While academic research frequently dispels the myth of generational differences at work, there is an appreciation that the role of employment changes across the different stages of our lives. As some ‘millennials’, who first entered the workplace two decades ago, are reaching their 40s, employers would be wise to revisit the stereotypes attributed to this generation a decade ago, and to better understand what keeps them engaged at work today.
In early 2018, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) developed an index of job quality in the UK, and published its UK Working Lives survey in April 2018. Using a sample of approximately 6,000 workers, this measured the extent to which various job characteristics, such as pay and terms of employment, influence perceptions of a job. We found that employee health and wellbeing is at the heart of job quality, strongly related to job satisfaction and day-to-day enthusiasm, and also has a clear relationship with an employee’s intention to stay in the job.
However, those within the ‘millennial’ age group report the most negative impact of work on their health: 45% of 18 to 24-year-olds, and 3 in 10 (30%) of 25 to 34-year-olds, said their job negatively affects their mental health, while 40% and 31% respectively highlighted a negative impact on physical health.
What is behind these figures?
Up to 60% of workers in the 18 to 34 age group belong to professional occupations, and many occupy middle manager job grades. The survey found that individuals in these positions are often overworked, with over a third saying they have too much work to do. Not only can this lead to stress and poor mental health, but this can also create a cascade effect, with stress being passed down to more junior staff.
In a different part of the labour market, 18 to 24-year-olds are also over-represented in low skilled and casual jobs, and are much more likely to have atypical work contracts. For this group, the challenge of staying satisfied and well at work is different: they are more likely to feel underpaid and underdeveloped, as they are often over-qualified for their roles.
So-called ‘millennials’ are a highly diverse part of the workforce. Despite the initial expectation that this group would defy conventional career and life pathways, a large proportion of this group are now facing the familiar challenges of finding opportunities for workplace progression, and balancing home and job commitments. Employers would do well to apply the principles of good job design, helping these individuals to stay in control of their workloads and their careers, while also supporting line managers to remain flexible to individual preferences and needs.
Ksenia Zheltoukhova is head of research and thought leadership at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.