial issues will come from the top down from those in power.

  • Discrimination is not just widespread, it's personal: Millennials (56%) and Gen Zs (60%) see systemic racism as very or fairly widespread in general society. A contingent of respondents feels they've experienced discrimination by their governments, on social media, at the workplace and by academic institutions. 

  •  Seeking influence on policy and business actions: Millennials and Gen Zs played an active role in policy and campaigns. They spoke up and showed up for issues that matter to them through contacting public officials (25%) and participating in protests and marches (26% of millennials and a third of Gen Zs).

  • Intensified natural disasters inspire action on climate change: With climate events like wildfires intensifying, 40% said they expect people's personal actions on environmental and climate issues to be greater post-pandemic.

  • Accountability for social and environmental reform: 60% of millennials and Gen Zs believe businesses will lag on climate action after the pandemic. Personal interest and accountability for social and environmental reform have never been higher—it's up to businesses and institutions to make progress on addressing these issues.

Flexible work arrangements remain very important. "As the return to the office accelerates, millennials and Gen Zs are overwhelmingly in favor of having more flexibility with respect to working in the office versus virtual work," Parmelee said. "This is something businesses will have to keep in mind as they consider their strategies going forward."

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