Leveraging Corporate Responsibility for Employee Attraction and EngagementMillennials, also known as Gen Y—those 20-something kids in the office that don’t always seem to get it, have been labeled entitled, lazy, unfocused and self-absorbed. But who are these young people and what makes them tick? Perhaps they are not the uncaring generation we thought. Global environmental and social awareness is in their DNA and they aspire to be active corporate citizens. Some believe that these young professionals may eventually elevate the private sector and transform business as usual into thriving conscious capitalists. So understanding and empowering the new workforce is vitally important to every industry and every company’s growth. It becomes quite clear we can’t move forward without them.
Millennials were born roughly between 1980 and 2000. They are already integrated into the office, filling cubicles for the past 10 years, but arguably misunderstood. These young workers have a drastically different view of what they expect from the workplace experience. Millennials are well educated, very self-confident, creative, and have plenty of energy—similar to generations that came before. However, one attribute that is unlike all generations before is the multi-tasking, information seeking and natural brainiacs of modern technology. A key phenomenon, Gen Ys are the first generation that does not need authority to access information. They don’t need to build a relationship with managers nor follow protocol (or stay on the job from 9 to 5) to be successful at work. Sites such as Facebook and gaming give young people a place to tell their successes and constantly reach for and meet a goal through quick problem-solving skills. Relate these characteristics to the workplace, millennials need to be challenged with a clear purpose and respected for their attempts, even when they fail (remember video games). Technology also produces globally aware youth as the world is at their fingertips.
Millennials are the most inclusionary generation—they were born citizens of the world. This generation is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in history. Gen Ys are conscious bystanders of environmental and humanitarian adversities, literally in their hands. With one look at their smart phones, Facebook or YouTube they see crippling inequities and destruction that humans or nature impose on our own planet and they take action. This compassion and empathy for others is part of what makes this generation so powerful and must be integrated into the workplace. Rena Dulberg, director of community service, academic affairs at Johnson & Wales University-Denver Campus, believes that good employees expect to work for responsible companies. “We teach students to ask their potential employer about their social and environmental practices. If they don’t have an answer, the student should be comfortable to move on if this is important to them.”
The Responsible Generation may be a better label for this generation. The information revolution allows young people to learn more about the world around them, resulting in compassionate global citizens. Take for example the Kony 2012 experiment, which to date, has been viewed nearly one billion times. Supported by this information explosion, millennials have knowledge and information about society as if it affects their daily lives.
What’s more, caring is extended into schools as well. Almost every elementary school in America has on-going programs to raise money for a cause. Becky Lindberg, a student at Johnson and Wales said, “Community service is part of our education at the university and while we were growing up and applying for college, community service was almost a requirement. Why companies aren’t engaging employees in responsible practices as part of my job is surprising, as that fits with what I was taught and with my values.”
Why should companies care about millennials in the office? This generation makes up 80 million people and is projected to make up more than half of the U.S. workforce by 2020. At the same time as millennials are entering the workforce, the baby boomers are leaving—leaving a significant labor and knowledge gap, especially in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Jim Paradise, graduate talent manager at Lockheed Martin stated, “Sixty percent of our current workforce are baby boomers and over half of those employees are eligible to retire today.”
Even with the slow economy, Gen Y workers are choosing where they want to work, or not work at all. This generation has an overwhelming sense of responsibility. They have grown up learning the importance of recycling, using less water, volunteering and sending money to those in need around the world. In a Deloitte survey of millennials, 92 percent believed that companies should be measured on more than economic success. In addition, 86 percent polled believed that companies had the same or more potential to make a positive social impact and 52 percent said that businesses should use their innovation to change our world for the better.
With so much written on Gen Ys, it is hard for managers to know what direction an office should take to get the best from this generation. One baby boomer-aged manager said, “Let them adapt, we did.” But they will not, and this is part of the reason attracting top talent and retaining good workers has been such a challenge for HR departments. This generation prefers to be fulfilled rather than climb the corporate ladder. Dulberg adds, “Social responsibility is giving companies a market share advantage. I think it is smart of students to use this as an evaluative criteria when choosing a company to work for.”
“Gen Ys have a reputation for ambition, efficiency, fondness for working in teams, and a mix of boldness and casualness in interpersonal relationships. All great attributes, if you can convince them to work for you,” explains David Stillman co-author of The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace. “This is a generation in search of meaning, and by that we mean from day one they want to walk into the workplace and know they are making a difference in the world.”
