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Generation Good

Millennials favor jobs and products they figure might make the world a better place. 

A generation plans to change the world. Millennials—or 18- to 29-year-old Americans—are anxious to get jobs, but given a choice, they favor jobs they figure might make the world a better place. They grew up in the digital age, making them well aware of the world’s problems.

Today’s university students, especially, have a do-gooder mission, and fulfilling that mission is more important to them than having children or a prestigious career, acquiring wealth or becoming community leaders, according to Cliff Zukin, professor of political science at the Rutgers University in the United States. Their sensibility is sure to affect how businesses operate, because, by 2020, millennials will make up nearly half the workforce.

“My generation has been imbued with a sense of responsibility,” said a millennial, Allison McGuire, of the Companies for Good blog. “We grew up learning that our actions directly affect our communities.” As workers, millennials hope to nudge their employers to take responsibility for employees, for society and for the world, she said.

But millennials are not idealistic fools. According to a 2012 survey conducted by Zukin for Net Impact, an advocacy group, the recession of the late 2000s made the millennial generation care about survival in the labor market more than anything else, including their change-the-world aspirations. Job security and a good work/life balance surpass their altruistic desires.


Informed consumers, engaged employees

Millennials care about the values behind brands. They research products and their makers before buying anything. Through social media, they share information about manufacturers’ safety records, environmental standards and the health of their workers. They raise funds for their favorite small businesses through crowdsourcing sites. By purchasing products from companies they value highly for their “stewardship ­credentials,” these consumers pressure businesses to be socially responsible.

As employees, millennials crave engagement and meaningful work. They often challenge corporate culture from within. They want to “hit the ground running on day one,” said Bruce Tulgan, a management expert, in his book, “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y.” “They want to identify problems that nobody else has identified, solve problems that nobody else has solved, make existing things better, invent new things.”

But, Zukin said, millennials can hit the wall of an entrenched corporate culture when “they find out they have to wait to have their opinions heard.” If they can improve a community or contribute to environmental cleanup while at work, they are more satisfied and productive, according to the Net Impact survey. It is one reason large corporations like IBM Corporation, Pfizer Inc., PepsiCo Inc. and Dow Corning Corporation have established programs to allow employees to volunteer for service projects in the developing world. Such programs, managers say, not only align with their companies’ mission, but also distinguish them at job fairs and thus help them attract new talent.


Future business leaders

Business schools have heard millennials’ battle cry and are including corporate stewardship in their curricula. Most have established corporate social responsibility programs and submit to being ranked on them. After the Thunderbird School of Global Management adopted a pledge of responsible global citizenship for graduating students, other business schools followed suit.

“There’s definitely a movement of people recognizing that we have a responsibility to do good,” said Kellie Kreiser, assistant vice president at Thunderbird. “This generation is confident and equipped to find opportunities in the entrepreneurial sphere to tackle social issues.”


Laura Haugen is a contributing writer for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs.