Posted by Gen Z guest blogger Anna Gosling 

The concept of responsible business has risen in prominence in recent years and many young people, particularly Generation Z, are actively interested in some of the changes taking place.  Being part of this generation and in my early twenties, I would describe Generation Z as fresh, more aware and more politically correct than earlier generations and as we begin to search for jobs, I feel it is important for employers to take opportunities to lead the way on responsible business practice to attract young people to work for them.

Issues such as climate change, diversity and inclusion, employee welfare and social mobility are just some of the things that are at the forefront of young people’s minds.. With vehicles such as social media allowing information to spread faster and people to voice their opinions more easily, I think my generation has become more vocal and has higher expectations of standards in the workplace. We anticipate that leaders of any business will be able to show how they are tackling societal problems and making a positive difference. 

The impacts of the pandemic have increased the importance of corporate responsibility. People my age at times had a sense of feeling unheard during the pandemic, as we were giving up freedoms to prevent the spread of a disease which did not severely affect our age group. At times, it felt like a thankless task with university students being blamed for being irresponsible and spreading the virus when we had already given up so much of our university experience to the pandemic. Of course, everyone made sacrifices, but the pandemic has shown another way in which companies can attract young talent by showing that they are heard and understood. 

From a broader perspective, the pandemic also triggered a multitude of employee welfare and mental health issues and has had a significant impact on how employees want to work, particularly in terms of flexibility and availability. 

The new focus on virtual rather than physical availability has shed a new light on the women’s expectations in the workplace, particularly in terms of maternity leave and how this may hinder the ability to reach the top jobs. As a young woman myself, I think it is important that companies remain ahead of the game on improvements for women in work.

Expectations of CEOs in responsible business 

Companies are increasingly expected to be on the right side of current social and environmental dilemmas. I think this also translates into a new set of expectations about the behaviour of CEOs and board members. CEOs are often perceived by younger generations as distant, assertive and ruthless in their pursuit of the best results. This style of approach has become less and less acceptable amongst young job seekers like myself; young people want to work for a CEO who shares similar values to them and to be someone they can look up to. 

This is supported by Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2021, which found  59% of respondents believed  CEOs should step in when the government does not fix societal problems. It also found 60% believe CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for the government to impose change – and 80% of those surveyed said CEOs should speak out publicly on issues regarding societal issues, job automation, local community issues and the impact of the pandemic. 

Finally, CEOs are increasingly expected to be more accessible to employees. This has been accelerated by the pandemic and the shift towards virtual interaction. Many young people don’t want to work for a company where the CEO feels distant; they look for personability and relatability. 

Balancing customer and employee needs from responsible brands

However, while young people expect CEOs to speak out on important issues, this can make it difficult for companies to balance the demands of employees and consumers, which may not always align. What we in Generation Z and Millennials see as a progressive viewpoint could be a Boomer’s woke authoritarianism. For example, Nike’s 2018 ad campaign involving Colin Kaepernick, who made taking the knee famous, led to a large sales boost but also a #BoycottNike campaign led by conservative critics.

With social media and other new technologies making the gap between generations seem wider than ever before, smart companies ensure they are appealing to younger consumers and employees without alienating older generations. 

Younger people’s views on social responsibility  

As a consumer and as a future employee, I would like to see companies show that they are being proactive in tackling social and environmental issues, as this has wide implications in practice. If I were looking for a job within a company, I would want to find evidence that the said company was conducting itself responsibly; for example, I would be less inclined to work for a company that didn’t have an anti-slavery statement, gender pay gap policy, or sustainability plan in place.

I think I can speak on behalf of many people my age that there has been an increasing sense of frustration on the lack of action by the older generations to tackle climate change and improve environmental policy. A massive incentive for young people to work for a company is when they can see evidence that wherever possible, that company is actively pursuing sustainable policies and ones that do not negatively impact the environment. For me personally and most likely for others too, working for a company which values sustainability and protecting the environment would ease some of my anxiety around the topic and make me feel I am making a positive difference. 

For these contemporary issues such as modern slavery, climate change and gender inequality, another thing that attracts young consumers and talent is for companies to be able to show that they are collaborating with and supporting charities which work to ameliorate these issues. 

Beyond the company mitigating its negative impacts on the world, employees want to work for companies whose core purpose is to help make the world a better place. All of this is supported by a LinkedIn workplace survey which found that 71% of professionals would be prepared to take a pay cut to work forwork a for a company that has a mission they believe in and shared values. This percentage is most likely set to increase as the next generation of employees comes into the workforce. 

The impacts of the pandemic on future employees 

The pandemic has enhanced employees’ perceptions of what may bemaybe required of them in the workplace and in turn what they require of their employers.  Lockdown has shown that working from home is possible and has reduced many workers’ motivation to complete a commute to work. 

This has further implications, especially for young women like me who will soon be looking for jobs. Previously women may have been held back from top senior roles due to family commitments and availability, however this shift towards working from home has shown that physical presence in the office is not always essential. Whilst lack of flexibility has been a major drawback to female advancement in the corporate world, the new world of work has the potential to help dissolve this barrier to progression.  

My generation can also see that the pandemic has changed expectations of the welfare support companies should provide to employees. Empty-nester senior executives in large houses, parents of children needing home-schooling, and younger employees negotiating for space in a flat share had very different experiences.  Although I am still a student, I saw elements of this as I have completed the majority of my first and second-year studies with little in-person contact with my tutors and professors. In many cases this disadvantaged students who didn’t have easy access to a laptop or Wi-Fi or didn’t have the private space needed to complete classes over zoom. 

As a result, companies found themselves drawn into helping employees navigate challenging personal circumstances and mental health issues. This may have permanently changed the expectations that employees have of companies. 

The benefits of practising responsible business

Practising responsible business now appears to demonstrate that it delivers benefits from many different perspectives. Companies that can show they are a driving force in equality, inclusivity, diversity, and sustainability are the ones who attract the best young talent out there – from top universities and apprenticeship programmes.  

However, it’s not just about employees. 

Unilever states that brands aligned with a responsible purpose grow 69% faster – and we Gen Z and Millennial consumers increasingly make our purchase choices based on the responsible business practices of the companies we buy from.

How IM London supports responsible business practice

We understand the importance of responsible business and fully support the concept through our own values and through the strategic marketing and branding work we offer our clients. As such, we’re very proud to have developed the branding and website for a leading voice and game changer in the field of responsible business – The Purposeful Company.

With Millennials and Gen Z set to make up nearly 60% of the work force within a decade, it is inevitable that companies will need to embed responsible business as soon as possible in order to protect reputation, market share and profit. 

We’re always ready to discuss and advise on how to optimise brands through responsible business practice.  For an initial chat and opportunity to explore options, we would love to hear from you any time: or