Making a difference?
For many millennials, a more feasible solution is to align their work more closely with their values from the outset. Both academic and industry research suggests that this generation want the people they work for to be ethical, committed to diversity and playing their part in making the world a better place.
Older generations “never asked why and did what they were told”, according to Caraher. Young workers, however, need to ensure they have a good grasp of their employers’ values and their role in the organisation. “They want to matter in their job, they want to understand they make a difference on their team.”
Psychologists have consistently found that the extent to which a worker’s values are compatible with their employer’s plays a crucial role in determining employee job satisfaction and company profitability.
Some companies, particularly big ones, work hard to communicate their values. Having a strong brand makes it easier to attract people who are a good fit for the company, says Bartram. But smaller companies “have to do things to stand out, and one of the most effective strategies is emphasising the positive social impact of their work”.
The good news is that employee pressure can bring tangible change. Many big employers work to fulfil these demands through philanthropy and corporate social responsibility, and by setting out ethical positions more explicitly. Offering “a moral compass”, says Caraher, is increasingly important in attracting younger talent.
If anything, the outcome of the Google affair brings some hope. The company did not renew project Maven amid employee opposition and ditched a lucrative Pentagon contract partly, it says, because it did not align with its “AI principles”. It was a sacrifice – but one the tech giant could afford to make. Some of its workers, it seems, could also afford to put their values first: their livelihoods were not as vulnerable and they had good employment prospects elsewhere.
But for most of those who feel their work conflicts with their values, the bad news is that ‘making a difference’ and ‘pursuing your passion’ are financial decisions. And those are better made with a clear head and the cold hard numbers in front of you.
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