What Younger Employees Want: The Chance To Do Good in the World

Gen Z and millennial workers are looking for more than a paycheck — they want purpose.
Sep 21, 2022 10:00 AM ET
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There was a time, not so long ago, when the perks of a new office job were mostly fun or financial — catered lunches and happy hours, free snacks and 401K matches. But, as work-life balance has become more of a priority and competition for new talent keeps getting tighter, employers are realizing that the newest generation of employees is looking for more than perks — they want purpose.

The opportunity to do good — with their employer’s support and even on company time — has become a benefit on par with flexible work schedules or a generous vacation policy, and may do as much to keep them happy in their roles.

Michelle Hernandez, a millennial and a talent management specialist at NBCUniversal who has been with the company for five years, says a highlight of her job has been mentoring high schoolers on possible career paths and packing care kits to send to children in the hospital.

“Working for a company that participates in the communities we serve as a business is very important,” Hernandez says. “Getting to meet new colleagues along the way and learn from all of those who participate in these programs has certainly played a role in defining my time here.”

Meanwhile, two years into her tenure as a digital content producer at HP, Gen Zer Bianca Tamura and her team spent a day away from their PCs and out in their community. Together, they packaged meals that would be delivered to people in need across New York City.

“It was really rewarding and a great experience to give your time to having a positive impact and helping others,” Tamura says.

Retaining employees

Experiences like these are so rewarding that Tamura says they’re part of what’s keeping her at HP at a time when many employees around her age are leaving their jobs in droves.

“My choice to stay here is [partly] a moral choice,” says Tamura. “It’s not only the volunteering that’s important, but it’s also HP’s goals for sustainability, justice, and diversity.”

According to LinkedIn data, 80% of Gen Z employees and 50% of Millennials have changed jobs in the past couple of years, as the pandemic has sparked a widespread re-evaluation of what people want from their jobs. Overall Gartner research predicts voluntary employee turnover could increase by 20% from pre-pandemic levels, as employees look for more work-life balance, flexibility in remote and hybrid arrangements, and increasingly, jobs with companies that align with their values. A 2022 Deloitte study found that employees’ level of satisfaction with their employer’s commitment to societal impact has a direct impact on employee loyalty.

This has sparked new interest among employers in formulating company-sponsored volunteering programs, giving employees opportunities to do social good on the job. While programs like these aren’t new, they’ve taken on added importance as recruiting and retention tools, with 47% of US companies offering volunteer programs in 2022, up from 40% in 2014. Employer-sponsored volunteer opportunities not only give employees a personal sense of purpose at work, they also help shape their perception of current and prospective employers.

Doing good together

Christine Schoppe, chief strategy and growth officer of Points of Light, an international nonprofit that consults with companies on volunteering and social outreach, says Gen Z employees are pushing employers to be more intentional with their volunteer programs, which they see as an important part of the employee experience and the company’s role in the world. In a previous Deloitte study, 89% of employees said they believe companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment than those that don’t.

“Millennials started this trend, but Gen Z have more recently been the leaders of helping companies think more expansively,” she says.

Gen Z employees are more likely to value employer commitment in areas such as climate change and racial inequality and look for opportunities to use their time and work to make a difference. Surveys of Gen Z employees show that 40% have participated in five or more civic engagement activities, and 42% say a sense of purpose at work is more important than a big paycheck.

"In the old days, a typical program might involve serving in a soup kitchen for an hour or mentoring in a conference room ... today, we try to engage employees on an even deeper level.”
- Hilary Smith, executive vice president, corporate social responsibility, NBCUniversal

“I think more and more, Gen Z wants to work for a company that shares their values,” says Hilary Smith, executive vice president of corporate social responsibility for NBCUniversal.

NBCUniversal has an annual “season of giving” for two weeks during April, a volunteer program during the holiday season, and other outreach days throughout the year. The company also awards $5,000 grants to employee-selected nonprofits through its Community Impact Fund. Beyond volunteering, NBCUniversal encourages employees to use their skills for pro bono work, donate to causes they care about through the company’s matching-gifts program, and build leadership skills by serving on nonprofit boards.

“In the old days, a typical program might involve serving in a soup kitchen for an hour or mentoring in a conference room. Those types of programs are still rewarding for employees, but today, we try to engage employees on an even deeper level,” Smith says. In one program, for example, NBCUniversal partnered with the organization buildOn to pair NBCUniversal employees with students from under-resourced high schools for several days of leadership training and service learning activities.

Smith says NBCUniversal includes an educational component in volunteer programs, giving employees a chance to learn about the nonprofits they’re partnering with and the communities they’re helping as a way of building long-term value for everyone involved.

“We really try to make sure it’s an immersive experience that’s meaningful and can help build empathy,” she says.

A deeper commitment to employees and community

Schoppe says that when crafting employer-sponsored volunteer programs, it’s important to remember that Gen Z isn’t just looking to check a box. They are driven by moral issues and a sense of responsibility not only to society but to their community, and they want their employer to participate.

“They want to see their executives and leadership buy in,” Schoppe says. “It cannot be inauthentic.”

Tamura’s volunteer experience at HP was part of a company-sponsored program called 40 Days of Doing Good — an annual global campaign in which the HP Foundation invites employees and partners to volunteer individually or with their teams for causes in their community.

When crafting the program, Stephanie Bormann, deputy director of the HP Foundation and Carole Lam-Chin, volunteer program manager for the HP Foundation, say it was important to allow employees to do something with their managers and colleagues together in their local communities, as opposed to HP’s leadership dictating how things should work. Another important factor: aligning company priorities with employees’.

“HP founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard wanted to be good global citizens,” Bormann says. “The values they championed continue to guide us. I keep those in mind as we try to make volunteering an integral part of the company and the way HP shows up in our communities.”

This year, 4,938 HP employees from 53 countries participated in the 40 Days of Doing Good program, volunteering 42,972 hours supporting organizations around the world. HP also supports employee donations to nonprofits by offering a match of up to $2,500 per employee each year and allows employees to spend four hours a month volunteering for the cause of their choice. Some of the projects employees have volunteered for include delivering educational materials to underserved students in India through a partnership with the Careworks Foundation, teaching leadership and STEM skills to young boys in Houston through a partnership with CHANCE, and a remote volunteering option with Missing Maps, creating maps of rural and vulnerable areas that can aid disaster relief efforts.

“We’ve seen more and more employees really enjoy that flexibility and option to volunteer virtually or on their phone,” Lam-Chin says.

More than participation, employees want a role in shaping programs

Holly McCaleb, director of corporate social responsibility consulting at Points of Light, says typically when companies reach out for help with volunteer outreach, it’s because employees have asked for it, or the company has seen a drop in recruitment.

Smith says understanding what matters to employees and including them in selecting and designing volunteer opportunities is critical to a program’s success. Whether it’s a feedback loop of surveys or office hours, employees need a seat at the table with the ability to give input, she says. Lam-Chin agrees,noting that every month HP Foundation convenes its network of employee champions where they can share best practices and activities they are spearheading.

“This forum enables employees to drive greater interest in projects they are passionate about, and in some cases, creates a groundswell for global participation,” she explains.

For younger employees like Tamura, that willingness to collaborate with employees and provide opportunities for them to make a positive impact through their work is becoming more than an extra benefit — it’s an expectation.

“As companies move forward and hire more young people, they really have to pay attention to this,” Tamura says. “Gen Zers don’t just want to work for a company for profit. We know there are other companies that will fit our morals and ethics, and we will go there.”