What’s fueling ‘The Great Resignation’ among younger generations?

August 26, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

Pandemic burnout is fueling “The Great Resignation,” a period of high turnover as workers gain more confidence in the economy, and therefore feel more comfortable in making some career changes.

According to a new study from Adobe, members of Generation Z are leading the charge for a few different reasons. (For the purposes of this study, Adobe defined Generation Z as encompassing adults between the ages of 18 and 24, and millennials as those between the ages of 25 and 39.)

Based on a survey of 3,400 enterprise workers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, more than half of Gen Z workers plan to pursue a new job in the next year—more than any other generation. They are the least satisfied generation at work, with only 56% satisfied with work/life balance and 59% with their job overall.  

“Employee experiences have been challenged since before the pandemic. Employees have wanted their workplace experiences to mirror the seamless, flexible experiences in their personal lives,” says Todd Gerber, vice president of document cloud product marketing at Adobe. “Based on findings from our new survey, enterprise workers and small-business leaders are dissatisfied with their time at work; they’re spending more hours working on unimportant tasks, struggling with work/life balance, and feel that technology is the missing piece to achieving productivity.”

In 2019, Gartner reported that “more than half of all HR leaders [agreed] that improving employee experience [was] a priority.” Today, companies are still working to improve employee experiences. “Despite the global attention on and importance of employee experience, only 13% of employees indicate they are currently fully satisfied with their experience,” according to a more recent Gartner report.  

Recognizing burnout

Gen Z (57%) and millennials (54%) feel most pressured to be available at all times and are most likely to describe their job as repetitive (65% and 58%, respectively) and tiring (65% for both).  

Administrative tasks are a big contributor to employee burnout, Gerber notes. “People are motivated by passions that led them to pursue their career, and they don’t want to spend most of their week on paperwork. Younger generations grew up with digital technology and are accustomed to its simplicity, so they know there are better and faster ways of doing things.”

Employers can curb burnout with workplace collaboration tools that help reduce employees’ time on manual, tedious, and administrative tasks, Gerber suggests. “They also eliminate paper-based processes, which eat up endless time, not to mention physically shepherding documents from point A to B. When asked what enterprise workers would do with more time at work, 53% said they would focus on their passions and things they love about their job. Personally, I use the extra time I save to take mental breaks with ‘micro-walks’ around my block. It’s a great way to get some fresh air and reset between meetings.”

Younger workers are especially likely to switch jobs for more control over their schedule (Gen Z: 66%; millennials: 73%) or the option to work remotely (63%; 66%). Today, 62% of Gen Z feel more pressured than their older colleagues to be working during the usual office hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., even if they know they won’t be productive. But that’s not always when Gen Z works best: A quarter of participants said they are most productive after typical office hours, more so than any other generation.  

And while these might not be the best optics in the face of criticism that younger generations are allegedly lazier, approximately half of Gen Z respondents admit they now work primarily from the comfort of their bedrooms.

“Millennials and Gen Zers have ushered in a new way of work that started before the pandemic—with a preference for flexibility and an out-of-the-box work style—and [this] has only increased with remote work,” Gerber says. “For example, a quarter of Gen Zers say they are most productive after typical office hours. They also do 25% of their work on their mobile devices, and nearly half do so in their beds. These habits have reshaped the parameters of a typical workday for many, as younger generations lean into technology to support their work-from-anywhere habits and desires.”

Curbing burnout

Employee dissatisfaction presents a serious risk to business, and some employers do recognize this and are trying to be as proactive—or as quickly reactive—as possible.

“The first step in fostering positive experiences is understanding what employees want and need to be successful,” Gerber says. “Our survey found that many issues workers face stem from companies needing to adopt a digital-first mindset. Enterprise workers report that a third of their workweek is currently being spent on unimportant tasks and more than half would prefer to work flexible hours when it’s most convenient to them. Technology meets these challenges with the ability to simplify workflows and enable employees to be productive and collaborative, regardless of when and where they’re working.”

Small businesses, in particular, according to Adobe, are experiencing the brunt of this trend as one in three small and midsize enterprise managers has said his or her firm has suffered from employee burnout and/or attrition in the past year. In response, many of them have already had to make changes to recruit and retain employees, like adopting flexible working hours.

“Technology is an important talent attraction and retention tool because many employees don’t have what they need to do their jobs effectively,” Gerber says. “Companies that have adopted a digital-first mindset have a recruiting advantage—they’re able to provide the tools that offer simplicity and that help to make employees’ jobs less stressful.”

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