Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” 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.
Back in the 1980s I gave a series of talks to corporate groups about young people, then entry level in their companies. I recall telling one such group in Manhattan that while they had heard much about the radicals and progressives of the 1960s and 1970s, the new crop of entry level employees embraced a differing set of values: “They want to get rich and live in Connecticut.”
That was then. The generation which grew up in the 1980s and 1990s seem to embrace values that could better the world and hold the resulting sense of purpose more strongly than any generation in memory. At least that’s the word on the street. In the past five years many sources have touted these millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) as beacons of purpose and social responsibility.
At the same time, some analyses have found no strong differences between generations – at least so far.
A recent study from MIT’s Sloan School of Management found that, when it comes to purpose, there are few differences between age groups. The young were no more purpose-focused than were older people. The MIT survey of more than 10,000 managers ages 21 to 70 (and across all industries) concluded: “While younger managers prefer narrower, more technical approaches, older ones tend to work through others.” The study found that older managers put a higher value on empathy and collaboration – competencies associated with working together toward common goals. Maybe those baby boomers aren’t so self-focused after all.
Either way, companies who want to recruit top talent are continually tasked with keeping their eye on the horizon – the managers of the future, who were not yet well-established in the workforce when that MIT study was done. Behind Millennials comes Gen Z. Born between 1995 and 2012, these young people might share certain values and traits with their Millennial predecessors, but still differ in their mindset.
These early twenty-somethings (and those even younger) are the first generation to have never known a time without modern technology. Gen Zs have grown up "in a world dominated by technological connectivity and access to information," Connie White, head of university talent acquisition at Genentech, recently told Newsweek. "They are thus acutely aware of socioeconomic and environmental challenges. And they are eager to make a positive impact on the world."
Genentech is one of many well-known companies putting their mission face forward in recruiting entry level employees. “Gen Zs are very mission driven” agrees Patricia Lewis, senior VP of HR at Lockheed Martin. The want to work for a company, she said, “that is working on the betterment of society.” When meeting with potential recruits this defense contractor emphasizes the ways their spacecraft division strengthens the nation by helping to send astronauts to the moon.
With their acute awareness of societal and environmental challenges, Gen Z is hyper-aware of diversity. When it comes to race, gender, and sexuality, 91% of Gen Zers believe everyone is equal and deserves to be treated so. This understanding will continue to push companies to move beyond traditional anti-bias training and to start considering how inclusion and equality are embedded into the fabric of their culture and mission.
Take Hyatt as an example. This hospitality giant’s purpose is “to care for people so they can be their best.” Their CEO, Mark Hoplamazian, coined the equation “empathy plus action equals care.” This is more than a guiding principle for just how the organization treats their guests and employees; it drives the organization to comment on issues in broader society.
“There have been many instances, such as gay marriage in Illinois—where Hyatt is headquartered, with a lot of hotel operations—or the DACA issue, which reflected our values,” Hoplamazian told Fortune. He added that speaking up on such issues helps the company define what it stands for. Gen Zers will also appreciate Hyatt RiseHY, a global program committed to hiring 10,000 Opportunity Youth – people ages 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor working – by 2025.
Tracey Franklin, VP of talent recruitment at Merck, confirms the need for organizations to appeal to what could be the most purpose-driven generation of all time. “What they want to hear about is how we’re solving cancer or what we are doing for river blindness,” she reports, “They believe they can actually change the world, and want to work for a company who does change the world.”
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