Millennials will begin to turn 40 in 2021 amid the backdrop of the Great Recession and the Covid-19 pandemic. They are already entering management positions. But are they ready to lead?  

Millennials have been unfairly stereotyped as lazy and entitled employees who insist on working for value-driven companies with casual dress codes—but will likewise dump any notion of company loyalty if it means leapfrogging into a management position they haven’t earned.

Forget that they went to college during a period when education costs were soaring and graduated amid the fallout to the global financial crisis. Or that many companies began to eliminate middle management positions amid a tighter job market.

A decade later, however, and millennials are the largest generation in the workforce and the oldest among them will hit the big 40 this year. Research shows that many are now rethinking whether simply climbing the corporate ladder is worth the effort after spending their early careers burned out on limited opportunities.

Millennials’ career paths could be affected once again following a second major economic downturn as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll, 59% of older millennials have had their income impacted by the crisis. Of the 1,000 adults aged 33 to 40 polled, 23% had their hours reduced, 15% had their pay reduced, 15% are currently working more hours, and 11% lost their jobs altogether.

Of any generation, millennials were most likely to say that the coronavirus pandemic is having a “major” impact on their finances, at 39%. An additional 41% said it’s had a “minor impact,” and 20% said it has had no impact at all.

That’s a significant leap from their parents: Only 17% of baby boomers say the pandemic has had a major financial impact on them. While 50% of boomers said they’ve experienced a minor impact, 33% answered that the pandemic has had no impact whatsoever on their current financial situation.

Nevertheless, some believe a healthy economic recovery post-Covid—as has been predicted—could mean the retirement of more baby boomer executives and the promotion of younger leaders. More flexible workplace conditions following the pandemic might also persuade millennials to stay on the management track.

“If you look at the under-40 group, they come from an environment which was already quite fast moving and unsettled—look at the period after September 11 and the Global Financial Crisis—so there was already an embedded agility there and a preparedness to try new things, fail fast and rapidly change direction if that’s what’s required,” UniSA’s Australian Centre for Business Growth director Professor Jana Matthews said in a recent interview.

Matthews said the leadership attributes needed to navigate the pandemic were well aligned to many of those typically displayed by emerging Millennials including shared leadership, delegation and a greater focus on work-life balance.

She said this could fast-track the transition of the state’s business leadership base away from the ageing Baby Boomer generation and give further rise to Millennials.

“As we look at the CEOs who are Baby Boomer generation they sometimes come with a younger team or even younger members of their family because they are thinking about succession planning and they do tend to see their role as command and control.

“Millennial leaders like to figure out what people do well and encourage and develop them.”