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Muma College of Business Management Expert: Disenfranchised Gen Xers About to Spark a Workforce Migration

By Keith Morelli

Woman packing a box

TAMPA (July 2, 2021) -- As corporate executives wrangle with an evolving workforce dynamic in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including more flextime and remoting, they now have this challenge: Employees, especially the younger ones, are seriously considering just plain quitting.

Citing statistics on the World Economic Forum website, “Gen Z doesn't feel it is able to bring new ideas to the table or get a word in during conference calls or meetings,” said Tony Kong, associate professor in the USF Muma College of Business’ School of Information Systems and Management. “Perhaps, surprising to many people, younger employees also don’t feel as engaged or excited about work as Boomers, or even Gen X and Millennials.

“The statistics show that Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X – all critical components of the future workforce – are largely not given a say on their own futures and are struggling,” he said. “Diversity and inclusion initiatives aim to bring neglected stakeholders back to the table; yet many younger workers aren’t at the table for discussion and decision-making on issues related to them.

“Younger workers feel they don’t have the ability or opportunities to voice their ideas and opinions or fully participate in important work-related decisions many of which relate to their wellbeing and interests.” Kong, the faculty director of the Bishop Center for Ethical Leadership, raised the question: “Shouldn’t we collectively do something about this problem?”

A recent Microsoft report on the state of the world’s workforce found that more than half of 18- to 25-year-old employees are considering resignation and that 41 percent of workers globally are thinking about handing in their notices. The report’s findings reflect data from more than 30,000 workers in 31 countries, pulled from applications that include Microsoft Teams, Outlook and Office 365. It supports the notion that the pandemic profoundly reshaped the workforce. Key among the findings is the overriding dissatisfaction with the current work model.

The report, titled “The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?” found that 54 percent of Gen Z workers appear to be on the verge of resigning their current positions.

“These findings certainly resonate with many younger generation employees,” said Kong, “while there is much discussion on prejudice or discrimination against the older workers. What about these findings? Do they suggest reverse age prejudice or discrimination? These are important questions for all of us to think about.

“Given that Gen Z is an important part of the future of work, this generational difference implies there is a need for some change in diversity and inclusion policies and practices,” Kong said. “These findings, I’m sure, certainly resonate with many younger generation employees. Even my own research conducted years before the COVID-19 pandemic found evidence consistent with these findings.”

Resignation can be a temporary solution for younger employees, Kong said, but it is definitely not good news to employers.

“How many times can younger employees resign throughout their careers and how much can employers afford to consistently lose younger employees and hire replacements? Obviously, a transformational, systemic change is in order,” he said. “Given that younger employees are an important part of the future of work, this generational difference suggests an imminent need for changes in diversity and inclusion policies and practices as well as organizational design.”

The statistics also reveal that single employees are struggling more than married employees or even working mothers and new employees.

“This is unexpected, given that much of the public discourse and scholarly work focuses on the struggles of women and those who have families to care for,” Kong said. “This further suggests the need for change in diversity and inclusion policies and practices and in organizational design. Employers must give more in-depth and careful thought about how to promote work-life balance and design jobs in a way that works for all employees.”

The report included these conclusions:

  • Flexible work is here to stay.
  • High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce.
  • Shrinking networks are endangering innovation.
  • Authenticity will spur productivity and wellbeing.
  • Some workers are experiencing digital exhaustion.
  • Working remotely stems the sharing of spontaneous ideas.
  • Talent is everywhere in a hybrid world.

“Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in the report. “Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly – inclusive of collaboration, learning and wellbeing to drive career advancement for every worker … All this needs to be done with flexibility in, when, where and how people work.”