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Amy Brown headshot

Millennials, “Generation Disrupted,” Reward Businesses Having Positive Impact

By Amy Brown

Yet another study has emerged that chronicles the woes of millennials: financially challenged, overburdened by debt, swept up by continuous technological and social disruption. Deloitte’s recently released  2019 Millennial Survey found millennials to be disillusioned with traditional institutions, skeptical of business' motives and pessimistic about economic and social progress. “A generation disrupted,” Deloitte called them.

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported on “Millennials Near Middle Age in Crisis,” focused on American millennials approaching middle age in worse financial shape than every living generation ahead of them, despite a decade of economic growth and falling unemployment.

As the mother of two smart, well-educated and ambitious young millennial daughters, the views captured by these surveys is accurate on some levels but doesn’t tell the whole story.

Yes, financially, millennials lag behind both baby boomers and Generation Z. Many of them entered the workforce during the 2007-09 recession, and have struggled to catch up, putting off marriage, buying a home and having children. As a group, they are better educated than any generation before them, WSJ reports, which is why they face soaring student debt.

But my daughters - and many of their peers - are also among the most socially and environmentally conscious consumers and workers of any generation, as studies have found. Both gained master’s degrees and have chosen career paths reflecting their values and aspirations to contribute to a better world. The older daughter works with a firm specializing in social impact, and the younger is studying environmental policy. Frustrated that their earnings don’t reflect their educational investment? You bet. Cynical about the world and their ability to influence it? Absolutely not.

Values remain intact for millennials

In fact, millennials’ values seem to override financial concerns: most millennials would take a pay cut to work for an environmentally responsible company. And they expect their employers and the companies whose products and services they buy to reflect those same values.

That brings us back to the Deloitte survey, which polled 13,416 millennials (born between January 1983 and December 1994) and 3,009 Gen Z (born between January 1995 and December 2002) across 42 countries. The survey looked at the preferences of these generations, from their consumer tendencies to their business and economic outlook.   

The survey found this "generation disrupted" is no less ambitious than previous generations: more than half want to earn high salaries and be wealthy. But despite global economic growth, expansion and opportunity, younger generations are wary about the world and their place in it.

Low opinion of business

That wariness extends to companies. Deloitte found that respondents’ opinions about business continue to diminish, with only 55 percent believing business has a positive impact on society, down from 61 percent in 2018. The decrease was driven, in part, by views that businesses focus solely on their own agendas rather than considering the consequences for society, according to Deloitte.

Business will have to work hard to improve this reputation because millennials are putting their money where their mouths are, as TriplePundit has reported about this so-called “boycott generation”: 42 percent have started or deepened business relationships because they believe companies' products or services are having positive impacts on society or the environment, while 38 percent have ended or lessened relationships with companies perceived to have a negative impact.

Millennials also have evolving definitions of success, Deloitte reported. Traveling and seeing the world topped survey respondents’ list of aspirations (which aligns with the preferences of my own globe-trotting daughters). Over half of respondents aspire to earn a high salary, but it came in last when respondents were asked whether their ambitions were achievable. Around half would also leave their jobs within two years, posing a challenge to employers.  

Diversity & inclusion ranks high

If companies want to retain talented millennials, they should make sure their workforce is as diverse as this generation is. Deloitte’s survey found a strong correlation between millennials who plan to stay in their current jobs and those who said their companies deliver best on indicators such as diversity and inclusion. Additionally, a majority of millennials responded that they give a "great deal" or "fair amount" of importance to gender and ethnicity when considering whether to work for an organization. 

Millennials see technology continuing to radically change their world. Almost half of respondents believe new technologies will augment their careers, but a similar number think the changing nature of work will make it tougher to find a job. They also expressed that business is most responsible for training workers to meet evolving challenges.

Love-hate relationship with social media

Concerns about the impact of social media are also pervasive among this generation. 71 percent of millennials feel fairly positive or very positive about their personal use of digital devices and social media. However, 64 percent of respondents believe they would be physically healthier if they reduced social media consumption, and 41 percent wish they could stop using it completely.

Wary about data privacy

Cybersecurity worries them, too. 79 percent are concerned they will be victims of online fraud. Similarly, 78 percent are worried about how organizations share personal data with each other. This is eye-opening, Deloitte found, considering that a quarter of millennials have ended consumer relationships because of companies' inability to protect data.

Contrary to the considerable challenges they face, Deloitte found that its respondents remained hopeful and leaned on their values as both consumers and employees. Seizing on that goodwill and scrappiness would be a smart thing for business to recognize.

"From the economic recession a decade ago to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, millennials and Gen Zs have grown up in a unique moment in time impacting connectivity, trust, privacy, social mobility and work," says Michele Parmelee, Deloitte Global Chief Talent Officer. "This uncertainty is reflected in their personal views on business, government, leadership and the need for positive societal change agents. As business leaders, we must continue to embrace the issues resonating most with these two generations, or risk losing out on talent in an increasingly competitive market."

Image credit: Helena Lopes/Unsplash

Amy Brown headshot

Based in Florida, Amy has covered sustainability for over 25 years, including for TriplePundit, Reuters Sustainable Business and Ethical Corporation Magazine. She also writes sustainability reports and thought leadership for companies. She is the ghostwriter for Sustainability Leadership: A Swedish Approach to Transforming Your Company, Industry and the World. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn and her Substack newsletter focused on gray divorce, caregiving and other cultural topics.

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