Gen Z and Millennial Frontline Employees Feel Unfulfilled: Here’s How to Fix It

Apr 21, 2021 2:53:36 PM

Employee experience

You might see them scrolling though Tik Tok, munching on avocado toast, entering Instagram influencer giveaways or starting chants at a climate protest.

You also might see them scanning your new coat at the store checkout, serving you your lunchtime burrito bowl, and delivering a flat pack wardrobe to your home.

We’re talking about the people born after 1981, otherwise known as Millennials and Generation Z, and they’re slowly taking over the workforce. Millennials are predicted to make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025, and Gen Z won’t be far behind. 

As Gen Z pours into industries like retail, restaurants and logistics, Millennials continue to dominate frontline teams and move into management roles. But they’re not feeling fulfilled in their jobs. Double the amount of Millennial frontline employees feel unfulfilled at work than employees of other generations. Considering how reliant industries are on these employees, businesses need to get to the root of this issue now to address this lack of job satisfaction.


Why don’t they feel fulfilled?

Serving high volumes of customers in fast-paced environments and putting themselves at risk of contracting COVID every day is bound to be a stressful experience. The risk of the virus is coupled with an increased risk of stress-related mental health issues that frontline workers are facing as they work longer hours and take on heavier workloads. 

But this lack of fulfilment in Millennial and Gen Z frontline workers goes back further than COVID. Even before the pandemic, young people were reported to have higher levels of anxiety and depression than any other generation.

Self-Determination Theory claims that there are 3 pillars to human motivation: 

  • Feeling autonomous 
  • A sense of belonging 
  • The opportunity to master skills

Younger employees in industries like retail, restaurants, manufacturing and logistics are less likely to be having these needs fulfilled at work, let’s break down why:


Lack of empowerment

A survey of 1000 frontline employees found that younger employees felt disempowered in their jobs even compared to older workers in the same roles: 28% of millennial frontline employees don’t feel empowered on the job compared to 17% for other age groups. The pandemic transferred a huge chunk of industries like retail and food service online, now that the customers have the option to visit brick and mortar venues again, companies have an opportunity to show them the unique value of the in-person experience. Empowered employees are key to providing this standard of service.


Feeling undervalued

This lack of fulfilment is caused by a lack of recognition. A survey of 632 Gen Z and Millennial employees found that 50% don’t feel that their management recognizes strong job performance and 67% aren’t satisfied with what their employer invests in rewards and recognition. Employees who don’t feel appreciated are more likely to look for a new job as they aren’t being shown the positive impact of their work.


Perception of a ‘dead-end job’

As the media drip-feeds stories of redundancy and furlough into their lives, young workers grow anxious about their job security and are likely to look for opportunities that they consider to be more secure. 50% of hospitality employees who worked for a business that closed permanently during the pandemic were still unemployed 6 months later. As a result, 29 percent of hospitality workers said they are seeking to switch out of the industry permanently. Losing the loyalty of existing employees to fears around career instability will be costly for businesses in terms of the financial cost of hiring and training replacements and in terms of the loss of knowledge and experience that will depart with these individuals.


Weak connections

How often do you hear someone say that their favourite thing about their job is the people? A sense of belonging is what keeps employees at a company, but younger frontline employees are experiencing an isolation epidemic. This could be down to the fact that their workplace teams tend to include large generational gaps, with employees in their late teens and early 20s being managed by those in their 50s and 60s. Differences in communication preferences can lead to information and feedback being lost and relationships being strained. Only 28% of millennials find it easy to understand whether their work meets company expectations compared to 41% of workers over 54. This indicates that there’s a big disconnect between Millennial and Gen Z frontline workers and their Gen X and Baby Boomer employers. 


Stagnant and disrupted learning

34% of millennial frontline workers feel they have a lack of career growth vs 17% for other age groups. Gen Z-ers who have just left school, were let go or furloughed from their jobs suddenly lost contact with teachers, coaches and mentors in a way that nobody was prepared for. This stunted their development as they transitioned into the workplace and many have experienced a long process of applying for new jobs and feel demotivated. 

