The Lost Trust Of Millennials With Big Business

In the most recent Deloitte Millennial Survey released May 15, 2018—where the firm surveyed 10,455 millennials and 1,844 Gen Z youth from around the globe—there is a dark and foreboding pattern emerging.

According to the results, “opinions about business’ motivations and ethics, which had trended up the past two years, retreated dramatically this year, as did their sense of loyalty.”

Instead of organizations shifting the way in which they run such that they do so with a “purpose mindset,” the majority of millennials and Gen Z youth believe they are going in the opposite direction. Respondents feel there is now a significant gap between a purpose-driven business and how they are in fact operating. They expect more than what is currently being delivered from their leaders.

Note the following changes in perception:

  • Do businesses behave ethically? (48% in 2018 vs. 65% in 2017)
  • Are business leaders committed to helping improve society? (47% in 2018 vs. 62% in 2017)

Those are massive drops in millennial and Gen Z opinion in just one year.

If that weren’t grim enough, two more key statistics further paint a picture of gloom:

  • 75% believe leaders/business focus on their own agendas rather than considering the wider society
  • 62% think leaders/business have no ambition beyond wanting to make money

If it’s not a wakeup call for a company, I am not sure what is. This comes at two points of inflection.

First, both of these age brackets are consumers. They have wallets, and they are unafraid to part ways with their money solely to companies that act ethically and within a purpose mindset. Ultimately they have no problem voting with their wallet.

Second, these age brackets are the future of work. That is, they are the pipeline of talent not only for your organization today but for future leadership roles. Pretending that they do not care about a purpose-driven organizational mindset is naïve and terribly backward thinking.

If millennials and Gen Z employees want their employer to be measured regarding more than financial performance, why has it become so difficult for senior leaders to see this trend?

I argue that an organization ought to be functioning with a much greater purview than merely financials and profitability. An organization’s operating purpose should focus on five key areas:

  • Customers: customer satisfaction scores through various factors including reliability, responsiveness, and relationship.
  • Team Members: engagement scores and sub-drivers, diversity breakdown, acts of internal recognition, positional changes/promotions and learning and development expenditure.
  • Community: team member volunteer hours, organizational philanthropic investment, in-kind donations, number of community members impacted, etc.
  • Society: CO2 and greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, water utilization/reuse, energy consumption/redesign, material consumption/lessening. Other examples from the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI) could also be utilized.
  • Owners/Shareholders: Profitability, revenue and shareholder return (if publicly traded), but all metrics set to levels that are appropriately fair.

Only when senior leaders look at their real purpose within this lens will millennials and Gen Z employees be satisfied.

These age brackets are disappointed with what senior leaders are currently serving.

The shift that is required is to move away from a profit-only focus to one that encompasses a much higher purpose.

We are on this planet for a short time. We are all human.

It seems millennials and Gen Z have already figured this equation out. If a business is not careful, these two age brackets are likely to walk right out of their roles and join (or start) organizations that balance purpose with profit.

Not only will they leave, but it is also more and more likely they will eventually skip over purchasing your goods or services.

There is time to act. The question is whether your business will heed the call and the irrefutable data that sits at your fingertips.