Millennials Want Workplaces With Social Purpose. How Does Your Company Measure Up?

Millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025 and they are looking for socially responsible employers.
social purpose millennials

Today, 30 percent of workers are millennials. But with baby boomers reaching retirement age at a rate of 10,000 per day and millennials stepping in, that number is climbing sharply across the workforce. By 2025, 75 percent of the workforce will be comprised of millennials.

For businesses that want to stay competitive in the hiring market, the first thing to know is that millennials are not looking for the same things from their employers that the boomers were. That means your organization will have to evolve and innovate in order to stay relevant, attract quality employees and retain top performers in the new millennial marketplace.

By and large, baby boomers sought workplaces that offered stability and high pay. Millennials, however, have different priorities. Millennials have high expectations for the actions of business when it comes to social purpose and accountability; and they want to work for companies that uphold these values.

For example, a 2016 Cone Communications study reveals:

  • 75 percent of millennials would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company.
  • 76 percent of millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments before deciding where to work.
  • 64 percent of millennials won’t take a job if a potential employer doesn’t have strong corporate responsibility practices.

According to a PwC report titled “Millennials at work – Reshaping the workplace,” corporate social values become more important to millennials when choosing an employer once their basic needs, like adequate pay and working conditions, are met. The report states that “millennials want their work to have a purpose, to contribute something to the world and they want to be proud of their employer.”

In other words, millennials want to be active participants in the social purpose of the companies they work for. They want to share goals and values with their employer and be able to contribute ideas and solutions to help the company meet its social responsibilities. Businesses that build a workplace culture around these ideals will be rewarded with highly engaged, enthusiastic and invested employees.

What Is Corporate Social Purpose?

Social purpose is different from philanthropy and charitable giving, and it encompasses much more than the terms “corporate social responsibility” and “community investment” evoke.

Social purpose is a commitment to social good that is woven into the fabric of a corporate culture. At the core, a social purpose business is crafted to achieve its economic and social goals together; the social mission and the goal of making money are indivisible from each other.

It’s defined by being:

  • Focused.
  • Relevant to your business purpose.
  • Aligned with business objectives.
  • Measurable (both with regard to community and business impact).
  • Engaging for stakeholders.

Businesses with a strong social purpose make intentional day-to-day decisions that support their social and environmental accountabilities and encode these purpose-driven practices into their processes so the company is aligned from the frontline to the C-suite.

Social purpose is taking hold of businesses globally, giving rise to new organizations such as:

  • Conscious Capitalism, an organization for businesses focused on purpose and meaning beyond profit.
  • B Corps, a certifying body for for-profit companies that meet its high standards for social and environmental responsibility.
  • Responsible Investment Association, a member-based organization focused on integrating environmental, social and governmental criteria into investing.

Organizations like these are part of the movement to redefine what success means for businesses.

How to Create a Corporate Social Purpose

It may seem daunting to restructure your business for social purpose but you have an amazing resource available to you: the millennials you are already employing. Millennials have their finger on the pulse of social purpose, and they are eager to share their thoughts and ideas.

At the risk of overgeneralizing (you will, of course, find millennials who don’t have these qualities), millennials want to be involved in decision-making at their workplaces, rather than feeling like a cog in the machine. They’re eager to take on new responsibilities and solve problems that matter to them, so why not get them involved in defining and embedding social purpose in your organization?

Experience shows that people support initiatives they help to create. Engage employees (and other identified stakeholders) by forming a social purpose or “cause” committee, thereby maximizing impact and buy-in. This approach allows social purpose to authentically weave its way into the fabric of your corporate culture.

To ensure you establish a highly motivated and effective team, try creating an application process to select cross-functional employees who are most interested in the initiative. Once you’ve chosen your team, guide them through the strategy development for your social purpose and allow them to identify community partners and projects, volunteer experiences, fundraising and a communication plan. If they are passionate and engaged, you will see results.

Now is the time for every business owner, CEO and entrepreneur to take a hard look at their business and determine:

  1. What their social purpose is.
  2. How to embed that social purpose until it becomes an unassailable component of how they achieve their goals.

As social purpose becomes more indivisible with how your company operates and generates wealth, it will become more transformative, both within your company and in the world at large.

Peggie Pelosi is the executive director of Innovators Alliance, a business-to-business networking group in Ontario. To comment, email