Additionally, many frontline workers who were able to hold on to their jobs had to quickly take on new responsibilities, like curbside pickup and enforcing social distancing, without the usual training in place to prepare them. The lack of proper training for their new roles may have knocked employee confidence in their capability. 


How can companies fix this?

1.  Connect employees to company values

Today’s younger adults are known as the ‘why generation. To motivate them to do something, they need to know why it needs to be done. Millennials and Gen Z have come of age in a time of global disruption. They’ve witnessed climate change, financial recession and social justice movements, with updates delivered to them in real time via their smartphones and TV screens. This stream of information has influenced their beliefs about the state of the world, and they now want to see that their work has a positive impact. Over 70% of young workers consider the value of a job to be more important than the salary attached to it when considering different roles. This highlights the importance of communicating the company Values to employees regularly and updating them on how their work is contributing to the company Mission.


2. Show them what’s in it for them

Millennials and Gen Z have spent a huge chunk of their lives on social media, where anything they post is subject to feedback from their peers in the form of ‘likes’, ‘comments’ and ‘shares’. Employees are not used to occasional reviews of their work followed by radio silence. 66% of Gen Z needs feedback from their supervisor at least every few weeks, significantly more often than older generations of workers, to want to stay in their job. Celebrating successes is another great way to do this, and this means the small as well as the big. Share positive customer reviews, reward teams who have exceeded their sales targets, hold team socials and recognize individuals who go above and beyond.


3. Make training digital and fun

When young people want to find out how to do something, whether it’s a pilates routine, an oil painting or a Sunday roast, they’re likely to turn to YouTube. They get their regular news and pop culture updates from platforms which offer short-form content like Twitter and TikTok. Young people are digital natives, they have grown up in a world where information is only a google search away, so they expect it to be available anywhere, any time. They’re desperate to progress at work. 65% of Millennials rank ‘personal development’ as the most important motivation for choosing their job and in 2020 Gen Z spent 50% more hours watching online courses on LinkedIn than learners from any other generation. To harness this hunger for learning, companies need to meet the digital natives on their level, 70% of frontline employees think that training would be easier if it was app-based. Fun training is fulfilling training, and features like gamification and leaderboards make learning and progressing more exciting for employees.


4. Make the most of their potential

The advantage a visit to a physical store has over online shopping is the opportunity for human interaction. Frontline employees are uniquely valuable because they are human and can offer customers a truly personalised interaction. The good news is that this is the part of the job that employees find most enjoyable, it’s where they can bring their individual flair to their role. The bad news is that much of their shift is taken up with repetitive and time-consuming admin tasks - 73% of frontline employees are still using paper forms for admin. Automating these tasks or making them more streamlined can free up employees time for higher-value work like interacting with customers. It’s simple: employees will feel more fulfilled if they can spend more of their shift doing rewarding work. 


5. Emphasize wellbeing

Employee fulfilment extends beyond the workplace, and younger generations expect to have a good work-life balance and are more likely to stay with a company who can offer this. There’s no one-size-fits-all wellbeing fix, but steps to promote wellbeing can be as simple as giving employees space to discuss how they are feeling. Tools like mini surveys and forums help companies to regularly check in with employees and address any concerns. Companies can also support employee wellbeing with initiatives like paid personal development days to pursue hobbies, flexible working hours and complementary health insurance, childcare, gym memberships or meditation apps.


Young people are the future of the workforce, so learning how to engage them now is critical to taking advantage of the potential of a generation of digital natives. A digital workplace for tasks, training and communication connects with younger employees in a way that resonates with them, refocuses them on the company values and allows them to feel fulfilled at work.  

Download the 2021 State of the Frontline Employee Workplace Survey to find out what your frontline teams need from you to feel fulfilled, productive and motivated at work.

2021 State of the Frontline Employee Workplace Survey Download