In February, Diane received an e-mail from her employer with an update: All employees must return to the office in two weeks.
The call center representative had grown comfortable with working remotely since the COVID-19 pandemic caused mass lockdowns in March 2020. She had developed a sound daily routine and didn't want it disrupted.
"I reached out to them and asked if I could at least work remotely for a couple days per week," said Diane, who preferred to omit her last name for confidentiality reasons. "They said no. And that was really upsetting."
Diane, 31, lives about 25 miles from her employer in Charlotte, N.C. Returning to on-site work requires waking up earlier, dealing with bumper-to-bumper traffic, spending more money on gas and potentially missing her evening FaceTime chats with her niece.
She acquiesced to her employer's demands but remains unhappy. For weeks, Diane has been looking for a new job.
"I'm fed up," she said. "I don't enjoy this whole process, looking for a new job—but I need to do what's best for me."
Diane is one of many young workers who are looking to switch jobs soon due to myriad reasons, including a perceived lack of schedule flexibility, according to a recent report by Microsoft.
Microsoft's 2022 Work Trend Index outlined findings from a study of 31,000 workers in 31 countries. It also included an analysis of trillions of productivity signals in Microsoft 365—a subscription service—and labor trends on LinkedIn.
About 52 percent of Millennial and Generation Z workers were likely to consider changing companies this year, the report showed. Conversely, 35 percent of Generation X and Baby Boomers said they're considering a job change.
"Whenever a new generation enters the workforce, they're often seen as disruptors," said Renate Norman, general manager for global university recruiting at Microsoft. "We saw this happen with Millennials and even Gen X."
What Do Young Workers Want?
The Microsoft survey indicated that young employees value flexibility, mobility and entrepreneurial freedom.
For example, Generation Z's likelihood to engage with a company posting on LinkedIn if it mentions "flexibility" is significantly higher (77 percent) than Millennials' likelihood (30 percent) and that of others on the platform, the report indicated.
Young workers view remote work as a key pillar of flexibility. Over half of Generation Z hybrid employees said they're moving to a new geographical location because they're able to work remotely, versus 38 percent of employees overall who are doing so.
"Gen Z's approach to work isn't just because of their age—many of them have started their careers without the traditional 9-to-5, every-day-in-the office experience," Norman said. "Flexibility is the norm for them, and the data from our 2022 annual Work Trend Index study show they feel strongly about it: They're the generation most likely to consider changing jobs, going remote/hybrid or moving to a new location."
In addition, 70 percent of Generation Z and 67 percent of Millennials are considering earning additional income via a side project or business in the next year. The report noted that these ancillary jobs are causing employers to struggle to attract and retain top talent as well as engage with employees who "increasingly define and design their careers around creative pursuits."
But Norman views these side projects positively, because such interests allow young workers to hone their crafts.
"We believe many of these younger employees are seeing side projects or businesses as a way to tap into their creativity and personal interests," she said. "For example, a marketer at Microsoft can build a travel Instagram account as an additional outlet for their passion for storytelling."
Investing in Young Employees
Yuvay Meyers Ferguson, the assistant dean of impact and engagement and an associate professor in the School of Business at Howard University, believes companies should focus on two areas to retain younger talent: compensation and culture.
"Compensation is straightforward: more income, more benefits, more perks," she explained. "Culture is more nuanced. An environment that is inclusive, positive and allows for flexibility tends to be in more alignment with the value set of this generation."
Inclusivity has been a key issue for younger workers. The Microsoft report showed that "pandemic hires," 70 percent of whom were Generation Z or Millennials, are less likely to feel included, are more likely to have weaker relationships with their direct teams and are at a greater risk for attrition.
Supplemental research by the Society for Human Resource Management from October 2021 indicated that Millennial and Generation Z workers are more likely than Baby Boomers to feel lonely or isolated in the workplace.
"All of this shows how important intentional support is," Norman said.
Setting up effective onboarding programs to acclimate new employees to a company and its culture is vital to employee experience and retention, Norman explained. And the role of the manager is crucial to helping new hires feel included, seen and heard. A great manager can create the conditions and experiences that bring out the best in employees.
"At Microsoft, we've implemented a manager framework called 'Model, Coach, Care'—a framework that has been incredibly valuable before and throughout the pandemic, from helping our managers strengthen team relationships to increasing employee well-being," Norman said. "Investing in our employees is a trend that's here to stay."