Originally Posted: Jun 13, 2018
Last Updated: Jun 1, 2020
There’s a new generation sipping coffee in the breakroom these days, and if you’re a part of it (or about to be), your expectations when it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR) may be even higher than those of your millennial elders.
Gen Z, roughly defined as the generation born between 1995 and 2010—and one of four generations profiled in LiveCareer’s 2018 Job-Hopping Report—is a larger cohort than either Gen X or baby boomers, and the first wave of workers from this generation is already taking their place in the workforce. The most racially diverse US generation to date, they’ll be looking to align themselves with companies that are purpose driven, early data indicates.
Thanks to smartphones, social media, and crowdsourcing, these digital natives are more global in their world-view than any previous generation. Many have grown up enjoying virtual interactions with members of their generation from across the globe, which means they’ve been quick to criticize unfair work practices and other varieties of poor corporate citizenship on social media.
What does this mean as they enter the workforce? Very likely that companies that don’t think seriously about how their brand is seen in terms of CSR may pay a steep price when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent and customers.
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Businesses and organizations define corporate social responsibility in many ways, but most definitions include an awareness of a company’s effect on employees, customers, communities, and the environment. CSR includes a commitment to improving conditions for all stakeholders through ethical governance, use of renewable materials, and partnerships with nonprofit organizations.
Examples range from law and accounting firms engaging in pro bono work to volunteer and fundraising opportunities for employees to social justice initiatives that are hard-baked into the company’s mission. An example of the latter would be Warby Parker’s Buy a Pair, Give a Pair policy, which provides a free pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair sold. TOMS’ One for One is a similar program for shoes.
According to a 2017 survey of 5,000 Gen Zers, they’re likely to favor employers that have a range of initiatives in place, from more traditional volunteer and fundraising partnerships with local and national nonprofits to more ambitious approaches—a commitment to reducing toxic materials in manufacturing, fair labor practices domestically as well as globally, and/or a business model that incorporates social good in its core mission.
From an HR perspective, Gen Z jobseekers are even more likely than millennials to expect employers to have internal programs in place to address gender and racial equity. For example, Gen Zers may seek out the company that takes the lead within its industry on workplace harassment and gender equality, diversity engagement, and environment and social activism, and even accept a slightly lower salary offer to work there.
According to a Cone Communications survey of younger workers, some 75% of respondents indicated that they consider a company’s social and environmental practices when considering a job offer, and the same percentage reported they would accept a lower salary to work for a company with a strong CSR program. Two-thirds reported they would not accept an offer from a company that doesn’t have a commitment to corporate community engagement.
Outside the office
According to the LiveCareer report, Gen Zers list volunteer experience on their résumés 37% more often than millennials and are 1.4-times more likely than Gen Xers—and 4.2 times more likely than baby boomers—to list these endeavors on their résumés.
The data indicates that younger generations place more value on volunteering and philanthropy and are attracted to companies that incorporate community service into their corporate mission. For example, according to the Cone Communications’ 2017 “How to Speak Gen Z” study, 94% believe companies have a responsibility to address social and environmental issues, a strong argument to include information about community engagement and sustainability practices in job ads.
There is also evidence that volunteerism increases employee engagement. More than 80% of millennials responding to a Cone Communications study said they feel more loyalty to companies that provide them with volunteer opportunities and derive more satisfaction from their work when their company provides opportunities to work on social and environmental issues.
For Gen Zers, external corporate responsibility may go further than traditional alliances with big-name nonprofits. This generation often expresses a desire to engage in meaningful work projects that align profitability with social missions, and they are likely to remain longer in roles that offer them these opportunities. As a bonus, allowing younger employees to take the lead on volunteer and community engagement projects provides them with valuable leadership experience and grooms them for similar internal management roles in the future.
Not only does social engagement provide opportunities for younger employees to develop leadership skills, company-supported volunteerism can also improve morale and brand perception. In fact, in one study, 70% of respondents said volunteering would do more to improve morale in their workplace than company-sponsored happy hours.
At the same time, many employees said they would volunteer more often if they understood that their efforts helped hone work skills and had a direct effect on social problems. This means that employers have the opportunity to increase morale and retention by taking the lead on employee-community engagement with programs and messaging that clearly articulates the values of community service. Such efforts are likely to have the biggest impact of all on Gen Zers, a generation that is interested in their place in the world.
Companies such as Salesforce, Ben & Jerry’s, and Bosch are ahead of the curve, leveraging their name for social responsibility as a recruitment tool aimed at younger workers. Big-name corporations that have developed innovative sustainability initiatives include Dell’s Legacy of Good, Virgin Atlantic’s Change Is in the Air, and Levi Strauss & Co.’s Made of Progress.
Socially conscious, politically engaged, and as interested in creating communities and contributing to them as any generation before them, Gen Z is entering the workforce eager to do meaningful work and understand how their work matters.