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It’s not just Gen Z. A tiny generation of young workers is especially miserable at work

April 20, 2022, 5:37 PM UTC
"Zillennials" are unhappy at work.
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“Zillennials,” the overlooked middle children sandwiched between two higher-profile generations, are not happy at work. 

Employees born between 1993 and 1998 are the most unsatisfied of all workers, according to a report from MetLife, an insurance and benefits company. It found that job satisfaction across all generations is the lowest it’s been in 20 years, and zillennials are feeling it more than their elders—only 57% saying they’re satisfied with their jobs. 

That’s compared to 66% of millennials, although Gen Z workers come close at 58%.   

This microgeneration’s dissatisfaction rate is not simply due to working entry-level jobs. And financial stress has mostly remained consistent: For 23-to-28-year-olds, it has hovered around 55% over the past 10 years.  

The microgeneration might be unhappy, but they aren’t afraid to try changing jobs if they don’t like the situation. 

“Zillennials have different needs, and many employers haven’t fully caught up to address those needs with the way they’re operating,” Todd Katz, executive vice president of Group Benefits at MetLife, tells Fortune. “We’re operating within the Great Resignation. Zillennials and millennials have made it really clear that if their needs aren’t met they’ll find somewhere else.”

Zillennials are searching for meaningful work

Katrina Gao, 26, recently posted to TikTok about quitting her job again, and handing in her two weeks’ notice. 

Gao explains in her video that she’s made about five career shifts in five years, to make more money and find a job that she truly loves.

“Your job takes up more than 30% of your life, so it’s very important to focus on finding a career that brings you happiness and fulfillment. I like to call it work-life harmony. If you’re unhappy, first of all, know that it’s okay and you’re not alone,” Gao tells Fortune. ”Clearly a lot of people are feeling the same way.”

This search to find mission-driven work and work-life balance seems to be especially important to zillennials. Around 54% cite working for a company that has a strong mission as a “must-have benefit,” according to MetLife’s study.

Zillennials who don’t feel like their work is purposeful are less likely to stick around than employees of other generations—about 28% of zillennials said that the reason for leaving their job within a year was because they didn’t find it meaningful. That compares to around 22% percent of employees overall. However, value-driven work proved especially important to Black employees across all generations, with 37% responding that the absence of meaningful work factored into their choice to leave a job.

“[Zillennials] is a group that is saying, really loud and clear, ‘My job is very important to me. And if it’s not fulfilling, it’s a big stressor.’ That’s different from other generations,” says Katz.

Gao says that she changed jobs to find a career match, and after quitting several, she’s found a true fit. 

“I have never been happier, excited, and genuinely aligned with the company’s mission,” she said of her new role at a tech startup. “This is holistically by far the best job and company that I’ve had, and I’m happy to say I can see myself being here long-term.” 

This perspective aligns with Katz’s insight that once zillennials find a company that speaks to their values, they tend to stay. 

“If the job is fulfilling, there are things that will drive loyalty in this group, beyond some of the other generations,” says Katz.

Flexibility, social inclusion, and diversity

Other priorities for zillennials at work are flexibility; feeling socially included; and seeing true diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.  

One of employees’ main reasons for quitting jobs during the Great Resignation is a lack of belief in their value of work, according to the MetLife study. And they don’t just want a value fit, they want a culture fit. 

Zillennials feel they have much less than the generations that came before them. Just 10 years ago, 70% of 23-to-28-year-olds (millennials) said that their company allowed a work-life balance. In 2022 only 58% of that same age group felt the same.

While previous younger employees paved the way in speaking up about burnout and mental health, Zillennials have started to discuss the importance of social inclusion and feeling like they belong. 

“The Zillennials said, ‘I want to work somewhere where I know my employer cares about me. You’re not just a number you’re really cared for. If I feel that I’m more likely to stay. And if I don’t, I’m more likely to leave,’” said Katz.

Inheritors of the Great Resignation

Gao says she thinks that the so-called Great Resignation over the past several months has given young employees leverage, and they are not set up to reap the benefits of the new labor market to get better opportunities. 

“There is also a shortage of good talent in a lot of industries, and so companies will have to compete with each other to appeal to potential candidates, and this usually comes in the form of higher salaries or better benefits,” says Gao.

Gao explains that while it may be shocking to other generations, zillennials are taking advantage of that situation when deciding to quit, particularly in high-growth industries like tech.  She describes this job-hopping trend as “the polar opposite of our parents and grandparents’ generations, where they only switched jobs one or two times max in their lifetime.”

While employers might not care to find out more about this microgeneration now, they might start to wake up when their employees grow up and start to take up more of the labor market.

“As we wind the clock forward, when you get out five years from today, our data point is 2027, the zillennials and the Gen Z [workers] that follow them will be about a third of the workforce. So it’s really important that benefits professionals think about what this group is all about, and how do you cater to them,” says Katz.

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