By Stuart Levine

Published in, Forbes

This is an exciting time of optimism and hope as people are vaccinated, U.S. infection rates are dropping and the public is ready to do resume more activities. Pre-pandemic thinking and actions have changed as individuals are re-evaluating what they want their professional and personal world to look like.  The focus has been on more values-based choices which is impacting where employees want to work, brands they want to buy and people they want to associate with. 

The IBM Institute for Business Value recently published an in-depth survey of 14,000 respondents in 9 countries.  The survey found that values, particularly those related to ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) are increasingly guiding decisions about which businesses people will frequent, where they will work and how they want to work. Leaders must digest these trends and their impact on both customers and talent. 

The pandemic has raised societal consciousness around environmental preservation and sustainability. Of IBM’s survey respondents, 93% say the pandemic has affected their views on environmental sustainability a lot (68%) or to some extent (25%). People are responding with their wallets. More than half of all those surveyed (54%) are willing to pay a premium for brands that are sustainable and environmentally responsible. Surprisingly, almost half (48%) of all 14,000 respondents would take lower pay to work for environmentally responsible organizations. Social responsibility is becoming a beacon for shaping business strategies to attract and keep customers and talent. 

The younger generation is taking the lead. The Center for Generational Kinetics, which researches intergenerational trends, tells how Gen Z, comprised of those younger than age 24, were hardest hit by pandemic-caused job losses. Yet this group leads the charge in strongly wanting to impact the world in a positive fashion with 62% believing they will do so. This involves selecting brands that fully and publicly support social causes that have resonance with them and seeking to work and associate with companies that have a commitment to their values relating to the environment, equality, and talent development. 

However, this shift towards more values-focused behaviors does cut across all generations. Organizations that want to thrive, need to focus on new ways to engage and retain employees, and attract talent.  Working from home and hybrid models that combine both off-site and in-office work schedules are changing the way employees and leadership interact.  IBM found that most employees (62%) want to keep a version of current work arrangements, even after becoming immunized and can safely return to more traditional office settings. Of those working from home, 44% would like to continue that arrangement and 35% want to move to a hybrid model. Of those employed under a hybrid-model, 57% want to continue and another 43% wish to experience something new.

The flexibility of offsite work, although attractive, has drawbacks. Gen Z and Millennials do want and need more of an in-office experience than other generations. Surveys from Microsoft, PwC, and Fortune confirm that the younger generations crave mentorship, feedback, formal and informal learning, and the comradery provided by an in-person workplace. Additionally, their less than “comfy” at-home work environment with smaller children and often smaller spaces increases the desire for them to be back in a work environment where they can focus, interact with others, achieve greater learning and be more productive. 

Customers continue to demand high-quality products and services, but they additionally demand values alignment with organizations they support.  Leaders and boards are now seriously focused on ESG conscious business strategies and tracking these measures on prioritized dashboards. Establishing communication strategies around these plans are critical to ensure that the entire eco-system of both employees, customers and stakeholders understand this commitment. Those organizations that truly believe in sustainability, social responsibility and the impact of these drivers, will achieve a meaningful competitive advantage.