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17 Sep. 2014 | Comments (0)

We recently published a piece about impending labor shortages and how companies will need to use corporate social responsibility (CSR) to attract and retain top talent. If you aren’t already convinced of the argument, “How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America,” an article in the Governance Studies journal from the Brookings Institution, might persuade you. But more important than reiterating the argument is understanding the issue in more detail.

Among other things, the article’s authors Dr. Michael Hais and Morley Winograd conclude that “the surest way to ensure the failure of a firm’s economic performance in the millennial era that is now emerging is to focus solely on profits, because a company’s future ultimately rests on the loyalty of its customers to the values the company and its brand represent.” They also say that as consumers, millennials are more inclined to support socially aware brands and companies, so their choices of employer will likely follow suit.

This notion is proven by a 2012 survey of 1,250 full-time employees across multiple industries, conducted for LifeCourse Associates. The survey finds that the youngest workers and emerging employees, more than any other, want their employer to contribute to social or ethical causes they think are important.  

 What part of CSR?

There’s a strong body of evidence to indicate that millennials will increasingly factor CSR into their career decisions. It’s a good start, but the next step is to seek more details to help companies structure their CSR programs to attract these young workers.

What part of CSR actually matters to millennials? Are they looking for employers that offer the opportunity to directly impact the community in their day-to-day work, to occasionally participate in volunteering or pro-bono programs, or to simply offer the chance to contribute through matching gifts? Or are they content to work for an organization that gives away more pre-tax profit than others, or that has its environmental footprint in check?

There is some evidence in “How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America” about what the future workforce is looking for in terms of social impact in their careers. The paper references a 2013 study by the National Society of High School Scholars that surveyed “the best and brightest of America’s 15-27 year olds and asked them where they would like to work.” I was surprised to see St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital ranked number one, with three other health care providers in the top 10.

It’s a crude measure, but to me the findings suggest that young workers won’t be content to simply be a cog in a bigger machine that covers its CSR bases, or to give their money anonymously through company fundraising efforts—they actually want to see their work have some impact. This could mean that hands-on community experiences, such as longer-term pro-bono programs, may become a more important element of CSR than corporate charitable donations or matching gifts.

While using one study as a basis for that assertion is an oversimplification, with evidence building that shows that CSR will factor more prominently in millennials’ career choices, companies must start to dig further into the details of those decisions.

  • About the Author:Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson is Principal of Parky Communications, a communications agency specializing in sustainability and CSR reporting and communications. He serves as the Co-Leader of The Conference Board Cor…

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