Millennials: Where Pessimism Meets Responsibility

Much has been written and spoken about ‘millennials’ in the popular media. And it should come as no surprise that most of it is nonsense. If one looks at actual, scientific research on this emerging demographic one finds no evidence that they are lazier, more entitled, or more easily offended than other groups.

But there are important ways in which they are different.  For example, they are more pessimistic. Millennials have become adults in a world that is still seeing the after-effects of the 2008 financial crisis. They have grown up in a time where the existence of climate change caused by human action is a scientific fact, verified again and again by independent enquiry, and they cannot understand why the older generation is still dragging its feet on this globally-important issue.

These issues along with soaring housing prices, rising debt, threats to net neutrality, terrorism, racism, and other issues, may help to explain why only about 48% of millennials believe that their lives will improve in the coming year, and only a mere 37% believe that their lives will be better than those enjoyed by their parents.

But unlike the false stereotype (which is of course a tautology) of the entitled millennial who sits around complaining without actually doing anything millennials in the real world are responding to these challenges by committing themselves to taking responsibility over their actions.

About 59% believe they have at least a fair amount of accountability for protecting the environment and around 70% engage more with brands that they feel support worthy causes. However, fewer than four in ten (38%) believe they can exert a “significant” level of influence. Thus, millennials seem to want more opportunities to make a positive difference.

These beliefs and needs have unique importance for employers who wish to attract and retain millennials.

One example is that corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects become more important. Around 74% of millennials believe that multinational businesses have the ability to make a positive impact on major social problems be it the environment, corruption, poverty, social change and so on. However, only 59% believe that they are actually doing so.

In other words, millennials believe that there is room for more social good to be created, that is not being taken advantage of. For example, only 10 to 13 percent of millennials feel that their organizations actually are addressing income inequality, corruption within business or politics, or issues relating to climate change and the environment.

And furthermore, they remain sceptical of the motivations of such organisations. When asked to judge their motivation on a scale ranging from one (purely to improve their reputations) to 10 (genuine desire to change things for the better), the average score is 5.4.

This seems to indicate that millennials are not sure what to make of CSR projects, and are largely unconvinced of their intentions.

Given the fact that millennials are more likely than other groups to switch companies, or even careers, if they are unsatisfied it seems that employers may wish to devote greater resources to CSR campaigns. And when facing the pessimism that millennials express about their own career paths incentive packages and training programmes to continue developing their skills, may be effective in encouraging them to remain.

In any case millennials do offer exciting challenges for employers, and it behoves them to be cognisant of the evidence and what millennials themselves say, rather than the nattering of the tabloid media.

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