Employee burnout and turnover have become major challenges for many companies today. According to recent surveys, around 40% of Gen Z workers want to quit their jobs within the next two years. Additionally, millennials and Gen Zers have the highest reported rates of burnout compared to other generations. This troubling trend indicates fundamental issues in today's workplace environments and cultures that lead to disengagement, exhaustion and lack of motivation among younger workers.
To foster employee retention and performance, companies need to take a close look at what motivates and demotivates their workers. While competitive pay and benefits are important, purpose, growth opportunities, work-life balance, positive company culture and employee empowerment are key factors that can reduce burnout and boost motivation. By implementing strategies to address these intrinsic needs, companies can create engaging work environments where employees feel energized and driven to perform at their best.
Today we will explore the root causes of burnout and lack of motivation among millennial and Gen Z workers. We will also provide actionable strategies that individuals and organizations can take to overcome these challenges, tapping into the deepest motivations that give work meaning and inspire passion and drive.
Causes of Burnout and Demotivation for Millennials and Gen Z
There are several key factors contributing to disproportionately high burnout and turnover among millennial and Gen Z workers compared to older generations:
Work-Life Imbalance: Younger generations place a high priority on work-life balance. However, demanding work schedules, pressure to be constantly connected, and a lack of flexibility often prevent them from achieving balance, leading to burnout over time.
Lack of Meaning and Purpose: Millennials and Gen Z's value purposeful work aligned with their passions and values. Mundane or repetitive work without room for creativity or making an impact demotivates them over time.
Poor Company Culture: Toxic company cultures with unsupportive leadership, lack of collaboration, and unhealthy competition sap motivation and increase burnout risks.
Minimal Growth and Advancement Opportunities: Younger workers highly value opportunities for continuous learning, development and career progression. Stagnating in roles with limited mobility is a major demotivator.
Feelings of Disconnection and Loneliness: With remote and hybrid work becoming more common, younger generations report struggling with feelings of isolation and disconnection from coworkers and the organization.
Lack of Empowerment and Trust: Micromanagement and lack of input into decisions undermine morale, motivation and sense of purpose among millennial and Gen Z workers who value autonomy and empowerment.
Strategies for Increasing Motivation and Overcoming Burnout
While the causes of burnout and demotivation may feel complex and ingrained, there are concrete strategies individuals and organizations can implement to reignite engagement, passion and drive among employees:
Set Clear Goals and Priorities: With abundant tasks and distractions, individuals should set S.M.A.R.T. goals and regularly re-evaluate priorities to stay focused on meaningful work that aligns with skill development and career aspirations.
Take Regular Time Off: Making use of all vacation time, detaching from work outside of working hours, and taking intermittent mental health days helps prevent fatigue and restore motivation.
Pursue Interests and Hobbies: Carving out time for activities unrelated to work, such as hobbies, volunteering, or classes, provides balance and helps maintain passion for work.
Foster Positive Relationships: Making connections with supportive, inspiring colleagues creates a sense of belonging and community that combats isolation and burnout.
Reflect on Your Purpose: Regularly reflecting on core values, passions, and the meaning derived from your work renews motivation during periods of monotony or frustration.
Ask for More Responsibility: Seeking challenges that stretch your skills makes work more engaging and develops experience for advancement opportunities.
Speak Up About Dissatisfiers: Communicating openly with managers about uninspiring work or toxic team dynamics is key to creating change and boosting morale.
Learn New Skills: Pursuing professional development opportunities combats stagnation and prepares you for more rewarding roles aligned with evolving interests.
Take on Cross-Departmental Projects: Collaborating across teams exposes you to new challenges, perspectives and mentors to expand your thinking and networks.
Set Healthy Boundaries: Clearly defining and communicating when and how you can be reached outside working hours allows for better work-life balance and prevents burnout.
Change Your Scenery: Simple changes like working in new locations, decorating your workspace, or alternating between focused and collaborative work settings stimulates creativity and interest.
Organizational Strategies for Improving Employee Motivation
While individuals have agency to improve their own motivation and avoid burnout, organizations play a critical role in shaping work environments and cultures that bring out the best in employees. Here are key strategies leaders and companies can implement:
Provide Opportunities for Growth: Offer access to mentors, stretch assignments, rotations across departments, leadership development programs and training opportunities to continually expand skills.
Develop an Inspiring Vision and Mission: Clearly communicating how the organization brings value to customers and society gives work deeper purpose and meaning.
Prioritize Work-Life Balance: Encourage employees to set boundaries, take time off, and model sustainable work practices at all levels of leadership.
Promote Collaboration and Bonding: Foster team bonding through off-sites, social events, cross-functional projects, and networking opportunities to reduce isolation and build community.
Give Employees a Voice: Solicit input through surveys, town halls, open office hours with leadership, and participation in decision-making to increase trust and empowerment.
Offer Flexibility: Provide flexible schedules, remote work options, and generous leave policies to help employees manage demands outside work.
Create Employee Resource Groups: Facilitate communities for employees with shared interests, backgrounds, or demographic groups to connect and support one another.
Set Clear, Achievable Goals: Break down large initiatives into focused, measurable goals to provide clarity and a sense of progress. Celebrate milestones.
Model Work-Life Balance: Managers should visibly take time off, detach from work after hours, and speak about their lives outside work to set the tone for employees.
Provide Ongoing Recognition: Beyond compensation and promotions, recognize employees for progress on goals, milestones, behaviors that typify values, and willingness to go above and beyond expectations.
With intentionality and concerted effort at both individual and organizational levels, it is possible to cultivate work environments where all employees, regardless of generation or life stage, feel engaged, empowered, supported, and motivated to bring their best selves to work each day. The strategies outlined above provide a roadmap. By focusing on intrinsic motivations related to purpose, growth, autonomy and belonging, we can build workplaces where people feel energized and driven to push themselves and organizations forward.
Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.