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Millennials’ Interpretation of Corporate Social Responsibility

Working for Purpose-Driven Organizations

According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Culture Trends, 71 percent of employees said they would take a pay cut to work for a company whose values they share and 39% would quit if asked to do something unethical by their boss. Hallelujah! I’ve been waiting a long time to see millennials jump on the ethics bandwagon and it seems to be occurring.

In a recent survey, 63% of millennials said the primary purpose of a business should be to improve society, not generate profits. A study from the Society of Human Resource Management reports that 94% of millennials want to use their skills to benefit a cause and 57% want more service days at work.

Study after study shows that millennials are the first generation to demand that their 40-hour a week jobs be more than just a place to go to work. Their social lives are built around the workplace because there isn’t enough time to go bar-hopping to meet others of a like kind. They look to work for organizations that care about the environment, social causes and contributing to global economic development.

Ivy Walker, writing for Forbes, states that “Now more than ever before, employees are indicating a strong preference for working for organizations they believe are ethical; organizations they believe they can trust.” She points out that according to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, the U.S. is facing an unprecedented crisis of trust in institutions and employees are looking to their employers to fill the void.

Carol McCarthy, an entrepreneur, suggests that “ethical business goes beyond a company’s actions toward its clients” and includes ‘working with clients who demonstrate strong ethical practices themselves.’” She says her business has turned down multi-million dollar accounts that don’t match its moral compass. “We won’t help clients who we believe don’t have the right motives. This is important to our brand and to what we do.”

The 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey reports the results of 10,455 millennials questioned across 36 countries. The survey shows millennials’ opinion of business motivation and ethics is at the lowest point in three years. About 20 percent said reputation for ethical behavior, diversity and inclusion, as well as workplace well-being were important when choosing an employer.

Millennials look for purpose in gravitating to a business. In the 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability report, 73 percent of millennials said they were willing to pay extra for more sustainable brands while 81 percent of millennials expected their preferred companies to make public declarations of corporate citizenship. Purpose-driven-organizations

I have previously blogged about the disconnect between millennials and employers, noting that while pay is a concern, it shares the stage with other, more outward-centered objectives. The disconnect between employer goals and millennials’ expectations of employers is due to millennials’ commitment to purpose as well as profit.

This is nothing new. Most surveys have shown similar results. Still, employers lag in transitioning their objectives to include a purpose-driven mission. Of course, corporate social responsibility is still a priority for most employers, but the scope of that objective has not widened to include issues broadly thought of as “social enterprise.”

Social enterprise supports the notion of a “triple-bottom-line” organization – those simultaneously seeking profits, social impact, and environmental sustainability. Enterprises that tackle social impact and/or environmental sustainability issues are involved in causes such as free clinics for low-income communities, providing access to affordable prescription glasses to people in the developing world who are otherwise functionally blind, upcycling packaging and other non-recyclable consumer waste, providing access to water and providing reliable energy resources to those in the developing world.

Creating an ethical workplace starts with ethical values: emphasize doing what is right not wrong; doing good things not harmful ones. Just imagine if companies such as Volkswagen (defeat device), Wells Fargo (unauthorized accounts) and Big Parma (opioid crisis) followed ethical values that put the health and welfare of customers, not profit, as the key driving force.

Having taught millennials for many years, I am heartened by the results of recent surveys that show millennials really care about what business does, what motivates its actions, whether actions are ethical and trustworthy, and that a purpose-driven culture exists that puts benefitting society and other cultures front and center in their mission statement. Now, millennials must take up the cause and get vocal to demand that their employers be more morally aware of their behavior and that their policies contribute to the betterment of communities and society at large. In other words, let their conscious be their guide.

Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 11, 2019. Dr. Mintz recently published a book, Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior, that explains how doing the right thing and being a good person can enhance well-being. The book is available on Amazon. Visit his website and sign up for his newsletter, follow him on Facebook and Twitter.