New Trends

CEOs, Gen Z, and the new “purpose of a corporation”

On the LinkedIn feed these days, people are making statements about their workplaces in what appears to be an effort to support change in work culture. Encouraging practices such as allowing employees to work remotely, granting longer maternity leave, among other practices that take care of employees, is picking up and the applause is getting louder. 

A big list of CEOs joined in this effort last month after signing a statement claiming to refocus the “purpose” of corporations from pleasing shareholders, to ensuring care for their employees and the rest of humanity. These include a broad range of from working “fairly and ethically with our suppliers” and “protect[ing] the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.” 

This is welcome news in an era where people are recognizing that the competitive nature of business can be damaging to individuals, communities, and the environment as a whole when taken a few steps too far. There are critics of the statement, however. 

Multiple sources covering the topic, including the New York Times and Forbes, point out that while the statement signs up these CEOs for stating a new purpose of the corporation, there are no actionable steps. Much like you wonder how a presidential candidate will manage to live up to his or her promises, many wonder how these corporations will “walk the walk.” 

On the flipside, these sources also indicate that skeptics of the notions behind the statement point to Milton Friedman’s purpose of corporation. Friedman’s principles, set in the early 1970’s, determine that the sole purpose of a corporation is to generate profit for its shareholders. Should a corporation fail to do so, it is failing. Period. Therefore signing this statement would be contrary to what corporations are supposed to do. 

But maybe it isn’t. The incoming generation of workers, Gen Z, are known to be more diverse and more educated than the generations before them, and they are just as, if not more, socially aware of injustices in bigger systems as the Millennial generation before them – making those of Gen Z more conscious consumers. Their entrance into the workplace might shake things up because Gen Z individuals expect things to be more personalized, and not just in terms of communication. A Forbes article indicates that those of Gen Z expect more one-on-one interactions with their bosses, and that providing mentors to Gen Z employees is likely to help retain them in the company. 

In addition to being a more practical and realistic generation, Gen Z are “more entrepreneurial.” They are due to make up 20% of the workforce in the US in the next couple of years, and they are more likely to start their own businesses. Currently, the talented worker is in demand. If this trend continues, offering higher investment in employees and promising a new “purpose of the corporation” that is focused on serving humanity, might be the best way to continue attracting top-notch talent and retaining it. 

Certainly, while the statement did not outline any steps of action, corporations should be given the opportunity to announce their own changes in practice. 

We ask our employers, what are some great benefits your company offers its employees by way of professional development or benefits? 

We ask our students: As you prepare to enter the workplace, what are some aspects of work life that you are excited for, or that make you nervous? What kinds of actions do you think a company can take to make you feel like you are a valued worker? 

Furthermore, what values do you look for in an organization’s mission statement? 

Categories: New Trends

227 replies »

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