4 ways companies can attract millennials, 'Generation Z' employees

Salt Communications Founding Partner and CEO Andy Last. Photo by: Salt Communications

Having a strong social mission could give employers a competitive edge as they strive to attract and retain younger workers who are driven more by purpose than bonuses, according to social mission expert Andy Last.

The workforce is changing and while, on the one hand, automation is making millions of jobs redundant, on the other, cohorts of young people — often referred to as millennials and their successors, “Generation Z” — are entering the workforce and bringing with them new ideas about how business should be done.

For example, a recent survey of 1,500 young professionals from Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S., revealed that nearly 60 percent said they ranked working for a company committed to making the world a better place as high as salary in terms of importance when considering job opportunities.

Furthermore, bosses who fail to respond to this demand for purpose from their staff are missing an opportunity to increase profit and productivity according to a 2013 report by analytics firm Gallup which finds that having an engaged workforce increases productivity but that only 13 percent of employees actually feel engaged at work.

While many organizations working in the development space are already well ahead of the pack when it comes to being purpose-driven, others may need more support, especially in making sure junior staff and new joiners deliver on that purpose. Furthermore, as private sector companies start responding to the younger generation’s need for purpose in order to hire the freshest talent, development organizations may need to ramp up their game.

Devex spoke to Andy Last, author of “Business on a Mission” and an adviser to companies seeking to integrate their social and business missions, about how CEOs and hiring managers can rethink their strategies to meet this growing demand for purpose and thus attract and retain quality Gen Z and millennial staff.

“Every company I have spoken to reports the same story that now when they’re interviewing younger people their first question is to ask about the company’s social contribution or environmental impacts, and that’s a huge change and its shifting the dynamic,” Last said.

“Given that all the evidence points towards employees having a sense of meaning in their work driving productivity, companies now need a social purpose, not just a business one,” he added.

Embracing a social mission can also enhance an organization’s reputation as an aspirational place to work, Last said. He pointed to a 2015 ranking by LinkedIn which placed Unilever at number three, after Google and Apple, as the most sought after company to work for. In this case, Unilever’s social purpose gave it an edge over other organizations, he said.

Last is no stranger to the socially conscious business model having co-founded Salt Communications which was one of the first U.K. companies to be accredited as a B Corporation, joining the ranks of Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia, who have met high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.

Here are his four tips to help companies use their social mission as a means of attracting, motivating and keeping talented younger staff.

1. Talk about the good you’re doing.

Many companies can be reticent and either fail to talk about their good initiatives or just park them in a sustainability report. This can be driven by different factors — in the U.K., English sensibility can get in the way and bosses don’t feel it’s appropriate to show off about the good they are doing. This is somewhat mirrored in the U.S. where there is a deep-rooted culture of philanthropy going back to the Puritan Founding Fathers. There’s a sense that CEOs need to donate to good causes in order to be in the “club” and there’s also this separation between business and philanthropy — you run your business and then you do your philanthropic work later. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are both examples of this — their foundations are separate from their core businesses.

This reticence can also be driven by a fear that if a company invites the spotlight in one area, this may lead to the uncovering of other areas where the company isn’t doing so well. However, being open and transparent about where a company is not doing so well will only increase trust among staff whereas if you wait until everything is perfect you might miss an opportunity to talk about a positive general direction the business is going in.

So it’s important as a CEO to acknowledge that not everything will be perfect, express your commitment to getting better, but don’t hold back about talking about your purpose.

2. Make purpose integral to the business, not a bolt-on.

Employees need to feel that the social mission is a fundamental part of the business model and that there it has a clear connection to their day job. In practice this means opportunities to make a social or environmental difference are built into the fabric of the business and day-to-day tasks, not just opportunities staff can perform on the side. For example, working on a commercial project that delivers a positive social impact (such as Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty) will create stronger engagement and productivity than the opportunity to volunteer once every few months on a corporate initiative.

This is the responsibility of the recruiters to spell out to would-be employees that the social mission is a core part of the business and will therefore be integral to any job at the company, whether it’s in marketing, business development, finance or any other department.

3. Show how joining your company can help people make a genuine difference.

This is about pre-empting the question from interviewees about what positive difference the company makes and the contribution they can make to that. The answers will often lie in the company’s sustainability reports so consider how these can be presented as part of the employer brand and used by the interviewer during the process. Demonstrate how your company will allow recruits to make a difference by their actions at work, and go beyond just talking about what’s important to them on social media.

4. Make sure people doing the recruiting are genuine advocates for purpose.

Millennials and Gen Z can smell inauthenticity a mile off. If you believe your company has a purpose, if you believe it makes a difference, then the first face potential employees meet should not only understand that purpose but be able to convey it with passion and authenticity.

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About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.