Millennials’ Biggest Business Concerns: A Q&A With Deloitte’s Michele Parmelee

The concerns of millennials suggest this is an ideal time for business leaders to prove themselves as agents of positive change.


A recent survey reveals that millennials have become more skeptical of business’ motivation and ethics. The survey of 10,455 millennials across 36 countries and nearly 1,850 Gen Z respondents across six countries (who are just entering the workforce) showed a dramatic reversal from just last year, as opinions of business reached their lowest level in four years. Today, less than half of millennials believe businesses behave ethically (48 percent vs 65 percent in 2017) and that business leaders are committed to helping improve society (47 percent vs 62 percent).

FEI Daily spoke with Michele Parmelee, Deloitte Global talent leader, about the decline in perceptions of business’ motivations and ethics, the key differences between millennial and Gen Z employees, and the challenges young workers are most concerned about facing in the future.

FEI Daily: What are some of the biggest differences between millennial and Gen Z employees?

Michele Parmelee: This was the first year we surveyed both generations and the results underline several key focus areas for business leaders as Gen Z talent enter the workforce. Overall, our Gen Z respondents echo similar sentiments to millennials. Both cohorts are looking for opportunities to make meaningful change and value diverse, flexible working environments.

Young workers’ perceptions of how well businesses align with these priorities appears to strongly influence job loyalty. This year’s survey found a retreat in job loyalty—both millennials and Gen Z are skeptical that they will stay at their current jobs for more than two years. Gen Z exhibits even less loyalty than millennials (61 percent versus 43 percent). Yet, those working for organizations seen as diverse and flexible are more likely to want to stay five or more years.

Rather than finding large differences between millennials and Gen Z respondents, we found it interesting how similar their views are. Both millennials and Gen Z respondents are seeking for business leaders to be proactive about making a positive impact in society—and to be responsive to employees’ needs. While young workers have grown up surrounded by technology, they still feel uneasy about how industry 4.0 will impact their jobs and are looking to business to help them prepare for this shift.

FEI Daily: What do you think accounts for the decline in perceptions of business’ motivations and ethics?

Parmelee: The significant decline in perceptions of business’ motivation and ethics is concerning; however, it also represents a unique opportunity for business leaders. With only 48 percent of millennials believing business behaves ethically, it is time for a reset. Their views may be attributed to several key themes, all of which point to the fact that millennials are looking for leaders to believe in, as the ever-changing world continues to drive uncertainty.

First, millennials are purpose driven and often consider the implications for society from their actions. They believe businesses should prioritize job creation, innovation, enhancing employees’ lives and careers, as well as making a positive impact on society and the environment. Many businesses are already taking action in these areas; however, either their approach or the scale of their action is not fully resonating.

Further, as we reflect on a year with marked social activism, diversity and inclusion in the workplace continues to remain an important topic for young workers. Diversity is taking on a new meaning in the workplace, with millennials and Gen Z all defining it differently. When defining diversity, only 17 percent of millennials and 24 percent of Gen Z mentioned an aspect of demographics, lifestyle, or faith. For survey respondents, diversity is as likely to include tolerance, inclusiveness, openness, and respect for different ideas or ways of thinking.

Millennials are hyper-attuned to diversity efforts at their own organizations, and business leaders are going to need to take a heightened interest in addressing inclusivity for all employees. Addressing educational background as a diversity issue is one area businesses will have to explore, as the growing skills gap and consideration of new types of education will present both significant challenges and opportunities in the future of work.

FEI Daily: What are the work challenges young workers are concerned about facing in the future?

Parmelee: The advent of new technologies and the effects of automation and AI in Industry 4.0 are leaving millennials and Gen Z feeling unprepared for the work of the future. Some are concerned that their jobs will be taken away, and the survey finds they don’t feel prepared with the right skills to succeed. Fewer than four in 10 millennials (36 percent) and three in 10 Gen Z currently employed (29 percent) believe they are fully prepared and have all the skills and knowledge they’ll need.

Interestingly, millennials and Gen Z indicated they are looking to business to help prepare them for the future, particularly with soft skills development - such as creativity, critical judgement and interpersonal skills – which I believe will be crucial to the future of work.

FEI Daily: What problems are associated with young workers’ concerns over not having the skills or knowledge they need to thrive?

Parmelee: Companies are thinking about how to leverage new technologies to fuel innovation, while also focusing on employees’ uniquely human value. Currently, almost four in 10 millennials report their organizations are already making use of advanced automation, connectivity, AI or robotics to fully perform mechanical tasks. While exciting, these technologies are also creating unease in the workplace, which is likely contributing to young talent questioning their loyalty to their employers.

Oftentimes, fear or uncertainty breeds negative perceptions. Business leaders, however, can demonstrate to millennials ways to contribute their knowledge and skills in the workplace while also making an impact beyond its walls.  Business leaders who take a holistic approach to running their business—prioritizing social impact, diversity, innovation and flexibility along with financial performance—will be best positioned to retain and motivate millennial and Gen Z employees in a complex, uncertain environment.