MetLife’s 20th annual U.S. “Employee Benefit Trends Study” finds that job satisfaction has hit a 20-year low among U.S. workers. The least satisfied workers are “zillennials,” a micro-generation that was born between 1993 and 1998.
According to the survey, more than half of zillennials (53%) say that having an unfulfilling job is currently a top source of stress. They feel more strongly than other employees that their employer is doing only the “minimum possible” to help them adapt to their new working environments (41% vs. 36%, respectively).
As a result, they are now more discerning than other generations in evaluating their employers, considering all aspects of the employee experience beyond traditional benefits.
Why Job Satisfaction Is Low
To say the last two years have had a massive impact on U.S. employees would be an understatement, said Missy Plohr-Memming, senior vice president, group benefits, MetLife.
“Just consider everything that employees had to endure in that time: a global pandemic, economic instability, political polarization, climate change – the list goes on,” she added. “We weren’t entirely surprised to find that employees were feeling dissatisfied in their jobs – their entire lives had been turned upside down in a matter of mere months. What we did find surprising was which employee subgroup had been feeling this dissatisfaction the most.”
As it turns out, zillennials are the least satisfied at work, and this is because they continue to struggle with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic on their personal and professional lives, she added.
“Our research shows that their well-being has taken a severe hit, particularly as it concerns their mental and social health,” she said.
In fact, the study found that more than half of zillennials (53%) have sought mental health help in the last year (vs. 31% all employees), and 53% say having an unfulfilling job is currently a top source of stress, according to Plohr-Memming.
What Zillennials Want
As zillennials seek more fulfillment at work, they’ve become more discerning than other generations in evaluating their employers – prioritizing purpose-driven work and considering all aspects of the employee experience beyond traditional benefits, explained Plohr-Memming.
“In short,” she said, “they’ve become intrinsically more interested in aligning themselves with companies that provide a clear sense of purpose. In fact, our research found that less than half (46%) are willing to stay with a company that doesn’t have a clear and positive company purpose (vs. 57% of all employees).”
As such, zillennials’ needs in the workplace have extended beyond traditional benefits, according to Plohr-Memming. This includes an enhanced interest in an employer’s stance on environmental and ethical issues (45%), as well as diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) resource groups (40%), both of which have emerged as “must-have” employer expectations for this age group.
And as they continue to struggle with pandemic-related burnout and social isolation, zillennials are also looking for employers who support their holistic well-being – not just their physical health, but their mental, social, and financial health, too, Plohr-Memming added. All of these aspects of zillennials’ well-being took a hit during the pandemic, and moving forward, they want their employers to help them feel supported across all of these touchpoints.
Improving Zillennials’ Well-Being
Specifically, when asked which types of benefits or programs, if offered by their employer, would most improve their overall well-being, zillennials cited paid and unpaid leave benefits (74%); work-life management programs (67%); mental- wellness benefits, including employee assistance programs (EAP) and reimbursement for therapy sessions (62%); and programs to support their financial needs (55%) as top priorities, said Plohr-Memming.
“However, what we found in our report is that understanding and catering to what we call the “whole employee” is key to supporting zillennials’ well-being in the long run; in other words, understanding that employees are individuals with an important life outside of work and unique needs that go beyond paychecks, basic benefits, and safe working environments,” she added.
The answer to supporting the whole employee lies in a well-designed and compelling employee experience, Plohr-Memming added. This, of course, includes benefits, but benefits also sit alongside purpose, culture, training and development opportunities, scheduling and vacation policies, DEI initiatives, employee assistance programs (EAPs), and other key aspects of the employee experience.
“Workers want all of these elements to work together to suit their unique needs and enable them to succeed professionally and live their best lives outside of work,” she added.
Raising The Satisfaction Level
According to Plohr-Memming, zillennials’ job dissatisfaction doesn’t exist in a silo. By design, it’s representative of the two generations that zillennials span (Gen Z and millennials), and with overall job satisfaction hitting a 20-year low across all generations, it’s clear that other generations are at a similar inflection point.
“Therefore, understanding what this micro-generation needs will be critical for employers as they reimagine the workplace experience in the months to come,” she said.
Thinking holistically about benefits can help. While traditional benefits remain of high importance to zillennials – particularly legal plans, life insurance, and hospital indemnity insurance, which jumped 25 percentage points, 23 percentage points, and 19 percentage points since 2017 in this age range, respectively – this group is also increasingly expressing interest in new benefits, such as student debt assistance, with 50% of zillennials calling it a “must have.”
“In short, when it comes to improving job satisfaction, loyalty, and retention, employers need to think of benefits as the foundation of the whole employee experience, Plohr-Memming said. “Just consider that one in four zillennials (27%) say they have considered leaving their employer for an improved benefits package over the past year (vs. 19% of all employees).
"This means offering comprehensive packages that both complement and reinforce the other critical elements of the employee experience. If they don’t, they risk losing employees to another employer who will.”
The study was conducted in November 2021. The employer survey includes 2,737 interviews with benefits decision makers and influencers at companies with at least two employees. The core employee survey consists of 3,041 interviews with full-time employees, ages 21 and over, at companies with at least two employees.
Ayo Mseka has more than 30 years of experience reporting on the financial-services industry. She formerly served as Editor-In-Chief of NAIFA’s Advisor Today magazine. Contact her at [email protected].