Gen Z Wants to Know: Are You Practicing Sustainability?

With the U.S. unemployment rate around 3.7%, this year’s graduates are joining one of the tightest labor markets in a long time. They’re in a strong position to compare job offers, and many have. NACE’s spring survey found the average graduating senior received 1.1 job offers, the highest rate in a dozen years. A survey by the staffing, recruiting and culture firm LaSalle Network, found 65% of college seniors who had lined up a job early in the year, received two to four offers.

Attracting top talent in a market like this requires understanding what today’s graduates really want out of their jobs. Yes, salary and benefits are always important, but there’s another critical factor that you might overlook: a company’s commitment to sustainability.

It’s not a stretch to call recent and upcoming college graduates the “sustainability” generation. They came of age amid rising awareness of environmental and social issues. And as consumers, they are already putting their money where their values are. Now that they’re joining the workforce, they will want to put their talent where their values are, too.

For graduates weighing two equal job offers, sustainability could be the deciding factor. But it’s not only Gen Z and younger generations who care; How your company conducts its business also matters — a lot — to your current workforce. We know, because we just surveyed workers around the world about this topic.

Workers care about sustainability

The HP Global Workforce Sustainability Survey, which we released in April, found that 61% of office workers say sustainable business practices are a “must-have” for companies.

These employees want to work at a place that is having a positive impact on the world and on their local communities. They want their employer to be committed to ethical practices and equality. In fact, 56% of survey respondents said that ignoring sustainability is as bad as ignoring diversity and inclusion efforts.

Companies that fall behind on sustainability or struggle to articulate their commitments are likely to have trouble recruiting and retaining employees:

  • Nearly half of survey respondents said they would only work for a company that implemented sustainable business practices.
  • 56% said that sustainability will be especially key to engaging the workers of the future.
  • 40% said they would look for a new job if their company didn’t follow sustainable business practices.

People who care about sustainability aren’t afraid to speak out, either, which can affect your company’s reputation. About 40% of the survey audience said they would leave a bad review about a company’s poor sustainability practices on a public forum like Glassdoor.com.

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The good news: Workers also want to advocate for sustainable companies. Among survey respondents who feel that their company is ahead of the sustainability curve, 96% said they would recommend their workplace to others.

Talk sustainability when recruiting

When meeting newly minted graduates – and as you get ready for the upcoming college recruiting season — be prepared to discuss how your company approaches sustainability and social responsibility. It’s critical to be honest and transparent in these conversations. People do not want to be mislead.

Employers need to demonstrate genuine, actionable commitment to having a positive impact on the world. This might include highlighting sustainable innovations in your manufacturing process, quantifying the impact of your diversity and inclusion policies, or citing improvements you’ve made in the communities where your employees live and work.

For example, at HP we create global goals like reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 25%, which we achieved in 2019. What’s even more powerful is making it the way we do business, such as our program that creates toner cartridges from recycled plastic sourced from Haiti. We’re not just keeping tons of plastic waste out of the Caribbean Sea — HP has converted more than 199 million pounds of recycled plastic into 3.9 billion HP Original ink and toner cartridges since 2000 — we’re also creating jobs for people in Haiti and providing sustainable toner cartridges for customers around the world.

When you can connect sustainability practices to their human impact, the company’s values come to life. Your workforce is more likely to see how they can create positive change through the career they choose. This appeal could help you land top recruits while keeping your existing staff happy. Emphasizing sustainability goes a long way toward making the world a better place, which is a benefit we can all get behind.

Tracy Keogh has worldwide responsibility for HP's strategic human resources activities, employee communications and social responsibility initiatives. She leads all aspects of HR, including workforce development and organization effectiveness, benefits and compensation, staffing, global inclusion and diversity, and HR processes and information management.

Prior to joining HP in 2011, Tracy was the Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Hewitt Associates, the world’s largest provider of human resources consulting services. Her accomplishments included creating an award-winning virtual learning and development network, implementing a disciplined global succession planning process, and designing a comprehensive and successful employee engagement program.

Previously, Tracy held the top HR job at Bloomberg LP, the financial data, news, and analytics provider. Prior to joining Bloomberg, Tracy was Vice President of Human Resources for Analog Devices. In addition to her human resources background, Tracy has a wide range of leadership experience in operations, sales, marketing, and consulting for a number of organizations.

Tracy holds a Master's degree in Business Administration from the Harvard Business School and a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Smith College. She also attended the University of Geneva in Switzerland. Tracy serves on the boards of the Anita Borg Institute, HR Policy Association, HP Foundation and is Chair of the Cornell Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies (CAHRS) Advisory Board at Cornell University.

In 2013, Tracy was recognized as a global Top 10 Breakaway Leader in Human Resources by Evanta. She was inducted into the National Academy of Human Resources in 2015. In the same year, she was recognized by Human Resources Executive magazine as HR Executive of the Year. In 2016, Tracy was named to the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology by the National Diversity Council.

Tracy is based in Palo Alto, California.

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