The Great Inheritance's Impact on Employees

Younger workers are set to inherit the greatest transfer of wealth in history. What changes should leaders anticipate.

Gen Z and millennial workers are quicker to quit than their older counterparts were at the same age. They often resist summonses to return to the office, and many insist their top priority is to find a career that also benefits society as a whole.

But there might be a financial cushion that is making some of these decisions easier, the largest transfer of wealth in history.  Indeed, baby boomers are leaving a massive amount of money to their children and grandchildren. Of the $84 trillion projected to be passed down from older Americans to their younger heirs through 2045, $16 trillion will be transferred within the next decade, according to a recent analysis.

Of course, the transfer doesn't affect all young workers or the decision they make. But some additional support may free younger workers to pursue roles that feel more meaningful instead of taking jobs just for a big paycheck. The wealth transfer could also prevent employers from winning back all the leverage they lost during the Great Resignation, even if the economy continues to take a turn for the worse.

Heirs increasingly don’t need to wait for elders to pass before directly benefiting from family money, either. The past decade has seen a surge in popularity of “giving while living”—property purchases, tax-free cash transfers of estate money, and more—providing a head start to many. Beginning in the mid 2010s, more and more younger workers took roles revolving around purpose-driven roles; in an earlier time, relatively low salaries might have deterred them from pursuing these jobs. “The field was filled with people who wanted to do good, but who had fewer concerns about finances, says Mark Lancelott, a UK-based Korn Ferry senior client partner. 

This wealth transfer is by no means evenly distributed. “You don’t want to paint people with a really broad brush,” says Maria Amato, a Korn Ferry senior client partner. To be sure, the wealthiest 10% of households will be giving and receiving a majority of the proceeds. The bottom 50% of households will account for only 8% of the transfers. 

For many young people around the world, the pandemic emphasized that great wealth isn’t attainable, notes Andy Holmes, Korn Ferry associate client partner. “If you think you won’t be a millionaire, or own a house, or need to buy a car, then the type of role you go after is going to shift,” he says.

Whether it’s because some family money is coming their way or because they don’t prioritize maximizing their compensation, young people may resist the tried-and-true approach corporations have relied on to retain workers: raising pay. Instead, experts say, companies must tempt younger workers with jobs that align with their values and offer opportunities to grow professionally. 


Learn more about Korn Ferry’s Workforce Transformation capabilities.