It’s predicted that by 2025 three quarters of workers globally will be Millennials. And far from businesses corrupting their values, many believe that they will bring a new set of ethical values to the board room, not seen for over 100 years, since Quaker companies formed.
Companies like Ford, Barclays and Cadbury’s were established on strong ethical values, by contrast, many of today’s big 500 were built on delivering shareholder value only.
The exception are the newer digital based businesses that have embraced a core ethical ethos from the start, like Google, so it is no wonder this generation of digital natives are more attracted to the new companies than the old.
The Three Ps – People, Planet, Profit – isn’t just a nice ethical tag to put in your CSR report, it’s actually becoming a requirement of those businesses wishing to attract the best young talent. Values-driven business models have a massive advantage in recruitment, according to one recruitment specialist.
Brought up by a generation of conscientious parents who encouraged empowerment and ethical values, the new generation of youth, especially Millennial grads, want employers to enshrine values and ethics in their business model, not just work for profit.
According to research (by Global Tolerance) over half, 62%, of young people want to work for an organisation that has a positive impact on the world.
Research by Deloitte shows that 44% have turned down a job because they thought the company’s ethics were not as good as their standards. While 56% list companies they would never work for because of their poor ethics like Nestle or BP. And 86% said they’d consider leaving an employer whose values no longer met their expectations.
Further research shows that 44% of grads think a job that helped others was more important than a high salary, while 36% would put in more hours if their company’s activities benefitted society, and even more, 53%, if they were making a difference to others themselves.
Ethical companies have more committed, harder working workforces, because if a businesses has a social purpose, that is something worth getting out of bed for.
By contrast, in companies that have a high level of staff job dissatisfaction and churn, it is no surprise that employees complain the only purpose is profit and therefore keeping shareholders happy.
Having ‘a strong sense of purpose beyond financial success’ is critical to job satisfaction, more so than money and title for Millennials. This means unethical businesses are finding it harder than ever to attract the new talent they need to keep competitive.
Add this to a growing image of large corporations being seen as untrustworthy and corrupt, you can predict that we could see a dramatic change in the top 500 over the next generation.
In a dynamic technology driven world, when no businesses can feel comfortable, recruiting young people with fresh ideas and energy can make a big difference for businesses that are becoming aged. Just look at BHS, once a dynamic retailer, its failure to keep up with the times resulted in it being sold for £1 last year and then collapsing into bankruptcy.
Of course taking on young conscientious consumers may result in a few surprises. A well known photocopier company discovered that instead of the FD or IT procurement manager being the key decision maker, it was in fact the 19 year old receptionist. Younger people in companies are the first to question the ethics of items like photocopiers and demand their company buys brands that deliver to eco higher standards.
Yep, ethics is the new economic business model.
The ethical student culture
Volunteering at university is at a record high, proving that far from the image of youth being work shy, lazy and looking for easy money, in fact then new Millennial grads are hard working conscientious employees.
The change is not surprising, schools have for a long while been pushing ethics and environmentalism as part of the curriculum, often supported by big companies like Sky TV. They are also part of a new generation of socially savvy consumers who use ‘the dollar in their pocket to make a political statement, not just a purchase’.
At University level many student unions, and the NUS in the UK, have high ethical standards and encourage students to do likewise. The student unions control a number of campus retail units so can block unethical companies and sell only brands that adopt high ethical standards, like Fairtrade. The NUS even has its own ethical clothing brand, Epona.
But as students graduate they will soon become the next C-suite. A study by PCW states, “The millennial generation, now entering into employment, will reshape the world of work.” In some cases that has already happened. Another factor to consider is that not all grads are choosing to work for established companies, some are leaving college and targeting start ups or even setting up tech businesses themselves.
Businesses built for Millennials
The other side of how Millennials are changing the face of business is as customers or advocates.
New companies, like TalkHoliday – a savvy social media based travel network – have been quick to reinforce their ethical credentials. TalkHoliday’s main audience are Millennials so have partnered with Traidcraft, the UK’s biggest Fairtrade organisation. The partnership gives TalkHoliday a competitive edge over sites and makes them more trusted.
Brands throwing money at social media marketing are often disappointed in the result, discovering that people aren’t interested in engaging with 99% of brands, especially as “most brands don’t get social,” commented one student in a recent research group conducted by The Garage (Creative Orchestra’s disruptive innovation consultancy), “Why would I want to treat a cosmetic brand as my friend? All I want is the discount, not a relationship, I have people for that.”
In the qual groups, most of the participants cited brands as having little of any value to say, often resorting to gimmicks to get attention. But those brands that have a real social and ethical story to tell that connected with readers values. Like Lush and Toms, were most likely to be engaged and shared.
Toms, the ethical shoe business, gives away a pair for every pair bought (one for one). Not only are they seen as trendy but it’s their ethical ethos and social purpose that resonates with youth. No surprise people not only want to wear them but also work for them.
The strength of the brand has grown largely through WOM, community sharing (via Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat) and PR. Toms’ call their followers ‘Toms Tribe’ and utilises them to help promote activities like One Day Without Shoes, which engaged over 3.5million people this year and resulted in over 27,000 shoes being given away
Bugger the Planet
Despite a multi million dollar ad campaign, oil companies cannot shake off the brand shame of an oil spill that destroys coastlines, kills wildlife and reinforces people’s belief that the oil companies are just in it for the money. Showing the power of social media, you can find many versions of what BP actually stands for on the web, my favourite is ‘Bugger the Planet’.
Any business that thinks it can market itself as ethical when it isn’t is in for a shock. Millennials are quick to use social media to expose bad behaviour and lies.
The UK and US media have also become ethical policemen, highlighting big brand’s misdemeanors, helping to raise awareness of businesses ethics, or lack of, so any company that thinks it can get away with it, often finds itself splashed across the newspapers.
The message to business is that if you want the best young talent and the best minds, then you need to be on your best behaviour.