To simplify the barrage of information on millennials, below are the four key drivers and misunderstood myths about millennials and what they need in the workplace to be successful. Leveraging corporate social responsibility strategies to attract and retain workers will be the hallmark of the future work place, as it blends values with corporate mission.
Millennial Truth #1: Millennials want to be responsible and purposeful in the workplace.
Manager Myth #1: Millennials are self-absorbed and unfocused.
Embed corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices into every aspect of your organization. A top executive from a Fortune 500 company said, “An overwhelming number of young people ask me how they can get into a CSR profession, but I say all professions need to have CSR as part of their job.” So decisions companies make on the environment, the community and the employees should not be stuck in the public affairs department or the sustainability office. CSR needs to be integrated and employee performance reviews reflect triple bottom line—people, planet, profit—performance. One of the best ways managers can give purpose to the workplace is to challenge employees every day to use their resources and competency to solve societal problems. This generation wants to know what your organization stands for in improving society, what it stands for in action, as opposed to reporting the dollars donated or hours volunteered. Millennials want to know how they will make a positive difference in the world if they join your business and how it will integrate into their jobs on a regular basis.
Tom’s Shoes, Patagonia, Rally Software, Snooze Eatery and New Belgium Brewery to name a few, are companies that embed corporate responsibility into their organization. They are the doers. Patagonia CEO Casey Sheahan says, “They (the companies) know what they do each day is contributing towards a higher purpose—protecting and preserving the areas that most of them love spending time in.” For millennials, the CSR movement is about purpose and impact. Setting responsible goals for a company and allowing the individual employees or teams to meet these goals creates purposeful and measurable actions of good that go beyond a traditional job. This work practice is called social innovation, unleashing the barriers to innovate new ideas to help with world challenges. And better yet, these incubators of thoughtful purpose for good can potentially lead to profitable return. Dr. Bernard Amadei, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado in Boulder and founder of the humanitarian organization Engineers Without Borders said, “Everything an engineer designs impacts society, and every engineer should be more aware of those potential impacts. You can become a better citizen engineer without changing the job you’re in.”
Millennial Truth #2: Millennials are respectful and caring about the world around them and want these attributes in their place of work.
Manager Myth #2: Millennials act entitled and indifferent.
Set corporate initiatives that positively impact the planet and the communities where an organization lives and works, locally and globally. This generation is the most inclusionary of any generation before. In the United States almost 40 percent of 18 to 30 year olds are minorities and they care about world events. Specifically, they believe that, as civic-minded employees, it is up to them to assume the responsibility of making a lasting, positive impact on the future. If they care, they want their company to care too. A recent study by Cone Communications found that 83 percent of millennials trust a company more and 79 percent want to work for a company that shows they are socially and environmentally responsible. Protecting our environment, caring for communities and a respect in the workplace is paramount to these young workers. With technology and social media, transparency is critical and conscious capitalists understand the value that grows with active corporate citizens.
Sanofi, a global healthcare provider, believes in building global citizenship through the employees’ children—the next generation of do-gooders. The “Holiday Exchange” is a way for the children of their employees to become culturally enlightened. Sanofi families host Sanofi children from diverse foreign countries and then send their children to live with their Sanofi “partner.” Typically, each exchange lasts for about one to two weeks, and Sanofi provides a financial contribution to cover the travel expenses.
Over the past four years, Hanes Corporation has teamed up with the Salvation Army to distribute 2.2 million socks annually to the homeless. A past recipient of the sock drive is now helping with the project and believes that we can change the world with what we buy today.
We can also choose where to work based on the company’s commitment to our communities. Snooze, a breakfast and lunch eatery in Denver and San Diego, built their restaurant on making great food, while also caring for the environment and the communities. They recently implemented 12 months of green, an initiative that protects the planet by buying local, recycling and composting, reducing chemicals, etc. Adam Schlegel, co-owner of Snooze says, “Caring is who we are. Our employees know our company puts actions behind what we care about and ultimately we attract more guests, we get better people working for us, and we save money.”
Millennial Truth #3: Millennials want a work-life balance and recognize that their professional assistance can go beyond the office walls.
Manager Myth #3: Millennials are lazy and can be defensive.
