Job (in)security among Gen Zs and millennials over climate concerns: what does this mean for employers and employees of tomorrow?
Statistics of Gen Zs and millennials over climate concerns
A recent Deloitte report estimated that over 40% of Gen Zs and millennials (Gen Y) would change jobs because of climate change-related concerns. This should communicate to employers that, the talent they are seeking to recruit or maintain has climate-related issues as a key criterion (third only after high-cost living and unemployment) in making career decisions such as which firms to join, remain committed to, or collaborate with. Specifically, some 55% of Gen Zs and 54% of millennials conduct a search on the ESG metrics of a firm before deciding to commit to them which shows the importance of sustainability reporting. This figure represents more than half of the available talent (workforce) firms are currently competing for.
Interestingly, on one hand, 17% of Gen Zs have already changed jobs due to climate concerns compared to 16% of millennials. On the other hand, more than 20% of Gen Zs and millennials are already thinking of changing jobs. To employers reading this, your top talents might be part of this statistic. Why don’t you try and conduct an anonymous poll in your firm among Gen Zs (1997-2012) and millennials (Gen Y – 1981-1996) on whether they will leave their current job because of climate concerns to know the state of thinking of your current workforce and the number of people you’re likely to lose as a firm? I believe employees reading this won’t mind participating in such a simple poll.
In the meantime, the report also noted that 53% of Gen Zs and 48% of millennials are already of the view that their firms have removed their foot from the gas pedal as far as sustainability efforts are concerned which is contrary to what executives think as a separate report revealed 75 percent of executives say they have increased sustainability investments over the last year. This disparity already defeats corporate governance principles as transparency and accountability among employers and employees are clearly lacking.
How can investments be on the rise yet employees do not experience the impacts of this in the day-to-day operations of the firm? Another question that needs to be asked is who is leading these initiatives. Are firms bringing employees along? Do employees know what sustainability investment in their firm means to their jobs? Maybe just maybe, executives are investing in carbon offset schemes that check the boxes but clearly do not translate to greening the day-to-day operations of the firm. What does the foregoing discussion mean for employers and employees alike? The remaining part of this article examines these briefly in turn.
Implication for employers
Increased competition for keeping top talent
Although maintaining top talent involves several factors, business leaders should ensure climate concerns is not a contributing factor to losing their top talent. How so? About 60% of Gen Zs and 57% of millennials have experienced some level of climate change anxiety recently, which has impacted their decisions, such as food choices, and family planning, and may contribute to mental health issues because of stress. Employers will therefore have to prioritise these concerns in order to keep their top talent as climate change anxiety goes further than just environmental concerns and may have mental health connotations which altogether might contribute to the unproductivity of employees. This includes reviewing compensation and reward packages of current staff to enhance a sustainable lifestyle considering the high cost of living amid economic uncertainties as well as creating channels that make Gen Zs and millennials feel comfortable talking about these issues with their employers.
Additionally, business leaders must be ethical in conducting business which ensures the overall benefit of the society in which they operate as well as bringing their top talent along the sustainability drive by allowing them to lead sustainability initiatives where applicable thereby contributing to the content of the firm’s sustainability reports. This inclusive approach can create climate champions within the firm and contribute to decreasing the employee turnover rate.
Need to adjust recruitment and retention strategies
Businesses and their recruitment teams must be aware of what the financial priorities of employees are to develop packages that are appealing to them in order to attract them to their firms. For example, Gen Zs and millennials would like to prioritize environmental sustainability in their lifestyle but are unable due to financial constraints as 50% of Gen Zs and millennials live from paycheck to paycheck. Gen Zs and Millennials are also cautious of greenwashing and therefore the sales and marketing teams of businesses must be aware of this fact in order not to create a negative perception of their firm to prospective employees.
Employers must therefore develop and implement policies that inform recruitment and retention strategies to adapt to changing expectations of employees. This might include a commitment to creating and advertising green collar jobs (thus jobs that reduce rather than contribute to carbon emissions especially jobs that are highly climate reliant like industrial jobs) and proposing remuneration packages that will ensure prospective employees can adequately prioritise and afford a sustainable lifestyle (e.g., providing sustainable modes of transport, opting for sustainable packaging and fashion brands, etc).
Need to create a workplace culture
As noted above, there seems to be a disparity between employers and employees about whether their firms are engaged in sustainability initiatives. To bridge this gap, business leaders must create a climate-resilient workplace culture by implementing an inclusive climate-resilient policy within their firms especially knowing that climate change is ranked as a top three issue by CxOs according to the Deloitte 2023 CxO Sustainability Report. This might include identifying climate-resilient behaviours and standards that are acceptable in the firm (might differ from firm to firm) which prioritizes sustainability, and greens the entire supply chain (including technologies) of the business through a balanced and diversified carbon-related investment in its operations.
Others include setting a target towards being a low-carbon firm by restructuring existing aspects of the business that currently increases their carbon footprint; encouraging more flexible work environments and flexible work arrangements; providing training to upskill and retrain employees in climate change topics and more importantly how it relates to their jobs, strategies to reducing single-use plastics, designing eco-friendly workplaces; and increasing job mobility within firms, etc. Ultimately, this will define what the company and its employees do, and drive change in the firm through a bottom-up approach to encourage climate-friendly behaviours, creativity, and networking toward implementing sustainability initiatives.
Implication for employees
Sustainability presents employees with the chance to take personal responsibility for how their actions contribute to climate change. It cannot be that Gen Zs and millennials are lamenting on the one hand that they would not work for firms that are not climate-friendly and on the other hand, they are not climate friendly themselves. In other words, they are not walking the talk. From food wastage to excessive shopping sprees (fast fashion culture), Gen Zs and millennials must be climate-friendly not just in words.
Taking responsibility through their actions can create platforms in their firms to push the sustainability agenda. In cases where firms do not offer opportunities for training, individuals could apply to their employers for funds for retraining and justify how the training could benefit the firm if employers do not currently see the direct and indirect benefits. Employees should also look out for free training to develop themselves if they cannot afford paid courses. Once their capacity is developed and the firm realises their potential, this could increase their bargaining power going forward.
Increased job opportunities to make a difference
Considering that 800 million jobs are prone to climate extremes with Deloitte’s Work toward net zero report, suggesting that over 300 million jobs can be created in the next 27 years globally through decarbonization opportunities, employees have many opportunities in the coming years to join firms that align with their values. It also creates opportunities for employees to help create new green collar jobs within their firms or create new firms themselves that will offer meaningful green jobs that make real-life impacts while ensuring a fair and just transition as firms continue to embrace sustainability.
Implications for the future
This means that both employers and employees must be disruptive thinkers and doers as the workplace evolves in the midst of climate concerns. It also means that there should be transparency and accountability among others across the board in order to scale sustainability initiatives of firms and to effectively measure how much is spent on these initiatives vis a vis the real-life impact it has on employees, employers, the firm, and its associated partners, and the community within which they operate.
Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.
About the author
Daniel F. Akrofi is a Commonwealth scholar and an International Sustainability & Legal consultant. He is a Doctoral researcher in International Law & Governance at the University of Lincoln, UK, and holds an MSc. in Water, Sanitation, and International Development from Cranfield University, UK with a BSc. Environmental Science & Natural Resources Management. His expertise revolves around international law, global sustainability & strategy, global environmental (plastic) governance, circular economy, natural resource management, waste management, and WASH.