Is Millennial/Gen Z angst behind the viral The Great Resignation, where record numbers of those under 40 are quitting their jobs, without a clear purpose on what they would do next? The problem of attrition among the workforce in the United States and elsewhere is so acute that corporates are struggling to fill open positions, despite hiking salaries. Moreover, ghosting or the practice of not showing up after being hired has dealt a Double Whammy to the employers, already reeling under The Great Resignation. Indeed, the situation has alarmed Business Leaders so much that Big Tech CEOs like Satya Nadella and Sundar Pitchai have formed special groups to investigate and fix this problem of mass attrition.
So, what exactly is driving the Millennial/Gen Zers to simply “disappear” from the workforce? Is this due to the pandemic induced a sense of “weirdness” that has made everyone edgy, and more so the younger generations, who are still in the process of “finding their feet” in workplaces? Is this the result of the post-pandemic “blues” brought on due to WFH or Work From Home and Remote working arrangements, that suit older workers, but leave the young vulnerable in the absence of “handholding” and “face to face” onboarding and mentoring that are so crucial at the start of their careers? Otherwise, why would the 18 to 25-year-olds face so much stress and mental health issues that they are burning out even before they settle into their first jobs?
We need to urgently address this mental health crisis afflicting the Millennial/Gen Zers as otherwise, we risk a “lost generation” of workers, troubled and listless, that can harm the competitiveness of our economies, both now and more so, in the future? Even in India, where Millions of Youth are “desperate” for jobs, there has been another Great Resignation of sorts, in a desi style, where nearly half of the eligible workforce have simply stopped looking for jobs. Moreover, even celebrities such as Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles have had to “drop out” of Olympic events due to mental health problems. All these do indicate that we have a serious problem on our hands.
Some blame for this should be on the “culture of silence” that surrounds discussions on mental health issues. Our youth are paying the price for the cultural issues and the state of denial about mental health. Next, technology is the main culprit as the Millennial/Gen Zers are the “real” Digital Natives, having been born with the “proverbial” gadget in their hands. While technology was supposed to be our saviour, it has instead turned out to be the facilitator of stress and angst that is driving viral trends such as The Great Resignation. Indeed, viral is the key here as excessive-tech addiction has resulted in a fragmentation of our thought processes to the extent that we “flit” from meme to meme, all in a “present shock” way where the only thing that matters is what happens in that instant.
As a Gen Xer who came of age during the 1990s, when the Digital Age was being incubated, I remember the excitement and the euphoria with which we heralded the tech pioneers such as Bill Gates, who even authored a book titled Business@Speed of Thought. While this was then considered how our lives would be wound up in a network where we would all be racing ahead in real-time, looking back, I feel that only “business” flourished and diminished thought. Otherwise, why would there be a renewed interest in the humanities for the depth of wisdom and calm thought that they bring to education? Maybe, it is not too late to reverse our “dangerous” dependence on tech and instead, focus more on the arts.
Having said that, there have been several “upsides” to the Millennial/Gen Z digital native pursuits as can be seen from the emergence of the creator economy and web 3.0 with the same sense of anticipation that we experienced back then. Though there might be some “Kool-Aid” drinkers in this gig economy, there seems to be a genuine move towards empowering individuals and making their lives more fulfilling. Of course, the real deal is when will the money start flowing in and this is why I think the Millennial/Gen Zer angst would burst into the open as the TikTok generation faces its moment of truth in the form of having to save for the future and what we, in the East, call “settling down”.
This is where we stand as the puzzles and the paradoxes of our times leave us bewildered and baffle even seasoned visionaries who feel helpless in the midst of so much upheaval.
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