Don’t Think Purpose Is Important? Gen Zers Do.

Organizations that aren’t socially responsible could be cutting off their supply of customers and prospective employees, says best-selling author Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and co-developer of the Goleman EI online learning platform, is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, is available now.

A generation has spoken. According to a recent retail consumer survey from the market researcher Forrester, 55% of Gen Zers (those born between 1995 and 2012) indicated that a company's social responsibility reputation either influences or highly influences if they buy from them. This is more than double the rate among Baby Boomers.

While Millennials and Gen Z have long buoyed the purpose movement, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have reignited this generation's understanding of their purchasing power. Surprisingly, when it comes to climate issues, lockdowns have made them even more hopeful about how fast the planet can recover if we change our habits. In fact, about two-thirds of Gen Z and Millennial shoppers want products with a sustainable footprint and are willing to pay more if a product’s sustainable (older shoppers, not so much).

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Afterall, the new US president’s agenda states that climate change poses a life or death threat to the environment and to human life as we know it. And according to the EY Megatrends Report, nearly 60% of Gen Zers live in countries that are highly vulnerable to climate change and nowhere near ready to respond to it. They live along coastlines and in areas projected to be below high tide by 2050, causing more than 250 million people to have to deal with coastal flooding.

No wonder this generation is speaking up. They are the ones who will be raising children through the aftermath of our previous and current poor habits and decisions.

But here’s the thing. Not only are Gen Z’ers taking a stand on climate change, but they also are doing their research, looking closely at a company's actions in order to determine whether or not they are actually following through on their brand promise.

“Every brand wants to get on the purpose train but so many of them are simply saying nice things but not doing anything,” Michael Pankowski, a junior at Harvard and founder of the Gen Z consulting firm Crimson Connection, told AdAge. “If you want Gen Z’s trust as a brand, we need to see that you’re legitimately backing your words with actions.”

They want transparency, not purpose washing. “In order to win with this generation, you better win inside to win outside, because if your employees say that your external comms are fake, you will get called out,” says Jeff Fromm, author of the book Marketing to Gen Z.

In a recent report from IBM’s Institute for Business Value CEO’s from across the economy and around the world were surveyed on “how to thrive in a post-pandemic reality.” The best performing companies identified “a sense of purpose and mission as critical to engaging employees at a rate 53% higher than underperformers.”

While purpose has long been linked to retention and engagement, I would argue that when it comes to Gen Z, it’s actually a critical component of getting new talent in the door. If this generation isn’t going to buy from brands who aren’t taking action around the pressing issues of our time, they aren’t going to work for them either.

My advice: Take a stand on something meaningful and mean what you say. 

Not only will an actionable purpose (like sustainability) determine the future of sales, but it also will shape the very future of the workforce.