Survey: Job-seeking millennials are NOT “cause” idealists

But neither are they calculating careerists. Idealism does enter into their job search, but not where you might expect. A recent survey reached some surprising conclusions.

Approximately 80 million millennials live in the U.S.

I’ve touched on the fact that this group is the largest generation in history and will make up more than 50 percent of the workforce by 2020 (the exact percentage varies depending on the research).

We may think of millennials as “the next generation,” but this group will constitute the majority of the workforce in the near future, so research on its values and expectations is valuable-and can guide action.

“Cause work” attractive to millennial job seekers

A great example of this research is the 2014 Millennial Impact Report: Inspiring the Next Generation Workforce by the design agency Achieve, whose research purpose, it says, is to “Understand Millennials’ preferences for cause work and to share those findings with organizations that are looking to better engage this influential group.”

Surveys were distributed to millennial employees of Achieve’s corporate research partners, as well as a generic survey of more than 300 companies and organizations across the United States. Millennials were defined as individuals born after 1979.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, millennials place a high value on corporate social responsibility. Achieve’s research looks at the role “cause work” plays in motivating millennials-from job search to application to employment.

Of the millennials surveyed, 92 percent felt they contributed to a company that affected the world. Where cause work starts motivating millennials may differ from our assumptions. Of those surveyed, 63 percent said that a company’s cause work and community initiatives did not influence them to take their jobs!

Workplace relationships are important

This contradicts the common assumption that cause work matters from the beginning of a millennial’s job search. Achieve discovered that most millennials looked at what a company does, as well as pay and benefits, when deciding whether to apply.

Cause work was not significant. Caveat: Only 39 percent of millennials reported their company discussed cause work in the interview, but the companies that did this influenced the interviewee. Of the millennials who heard about cause work in the interview, 55 percent said the company’s causes helped persuade them to take the job.

Bottom line: Mention cause work in interviews—especially with millennials!

Another trend I’ve discussed is millennials’ work relationships: Millennials build close friendships and want to work with those they know and would befriend outside work. This desire also shows in millennials’ preferences for company-sponsored volunteer projects and programs.

Of the millennials surveyed, 77 percent preferred to perform cause work with groups of fellow employees as opposed to independent service. Sixty two percent of millennials preferred volunteering and doing cause work with employees in their department rather than with company employees they didn’t directly work with.

Resources and causes

For millennials, relationships also are important in informing candidates about a company’s causes.

Past and current employees were the third most common source (36 percent) of information for millennial employees who researched their company’s cause work. The most common source of information was the company’s website (93 percent), followed by Google Search (61 percent). These top three sources beat social media outlets Facebook (22 percent), LinkedIn (12 percent) and Twitter (11 percent).

One interesting commentary in Achieve’s study reports on how millennials view the assets they donate. As the study says, millennials differ from previous generations in that they “may still give money, time and skills, but they also view their network and voice as two very beneficial assets they can offer a cause. For millennials, these resources are equal in how they help a cause. A millennial may see Tweeting about a cause as giving resources, because they are donating their network.”

As for giving, millennial employees donate money to nonprofits both on their own and through their company’s promoted giving, and they donate generously. Only 13 percent of those surveyed did not donate money to nonprofit organizations in 2013.

Yes, millennials defy expectations

This report tells us that millennials consistently defy employers’ expectations. We need to pay attention, continue to ask questions, and learn to meet them on their own ground.

Who would have thought that company websites and Google searches would be far more powerful (and motivating) than social media in millennial job search behavior? And it’s interesting that camaraderie in their work group—not in their employer in general—motivates them.

That data that is consistent with what we know about all employees: we all want to trust our leaders, take pride in our work, and promote camaraderie within our workgroups. Great Place to Work has confirmed the power of these attitudes for more than 20 years.

China Gorman is CEO for Great Place to Work, A version of this article first appeared on her blog at

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