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What’s the matter with Millennials? First, they quit their jobs en masse, in what was dubbed The Great Resignation. Next, they refused to work over and beyond their basic expectations in what is now being termed as Quiet Quitting, or the practice of taking it easy at work. Moreover, Millennials are also at the forefront of leaving full-time work in large numbers and taking to Gig Work, unshackling themselves from what they see as the “ennui” of 9 to 5 rigmarole. As if these were not enough, the latest workforce trends indicate that the Millennial/Gen Z age cohorts are increasingly “moonlighting” or working for multiple employers simultaneously, turning conventional assumptions of a loyal and dedicated workforce on their heads. So, what’s the matter with Millennials?
While it is easy to pin these trends on the pandemic, research indicates that some of these were building up much before Covid struck, catalysing long-forming movements towards Gig Work, Moonlighting, and The Great Resignation. Moreover, in India, large swathes of Millennials have now completely “given up” on any employment, full or part-time, as in a la The Great Resignation Desi Style; they are simply off the “employment radar” where they are not even looking for jobs. With labour participation rates at historical lows, worried policymakers and business leaders are scratching their heads to understand why The Millennials seem to be “THE” generation, which is at the forefront of a wholesome “pivot” towards changing the very definition of work.
Maybe this is all for good, as the “sunset” of the Smokestack Era or the phasing out of the Industrial Era is now giving way to the “dawn” of the Digital Age. Much like the entire work-life ecosystem was built around 9 to 5 and the Five Day Workweek. Everything from school timings and daycare and public transport to entertainment and dining revolved around the Industrial Age, the Digital Age needs us to rethink traditional models of work and life, and perhaps, the Millennials are the “harbingers of change” where they are pioneering a shift in the way societies view work and life. So, one should not be too harsh on The Millennials, especially those of the Boomer generation, who bought up on the Post Second World War “boom” in manufacturing and the services revolutions.
Of course, this does not detract from the more severe and very real mental health aspects that are “troubling” the Millennial/Gen Z age cohorts. From celebrities like Noami Osaka and Simone Biles to any members of the above generations are having to grapple with extreme stress and burnout, more so in the 18 to 25-year-olds at a time when they are starting their careers. Moreover, even those under 40 are experiencing some disturbances to their wellbeing at work, prompting them to “take it easy”, which is why we are seeing The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting. Not to be undone by the pay constraints afflicting the post-pandemic workforce, some of these age cohorts are also Moonlighting or working multiple jobs at the same time, consterning both business leaders and old world purists, for whom work meant one job, and more so one employer, for as long as they can carry on.
The present malaise afflicting the workforce, especially the younger members, stems from them being The Digital Natives or the generations born with the proverbial “Smartphone in their hands”. While Gen X was introduced to technology well into their late teens, and the Boomers, well into their middle age, the Millennial/Gen Z, by being inseparable from tech, now find themselves in the middle of catchphrases like “Digital Detox”, consumed as they are by the “junkie like” addiction to Digital Gadgets. Moreover, the Millennials/ Gen Zers are coming of age at a time when “Late Capitalism” is yet to fully sunset, which also explains the popularity of “geriatric” leaders like Bernie Sanders among these age cohorts, fed up as they are with the status quo and impatient as they are by what they see as the system’s slowness to adapt to “accelerating change” induced by the Digital Age.
As mentioned above, the combination of neoliberalism and technology, compounded by the pandemic, has made us all edgy. While older workers are somehow coping with the onslaught of radical and blinding change, it is the younger Millennial/Gen Z cohorts who are bearing the brunt of the “Present Shock” where an always-on, 24/7 world does not stop at demanding their attention, but, forces its way into their consciousness. This is at a time when these generations need to reckon with existential aspects like building savings and “settling down” with marriage and children in tow. So, in a way, the pandemic has been a Double Whammy, coming at an especially inopportune moment, what with the “show me the money” reckoning for the TikTok generation colliding with the worrying aspects of mental health issues and the overall sense of disconnection. Perhaps we would eventually see a new way of envisioning work and life, with the Millennials being the pioneers of a new era.
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