The integration of social and environmental values into the workplace and the alignment of the company mission with cause is paramount to this population. Millennials don’t see workplace completely separate from home life—that is why companies are now offering perks, like bring your dog to work or a foosball table in the break room. Those are nice to have at a company, but office perks alone won’t attract Gen Ys nor keep them working at your company. It’s all about values of the company and integrating those values into the workplace. This generation needs to be engaged, appreciated, and contribute to the world. Ruhi Shamim, a blogger specializing in corporate social responsibility, explains, “As a millennial, I would love to see companies invest more in younger people by incorporating them into their CSR and civic engagement strategies. Don’t ask these young employees to participate in a Saturday clean-up at the park and expect them to be engaged. They want to be part of a service project that builds a long-term community partner, where they can offer expertise while working toward a goal of solving a pressing societal problem.”
Rally Software founder, Ryan Martens, at a recent TedX talk described the, “Citizens Engineer as an engineer confronting societal problems and tackling solutions with the commitment to create a better future.” He believes it means integrating work, life and purpose. It means drawing sustainability and social justice boundaries from which to work toward moving forward. Furthermore, reputation and values on sustainability and social responsibility transcend into work-life balance, where personal and company values collide.
Millennial Truth #4: Millennials are global independent thinkers, creative and innovative.
Manager Myth #4: Millennials don’t follow authority and think they “know it all.”
Empowering social innovation by creating a corporate culture is very important. One the most innovative companies today, Google, allows its employees to use up to 20 percent of their work week to pursue special projects. That means for every standard work week, employees can take a full day to work on a project unrelated to their normal workload. Google claims that many of their products in Google Labs started out as pet projects in the 20 percent time program. Google is the perfect example of why you can’t stifle innovation!
Since millennials care about the world, the practice of social innovation is very compelling to these young workers. Social innovation is a new vision in which a company profits from creating social change. Social innovation is the “DO” of social responsibility and philanthropy, producing a blend of impact and profits. It turns out this vision of doing well by being good is so powerful to Gen Y that there are now employment agencies that solely match social enterprises with qualified workers. ReWorks and Morethanmoneycareers.com are employment agencies that provide information on responsible career options, including CSR jobs, sustainability careers, and social entrepreneurship options.
Years ago, Ashoka recognized the disconnect between caring and doing, and created a nonprofit that supports new ideas and innovations that inspire a new generation of leaders to make social impacts and create social enterprises. Historically, Ashoka supported social entrepreneurs, but surprisingly the millennials in the corporate world wanted to jump on the social entrepreneurship bandwagon, so they shifted focus to include corporate programs that encourage social changes using organizational networks and know-how. Ashoka president Diana Wells said, “There’s a ‘lost tribe’ of social innovators embedded in corporate America, building better business from the inside out. Ashoka and Accenture have joined together to find them, fund them and change the way the world does business.” Thus, the new role in business is "social intrapreneur," a term identifying individuals of companies that utilize the network, core expertise and infrastructures to extend their job and to solve a societal issue.
In 2009 Amy Chen, a manager of PepsiCo and recent graduate of Stanford, was perplexed that 20 million students nationwide received subsidized school meals, and were lacking these meals during the summer months. Ms. Chen and a group of her PepsiCo colleagues decided to do something about it. “If kids can’t get to food,” they thought, “why can’t we bring food to kids?” That simple insight was the genesis of Food for Good. “I remember one of the first community meetings we had. We were describing how we wanted to work together on pilot programs, and start a process of experimenting, and learning and exploring.” Chen said. Today, thanks to partnerships with state and federal governments, local nonprofits, and community organizations, combined with the expertise of colleagues within PepsiCo, Food for Good has become the largest summer mobile meal delivery program in the United States. It operates all summer long—rain or shine—and has provided more than a million nutritious breakfasts and lunches to underserved youth in Dallas, Chicago, Austin and Houston.
This generation of millennials is looking for purposeful and impactful outcomes that blend workplace goals with societal needs. Adam Schlegel, owner at Snooze Eatery says it best, “It’s a long-term approach to business—people, planet, profit, and how do we act today to make tomorrow better.” Help “The Responsible Generation” grow company profits while doing good for our world. In Dr. Seuss’s words: “You're off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So ... get on your way!”
Cristin Tarr is cofounder and managing partner of Business Service Corps, LLC (BSC); a social enterprise helping companies with high impact employee and community engagement programs. The company has developed executive overviews and employee workshops to educate and enhance corporate social responsibility initiatives.
Candace Ruiz is cofounder and managing director of Business Service Corps, LLC (BSC). She is a part-time business professor at the Community College of Denver. To contact Candace visit, www.businessservicecorps.com. To contact Cristin visit, www.businessservicecorps.com.