Millennial and Gen-Z employees want to do well by doing good.
When it came to job hunting, people of my parents’ generation—as well as a good chunk of those my own age—saw a competitive salary and medical benefits as the ultimate career package. What else could you possibly want?
But for today’s younger job applicants, the mindset is shifting dramatically. More and more Millennials (those born in the early ’80s to mid ’90s) or Gen-Z prospects (born after 1996) want to feel a sense of value and meaning in their work.
The desire to succeed not just for oneself but to contribute back to the greater good is the underlying theme of the “purpose economy,” a term coined by entrepreneur and author Aaron Hurst in a book of the same name.
Increasingly, I see this desire for a “purpose career” as a key motivator for the post-baby-boom generations. To learn more about this concept and why younger workers have such shifting workplace priorities, I recently had a chance to talk with John Jersin, vice president of product management for LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions and Careers unit. Here’s what we discussed:
Wanted: A Purpose Career
Given LinkedIn’s expertise on the job market and candidate experience, Jersin had a wealth of data and knowledge to share on this purpose economy evolution, noting he agrees with the theory and sees considerable relevant data on hiring trends to support.
“We see that 64% of Millennials define a good job as one that they’re proud to talk about,” he said in a recent chat. Additionally, 75% of those surveyed said they would work even if they didn’t have to and 40% said they want to “feel passionate” about what they do.
I attribute part of this mind shift to the way children have been raised over the past few decades. Many parents tell their kids to pursue their dreams and that they can be whatever they want to be. It’s no longer: “Get a job so you can pay your bills.” The message is now something more like: “Find a situation that fulfills you and makes you feel like a productive member of society.”
Jersin and I both agree that one very real effect of that self-empowerment movement is that younger workers aren’t afraid to ask their managers, maybe even their managers’ managers, for what they want. And what they want may very well be to combat global warming, clean up the oceans, or save endangered species, making room for dedicated sustainability and social impact teams within organizations.
Another profound generational change that we discussed is that Millennials and Gen-Zs know that they’re not going to stick with the same job or company for 30 or even 10 years. That’s a far cry from the early baby boomers, who may themselves have been raised by Great Depression-era parents and who aspired to a 40- or 50-year stint at a company like Procter & Gamble or Ford.
For that reason, post Baby-Boomer generations want to be able to learn new skills continually so they can take on new challenges over time.
Balancing Purposeful Skills and Technical Prowess
This desire to continuously learn new skills has never been more important than it is in today’s society. The question is, though, what skills do we need to learn?
We live in a tech-obsessed era, so most people focus on the need to build data analysis, computer language, and other technical skills. But when asked if I should advise my children to prioritize tech or “soft” interpersonal skills, Jersin didn’t hesitate: “Both,” he said.
While companies undoubtedly need data jockeys and programming wizzes along with human AI experts, managers in HR and other departments also must build strong personal connections with job candidates and team members to recruit and retain the best.
According to LinkedIn’s data, a whopping 90% of companies surveyed said soft skills are at least as important as tech skills, which is why employee training — whether company sponsored or through personal development — should span from presentation skills and personal networking, to more computer-oriented coursework.
What it Means for HR and the Future of Work
The rise of the ‘Purpose Economy’ is only just getting started. As more Millennials become managers and Generation-Z enters the workforce, these meaningful motivators will become more front and center. Companies must respond to these intertwined aspirations for a “purpose-based career” and continual education if they want to hire the best and brightest.
At the corporate level, some companies are already tailoring new socially-conscious messaging to woo customers as well as employees. Look at what Patagonia has done first with its eco-conscious mission statement and its recent decision to stop selling bulk goods to firms with “poor” social values.
Some companies are expanding their efforts to match employee charitable contributions or granting more time off for them to work with philanthropies. Flexibility in time as well as workspaces is very important to this cohort of young workers.
And, companies must make it easy for employees to learn new skills by producing online courses internally, or subsidizing the cost of outside classes.
Thirty or forty years ago, college grads probably thought their degree conferred the skills they needed to sustain a life-long career. That has not been the case for a while, but now with new job entrants anticipating 10 or 15 career changes over a lifetime, continuing education is essential to attract ambitious applicants.
That constant retooling could be provided at the government, academic, industry or personal level, but right now the bulk of the work falls to each individual and employers: The latter needs to step up.
While training gives employees the skills they need to grow their career, potentially with another company, it also promotes internal mobility by empowering star employees to grow and develop while staying at the same company.
There’s No Time to Waste
The growing demand for value-based jobs is relatively new but companies who haven’t already prepared themselves, in terms of strengthening their education efforts, and identifying and promoting their own core values, should act quickly.
This massive change is happening far faster than many companies realize, Jersin said. There has long been a notion that some companies are more mission-driven than others, but, in his view, every company’s going to need to embrace purpose as a business imperative if it wants to compete for the best talent and have a lasting future.