THE BLOG

New Report on Millennials Shows Link Between Engagement and Cause Work

05/11/2015 05:15 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2016

If you want to create a corporate culture that embraces Millennials (and you should), take a close look at the Six-Month Research Update to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, the latest update to a five-year study conducted by Achieve, the research arm of Forte Interactive, and sponsored by The Case Foundation.

How do you engage Millennials in corporate volunteering and giving programs? And how does this sort of cause engagement relate to accepting a job and employee satisfaction? As I have written about previously, different generations approach volunteering differently, so cause engagement is not a one-size fits all proposition.

When Millennials are considering applying for a job, their top priority is what the company actually sells, produces, or distributes. But beyond compensation and benefits, what matters most to them is the company's work culture, involvement with causes, office environment, and attention to diversity and HR standards.

Millennials who stay at their jobs for more than five years are passionate about their work. Another reason Millennials stay? The bonds with their co-workers and the belief in their company's mission and purpose. Millennials want to volunteer together and feel connected through a shared passion for their company's cause work, ideally through initiatives that help their surrounding community. Culture is everything; for Millennials, the company's cause work must be integrated into its core mission.

As Millennials engage in a relationship with a company, from the courtship phase during the interview process to the long haul of sustained employment, cause plays an important role. Millennials are increasingly engaging with causes and tend to believe that a company that cares about causes will care about treating them well, too.

Millennials are certainly interested in participating in cause work, but their engagement at workplace programs isn't always high. The report concluded that this is due to a number of barriers, including not always understanding the available volunteer and giving opportunities, or not being encouraged to get involved, or not seeing how their participation matters.

According to the study, companies that are adapting their CSR strategies to attract Millennials, and specifically incorporating causes into their culture, are more successful at attracting and retaining Millennials as employees.

For companies interested in understanding the Millennial mindset, take note of these illuminating takeaways:

  • From the beginning of the job search to the point where the employee accepted the job, female Millennials tended to be more interested in company cause work than their male counterparts.
  • 63 percent of female employees said their company's cause work influenced them to accept a job, compared to 45 percent of male employees.
  • A company's cause work begins to influence most Millennial employees during the interview. While only 39 percent of Millennial employees said they researched their employer's cause work prior to the interview, 55 percent of employees were influenced to take their job after discussing cause work in the interview.
  • Company-wide giving campaigns were the initiatives Millennials most commonly participated in.
  • Regarding volunteerism, Millennial employees preferred joining a company-wide or team-specific volunteer project rather than donating to a giving campaign.
  • Millennials who volunteer with and donate to causes on their own were found to be the most likely to research and consider a company's cause work during their job search.

Millennials want to volunteer with their co-workers more than independently, 78 percent vs. 22 percent. But they also enjoy skills-based volunteering, with 94 percent reporting that they enjoy this experience. Interestingly, the longer an employee was at their company, the less they enjoyed company-wide days of service. "Of the employees who had been at their company less than a year, 92 percent enjoyed company-wide volunteer days," the report notes. "At two years, enjoyment dropped to 85 percent; at five years, only 81 percent of Millennial employees wanted to participate in company-wide volunteer days."

Some of the most important findings and recommendations from the report include the observation that a company's cause engagement and culture begin at the executive level. It's not enough to offer a volunteer program and give lip service to causes. How direct managers and executive leadership personally engage in causes affects the attitudes of employees.

The recommendation? "Create a uniform cause experience and culture throughout the company, starting with executive leadership and working down the ranks to direct managers of Millennials and their employees."

The findings show that a company-wide email pales in effectiveness compared to a personal email from an executive or department manager. If the cause work is not directly supported at the top of the food chain, it won't be widely accepted by employees; success is directly proportionate to the involvement of high-ranking leaders.

Another recommendation of the report is to rethink workplace giving campaigns. With 87 percent of Millennials donating to a nonprofit on an annual basis, many would rather donate to a specific cause they already support than give to a broader organization (such as United Way) that their company is partnering with. So when rolling out a workplace giving campaign, the more information about the specific cause and who benefits, the better.

And this report bolsters data found elsewhere that Millennials are highly influenced by their peers when it comes to cause work and focus. "The greatest influence on Millennial volunteerism and giving at work came from co-workers and peers who had volunteered or given themselves," the report notes. "In addition to peer influence, co-workers were most engaged when a peer influencer had encouraged participation in sanctioned workplace giving and volunteerism programs."

The recommendation is to work with internal peer influencers to encourage Millennial participation. "These brand cause agents will be the ones to help co-workers within their departments successfully onboard to the company's cause initiatives," the report concludes.

The report also found that understanding impact matters. When a program is company-sanctioned, Millennials sometimes have a harder time understanding the value as opposed to projects they complete on their own based on personal interest in the cause. Once again, when managers aren't fully involved, the mission becomes murkier to comprehend.

The recommendation is to make sure that department managers are trained on a company's cause work to increase participation. And make sure that there is follow-up which lets Millennials knows the specific effect of their contributions of time, skill or money to the cause. If a Millennial doesn't feel that their participation is needed or valued, their interest will falter.

It's so helpful when thoughtful studies are released that take the guesswork out of employee engagement. This important report helps paint a picture of how to shape volunteer and giving programs that are attractive to the next generation of leaders. With the opportunity for cause work with co-workers ranking a close third in employment selection by Millennials, right behind salary and benefits, it's important for companies to be building cultures of giving back that feel integrated and organic to their missions.