Since the start of the pandemic, companies making statements on a seemingly steady stream of epoch-making events have become the norm. It’s a trend that is largely driven by the employees themselves as they look for their jobs to give them a sense of purpose. 

To be an employer of choice in a tight labor market, it’s now more essential than ever companies align their values with those of their employees. But what does this mean for companies that have multinational, multigenerational workforces with a diverse range of views? 

the importance of aligning values

We’ve entered a new era of “self-determination” according to Sander van ‘t Noordende, CEO and Chair of the Executive Board at Randstad, in our Workmonitor 2022 reportThree years into the pandemic, the dynamic between talent and employers has shifted, he says: “A heightened sense of purpose now guides people’s career choices and the work that they do… they want their values reflected in the mission of their company and leaders.”

The report found almost half of people (43%) said they would not join an employer whose social and environmental values didn’t align with theirs.  And the trend for seeking purpose is particularly strong among Gen Z. Younger employees are more likely to take a pay cut if they feel their job contributes towards society (42% for those 18-24 and just 25% for those 55-67).

Other HR institutions are seeing the same trend. As Jonny Gifford, Senior Advisor for Organisational Behaviour at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) notes, alignment of values pays off for all concerned. 

“We have good evidence showing that whether workers identify with their organizations affects both their job performance, and whether they are good ‘citizens’ of the organization — that is, their willingness to help beyond their core job.”

quote icon

“A heightened sense of purpose now guides people’s career choices and the work that they do… they want their values reflected in the mission of their company and leaders.”

Sander van ‘t Noordende
CEO and Chair of the Executive Board Randstad N.V.

what are the key issues?

Social justice, climate change and diversity and inclusion are the key issues Gen Z and other employees care about — and companies are increasingly taking a stand on.

Two-fifths of those surveyed for our report would not accept a job from an organization that did not proactively work to enhance its Equity Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) policies.

The death of George Floyd in 2020, during the pandemic, led to the US’s 50 biggest companies pledging almost $50 billion to end racial inequality, and many looked inward at how they could increase diversity within their organizations. 

Nearly half of Gen Z would not accept a job with an employer not actively becoming more sustainable (compared to 39% average across all generations).

In September, Bloomberg reported that more than half of FTSE 100 companies in the UK now have board-level environmental, social and governance committees, signalling their commitment to sustainability.

To attract and retain top talent, companies need to work out what’s important to all of their employees and how they can reflect these values. 

“Talent today has more choices and a huge number of opportunities,” IBM’s Marjolein van Eck, CHRO for Northern Europe says. “It’s all about providing them purpose, flexibility and the right work arrangements. If you get that right, you’ll stay ahead of competitors. If you are wrong, you’ll fall behind.”

make it meaningful 

The question remains whether organizations should take a stance on or respond to every issue in society — or if that’s akin to virtue signalling and could work against them. 

It’s a balancing act, says Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Advisor at the CIPD. “It's important to assess whether they align with organizational values and whether the organization has anything meaningful to contribute to the issue. But employees increasingly want to work for organizations that care about wider societal issues and look for evidence of a positive organizational reputation when seeking new positions.”

This is backed up by our findings, as well as those of the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, that found 60% of employees now “expect the CEO to speak publicly about controversial social and political issues that I care about”, when considering a job - up from 55% in 2019. Among those considered ‘mandatory’ to speak out about by around half of respondents are wage inequality and global warming and climate change.

Consulting with employees is key to gauge what the most important issues are and ensure organizational values are meaningful to all, says McCartney. She recommends employee surveys, focus groups and tapping into the views of specialist employee resource groups so that everyone feels they have had an opportunity to contribute. 

“Organizations should really listen to what their employees are telling them and create value propositions that build on the feedback received,” she adds.

It’s also important to differentiate between ‘corporate values statements’ and ‘lived values’ that form part of an organization’s culture, says Gifford.

They are very much not the same thing. A quick and shallow brand refresh is all you need to change the value statements, but that’s not likely to achieve much and indeed, if it doesn’t match people’s experiences, it may alienate people. 

“The lived or experienced values are much more important. The best way of understanding the state of play, ie, what are the lived values, and actively shaping it, is by focusing on aspects of the organization’s climate.”

man having a digital meeting at home
man having a digital meeting at home

lessons for employers

Aligning an organization’s values with those of its employees is increasingly important in an era of ‘self-determination’, where employees will vote with their feet.

Social justice, climate change and diversity and inclusion are key issues, with Gen Z workers much more likely to turn down a job if their values don’t align with the company.

Organizations must balance whether they have anything meaningful to say in taking a stance on societal issues, with the need to align with their employees’ values in a meaningful way, through surveys and focus groups.