gen z and millennials demonstrate resilience during unprecedented times of uncertainty.

Of all labor market participants, it is perhaps the youngest among us who face the most significant challenges as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Gen Z and Millennials find themselves so early in their work lives navigating the most difficult economic conditions in generations, and as the pandemic continues around the globe, many are finding both their career plans and futures on hold.

Early in my career I entered a market that had witnessed a number of global crises. In many ways those upheavals seem trivial compared with our current situation. I would be hard pressed to find a comparable moment in our history when global economic activity dropped so precipitously so quickly. The impact has been particularly unforgiving to younger workers across a number of sectors, including hospitality, travel, retail and others. 

A United Nations report released in May found that 1 in 6 young workers had stopped working as a result of the pandemic. Those who still had jobs saw their hours cut on average by 23%, according to the International Labour Organization. Even more concerning is that young female workers have been disproportionately affected since they account for a larger population within the gig and care economies, both of which have been severely affected by lockdowns.

McKinsey reports that in the world’s largest economy, younger Americans are 35% more likely to hold vulnerable jobs than peers in other age groups. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, this means those aged 35 and younger are facing their second global crisis just over a decade.

Furthermore, today’s graduates are entering a market marred by the highest unemployment rates in their lifetime. Across many economies around the world, numerous companies have halted university recruitment efforts. The Chartered Management Institute reported in May that nearly one-third of companies have cut their graduate hires. For many students finishing university and eager to acquire work experience, the pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time.

With so much discouraging news arising from the crisis, it’s not surprising to hear that many exasperated young workers are feeling both under siege and hounded by worries about their futures. 

resilience is key

The anxiety our younger generations feel is understandable. As a society, we must do all we can to support their endeavors, and this begins with acknowledging the enormity of the challenges they face. Imagine beginning your career in such difficult times. I find it hard to imagine how I would have coped.

What today’s younger workers need most is assurances that employers, government leaders and labor groups have support mechanisms in place, and the discouragement and frustration they feel is not permanent. At the same time, I believe that Millennials and Gen Z workers are displaying an outstanding level of resilience that I believe will help them be better prepared for whatever challenges the future may hold.

For instance, Randstad’s most recent quarterly Workmonitor report, based on a survey of more than 6,000 working-age adults in 15 countries, found that 85% of those aged 25-34 have adapted well to new working conditions amid the current crisis; among Gen Z (18-24) respondents, the number was nearly as high at 83%. A large majority (73% of Gen Z and 79% of those 25-34) also say their employers are taking care of their wellbeing during this time. 

In its Global Millennial Survey 2020, Deloitte found that despite the pressure and uncertainty younger workers are feeling, a majority see a silver lining among the dark clouds. For instance, three-quarters of Millennials and Gen Z say the pandemic has helped them to be more empathetic  to the needs of others. About the same portion say the circumstances have spurred them to take actions that will have a positive impact on their community.

These types of findings are encouraging to me as a business leader because having an optimistic outlook in the face of great challenges is exactly what helps companies succeed during trying times.  Agility, resilience and a positive attitude are bedrock traits upon which a person can learn and grow.

how to lend support 

  • embrace rightskilling: During difficult business conditions, organizations tend to reduce their workforce according to seniority, with many younger workers becoming victims of layoffs. In the COVID crisis there are opportunities for many companies to transition one part of their traditional business to rapidly growing digital services. As McKinsey has pointed out, “right-skilling” should be part of every company’s recovery strategy during transitional times, and Gen Z and Millennials have a high propensity for digital adoption.
  • accelerate mentoring: For many younger workers, the current job market offers limited advancement opportunities compared with just six months ago. Even though talent mobility may be restricted, that doesn’t mean career development needs to stop. Through effective mentoring programs, employers can help Gen Z and Millennials further their skills, expand their networks and sharply focus on their goals.
  • sustain internship programs: Nurturing young talent is one of the most cost-effective ways of developing high-quality workers for organizations. Even in light of hiring freezes, businesses should continue to identify, enroll and engage with dynamic individuals who could eventually join the workforce and contribute to reaching company goals. Great organizations know talent is the key to success and never halt efforts to find the right people.

There’s no question that the pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but it’s important to acknowledge that among younger workers the impact has been especially painful. While it’s encouraging to know the majority of Gen Z and Millennials are adapting and remain optimistic, as companies and business leaders it’s our responsibility — and an opportunity — to find ways to help them fulfill their career ambitions. Our collective future depends on it.

about the author

Jacques van den Broek

ceo and chair of the executive board

Randstad's Global CEO, leading our mission of supporting people and organizations in realizing their true potential.