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Do you trust me?

By Dan Ekstein

“Major corporations need to re-earn a degree of trust with people who work for us.”

– James Staley, CEO, Barclays

Staley made this statement in a recent Yahoo Finance interview. He was not talking about all employees but was addressing the common belief that workers who fall within the millennial generation – those individuals between the ages of 23 and 38 or so – are disloyal. Staley does not agree with that trope. He suspects the problem between big companies and their millennial workers is that the youngest generation of employees does not trust modern institutions.

He is right, and that distrust impacts those of us working to motivate American workers to engage in the political process through employee-funded PACs. The average age of a donor to a company PAC is around 45.

We cannot assume the millennial generation will grow into their giving, as Generation X did. As Staley argued, millennials’ distrust of institutions is deep and will likely persist unless employers understand the source of the skepticism and address it.

The 2019 Deloitte Global Millennial Study can help employers set goals to better reach their younger employees.

The first lesson the survey reveals is that the situation is dire. Based on a poll of nearly 13,500 millennials worldwide, Deloitte researchers concluded this generation’s opinions about business continue to diminish. Specifically, “After four straight years in the 70s … the number of respondents who said business has a positive impact on wider society fell to just 55 percent.”

In other words, nearly half of millennial workers do not believe their employer is doing good in the world. What is more, they do not even believe their employers’ goal is to do good. For example, just one-third of millennials think a company’s mission is to drive innovation or create new jobs. For those of us in external or government affairs, this next figure is perhaps the most worrisome: Only 16% of millennial employees think businesses are actively trying to enhance the lives of their own employees.

If workers do not believe their employer is trying to compensate them fairly, they certainly will not believe their company’s political advocacy program is acting for the good of the industry and its employees.

There are practical reasons why millennials do not feel their company has their best interest at heart. According to the survey, 43% said they are dissatisfied with the pay and other financial rewards their employer offers. One-third said they did not feel there is an opportunity within their company to advance.

The Deloitte survey proves that Staley was onto something deeper. Part of the reason millennials do not trust businesses is that they view that trust as having been broken before. Millennial Laura Banks told Deloitte, “We have less trust in employers because so many of our parents did lose their jobs, and they had been loyal to companies … I think that a lot of us are worried that is going to happen again.”

To be sure, it is not only millennials’ views on corporations that have eroded. Deloitte found nearly half of millennials (45%) have “absolutely no trust” that political and religious leaders are a source of reliable and accurate information. Based on these numbers, Deloitte’s researchers said, “It begs the question: If millennials don’t trust institutions created to disseminate facts, who will they trust?”

That brings us to the second lesson we can derive from the survey – there is hope. Trust, as Staley put it, can be “re-earned.”

The business community appears to be on its way. While almost half of millennials do not believe the information they get from religious or political leaders is true, that figure is only 26% for business leaders. Most workers still trust the information they are getting from their employer is true.

We know from BIPAC’s 2018 Post-Election Report that employees want to hear from their employers about the electoral, legislative and regulatory dynamics affecting their stakeholders.

Millennials also clearly want to be loyal to their company. In fact, 28% of the nearly 13,500 individuals that Deloitte surveyed said they plan to stay with their employers for at least five years. What then, will compel them to stay – and, hopefully, to give to their company’s PAC?

Deloitte researchers said they found “strong correlations between those who plan to stay in their current jobs and those who said their companies deliver best on financial performance, community impact, talent development and diversity and inclusion.” The Deloitte report recommends employers:

  • Open a dialogue with their millennial employees, listen to their concerns and strive to understand why certain issues really matter to them.

  • Ask how they can help people realize their ambitions.

  • Provide training and tools that enable millennials to succeed.

  • Take visible and vocal stances that assume responsibility for delivering societal impact.

These recommendations can easily be adapted to your advocacy efforts.

As the last bullet point states, millennials want their employers to take a stand. We know this is tricky. For example, we’re well aware of movements that argue companies should not support certain politicians due to those lawmakers’ views on social issues. The Deloitte survey confirms the needle is difficult to thread. More than a quarter of millennials told researchers they have “backed away from an organization because of its position on political matters.” But as we know, organizations that engage in external and government affairs don’t have the luxury to stay away.

Businesses have a greater responsibility to ensure their views are represented to policymakers in a transparent and accountable way. A best practice among political program executives should be ensuring their organizations are laser-focused on making engagement and disbursement decisions that are bipartisan and based on their organizations’ long-term objectives.

Unfortunately, the Deloitte report does not have a suggestion for how to strike the right balance on that point. That, my friends, is up to us.

Dan Ekstein is a partner at Sagac Public Affairs, a national firm that provides communications, market research, fundraising and issue advocacy solutions to hundreds of political, nonprofit and corporate organizations. Sagac and Ekstein are industry leaders in the implementation of comprehensive strategies for political finance operations. The firm’s clients represent more than one-third of all federal qualified funds raised each election cycle by corporate and trade association PACs.

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