business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal this morning writes that "for many 20-something workers and new grads, a sense of mission is butting up against the need to make money. Though they came of age under Presidents Obama and Trump and formed worldviews during times of powerful social movements, some are shifting their priorities or making compromises they might have criticized before entering the workforce.

"A sharper focus on money shows up in Deloitte Global’s annual survey of Gen Zers, which the firm defines as people born starting in 1995. (Some others, like the Pew Research Center, say the generation starts in 1997.) Climate change was the top concern, ahead of financial challenges, when Deloitte polled more than 8,000 Gen Zers early last year. This year, however, the cost of living vaulted ahead of the environment as the No. 1 worry in a survey of nearly 15,000 Gen Zers.

"Meanwhile, 37% of Gen Zers in the latest poll said they have ;rejected a job and/or assignment based on their personal ethics.'  A year ago, nearly half said ethics determine the kind of work they’re willing to do, and for whom."

Some context from the Journal story:

"People in every generation hold ideals that eventually collide with reality. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, disrupted the early careers of many in Gen X, the post-boomer generation born between 1965 and 1980. The financial crisis and recession of the late aughts sobered a lot of the millennials who followed Gen Xers into the workforce.

"Now, the pandemic and its fallout are testing Gen Zers. They approach issues like gun control, foreign policy and racism as people who went through school post-Columbine, have little or no memory of 9/11 and were children when Trayvon Martin’s death helped catalyze the Black Lives Matter movement.

"They’re entering adulthood as the planet hits the hottest temperatures in recorded history and could soon face some of the most restrictive abortion laws in a half-century.

They were raised in a time of questioning such widely accepted norms as pronouns, standing for the national anthem and the wholesomeness of Dr. Seuss.

"They’ve told pollsters for years that all of this - maybe not Dr. Seuss specifically, but social and political issues generally - will be important when they enter the labor force, saying they want to work for companies that share their values.

"In a recent poll of roughly 400 college seniors commissioned by, however, 54% said they’d be willing to work for a company they 'morally disagree with' for a six-figure starting salary. (Such hefty offers are increasingly common in today’s labor market.)"

KC's View:

It is a maxim of adulthood that one has to make hard choices, and that reality rarely conforms to one's dreams and hopes.

(I'm reminded, of course, of a movie - Broadcast News, in which William Hurt's Tim Grunick says, "What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?"  And Albert Brooks, as Aaron Altman, replies, "Keep it to yourself.")

Reality, in this case and in this moment, means high inflation (though not nearly as high as it was when I was their age, a point I make at the risk of sounding like a cranky old man).  It also means a possible/potential recession in the near future.  High amounts of college debt.  And, on an emotional level, dealing with things like a pandemic that had an enormous impact on their lives, gun violence (they grew up doing safety drills in their schools), racial strife, climate change (floods, drought and forest fires can have a sobering impact on life's expectations), political polarization, and even debates about the long term viability of a functional democracy.

Me, I prefer to look at the glass as being almost half-full.  If 54 percent of college seniors say that they’d be willing to work for a company they 'morally disagree with' for a six-figure starting salary, that means 46 percent would not.  I'm not sure a culture can survive long-term with only 46 percent of its members understand the concept of moral responsibility.  But it is a start.