Millennials and sustainability: what employers need to know
Millennials and sustainability: what employers need to know

Millennials are a growing part of the workforce and sustainability values are important to many of them. If you want to attract and retain the best of them, pay heed to what they want. Your business needs millennials – but do they want you?

Millennials, or Generation Y, are currently aged between about 18 and 35. The term ‘Millennials’ was coined after the oldest people in this demographic became adults at the start of the new millennium. They have grown up in an online and inter-connected world, with the belief they can make a difference.

Millennials will make up as much as half of the workforce by 2020. So its important businesses understand their values and how to maximise their potential.


Their values

A growing body of research shows that sustainability values are more important for this demographic than for their predecessors. Choosing an employer with values that align with their own is becoming increasingly important to millennials.

PwC’s 19th global CEO survey Tomorrow’s Leaders Today (2016) looked at the views of student leaders. They believe businesses should be more concerned about social and environmental issues. According to the report, “Millennials want to be proud of their employer, to feel that their company’s values match their own, and that the work they do is worthwhile.” 

Plus, they “put more importance on the nature of their work than what they are paid”.

Alyssa Thorp, 26, agrees. She is the Sustainable Business Network’s event manager and mixes socially with people in a variety of industries. She says: “We want to work for an organisation we can feel proud to work for. We’re very aware of social and environmental issues and it’s important that our employers are too.”

Millennials don’t tend to stay put. According to the PwC report, they see their careers as portfolios of experiences rather than a ladder to be climbed in a single organisation. As little as 18% of millennials plan to stay in their current role for the long term, with most seeing two to four years as a normal job lifespan.

Shruthi Vijayakumar is head of learning and development at Inspiring Stories, a charity that helps young New Zealanders ‘unleash their potential to change the world’.

She says: “There’s a real desire to jump around, travel and try new things. Given that, companies that are really sustainably-aligned have the most loyal workforces.”

Millennials are very ambitious. Rosie Watson, 22, an intern at the Sustainable Business Network, says: “All the people I know have a lot of ambition. But to have ambition and not have the space to use it would be a recipe for a disaster. Employers need to know that millennials want to use their ambition to make a difference to help – environmentally or socially.”


What they want from their employer

Millennials want businesses to have an authentic purpose. They want businesses to put that into action, and they want to make an impact themselves.

Paul Young is a co-founder of youth-led organisation Generation Zero. He says: “The company needs to have a positive mission that goes well beyond just making money; it needs to wear its (progressive) values on its sleeve; and it needs to authentically embody those values through the decisions it makes and how it does things. 

“I think sustainability is right up there as a key set of problems that young people want to be part of solving.”

Turning again to the PwC survey, the number one thing millennials want from their employer is workplace culture and behaviour. That includes social activities. It also includes flexitime initiatives that enable employees to build their working day around their personal interests. And it includes the option to work remotely.

Millennials want to do stuff. According to the Deloitte 2017 Millennial Survey, “Opportunities to be involved with ‘good causes’ at the local level, many of which are enabled by employers, provide millennials with a greater feeling of influence”. 

Shruthi says: “It’s not enough to simply work for a company doing good. This generation wants to get their hands dirty. They want to provide ideas and improvements, and use their talents and skills.” 


Pushing for change

According to Paul Young, the trend he’s seeing among millennials is an increasing desire to change businesses' practices to be more sustainable.

“As younger generations move into positions of greater influence they will challenge old ways of doing things and drive change towards sustainability. Climate change in particular will only grow in urgency and there will be social tipping points. 

“Similar to what we've seen with health and safety over the last few decades, people will look back at some current business practices and attitudes with disbelief.”

The Sustainable Business Network is about to launch a networking and action group for young professionals called The Now Crowd. Its aim is to bring people together and give them the know-how to make a difference in their organisations. Its vision is ‘take your whole self to work and be proud of what you do’. A pilot will be launching shortly.


Paul Young and Shruthi Vijayakumar will be speaking at the Sustainable Business Network’s conference on 29 August. 

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