Are young job seekers ethically discerning?

The workforce is currently composed of individuals from three generations: the ‘Baby Boomers’, Generation X and Generation Y. Generation Y are also referred to as ‘Millennials’, the ‘Dot.com Generation’, ‘Nexters’, the ‘Digital Generation’, ‘Generation E’, ‘EchoBoomers’ and ‘N-Gens’. Generation Y has been accepted as referring to any individual born from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s. Donaldson (2012) by means of qualitative research and Syffert (2013) through a quantitative approach, investigated whether Generation Y job seekers consider the ethical reputation of prospective employers?

The workforce is currently composed of individuals from three generations: the ‘Baby Boomers’, Generation X and Generation Y. Generation Y are also referred to as ‘Millennials’, the ‘Dot.com Generation’, ‘Nexters’, the ‘Digital Generation’, ‘Generation E’, ‘EchoBoomers’ and ‘N-Gens’. Generation Y has been accepted as referring to any individual born from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s. Donaldson (2012) by means of qualitative research and Syffert (2013) through a quantitative approach, investigated whether Generation Y job seekers consider the ethical reputation of prospective employers?That is, whether ethics is a significant consideration when these job seekers have the opportunity to make a choice of an organisation to work for?

The workforce is currently composed of individuals from three generations: the ‘Baby Boomers’, Generation X and Generation Y. Generation Y are also referred to as ‘Millennials’, the ‘Dot.com Generation’, ‘Nexters’, the ‘Digital Generation’, ‘Generation E’, ‘EchoBoomers’ and ‘N-Gens’. Generation Y has been accepted as referring to any individual born from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s. Donaldson (2012) by means of qualitative research and Syffert (2013) through a quantitative approach, investigated whether Generation Y job seekers consider the ethical reputation of prospective employers? That is, whether ethics is a significant consideration when these job seekers have the opportunity to make a choice of an organisation to work for?

 

The qualitative study, which consisted of ten in-depth interviews with post-graduate students in business management, revealed the following factors, in order of most to least important, that the job seekers take into account when choosing potential employers:

  • Exposure to opportunity
  • Personal and career growth and development
  • Organisational characteristics
  • Recruitment and selection
  • Organisational innovation and entrepreneurship
  • Recognition and rewards
  • Employee-centricity
  • Remuneration and benefits
  • Social awareness
  • Ethics and reputation

Three participants would not want to be associated with an ethically disreputable organisation but noted that much would depend on a) the nature of the unethical conduct engaged in by the organisation, b) whether they had a “valid reason” for engaging in such conduct and c) whether organisations were repeat offenders with regard to unethical activity. Two participants actually condoned unethical conduct by stating the following: “It’s a necessary part of the contemporary business world”; “The business environment is “cut-throat””; and “The business model makes it hard to be 100% ethical”. Only one participant stated unequivocally that he/she would not consider working for an organisation that had engaged in unethical conduct.

The main findings of this study were that there was only superficial references to ethics/ethical reputation, the participants seemed not to have a clear ability to define ethics and to comprehend business ethics, there appeared to be a forgiving attitude towards organisations’ unethical behaviour (‘owing to the fierce competition out there …’) and an amoral attitude to (business) ethics was evident.   

The quantitative investigation was conducted by means of a questionnaire titled the Organisational Choice Indicator (OCI). It was completed by 1992 undergraduate students in the 18-26 age range. The percentages of respondents to the OCI that indicated to a large or very large extent the type of organisations that they would seek out, were as follows:

  1. Personal growth opportunities (87.55%) to a large or a very large extent when choosing an organisation.
  2. Opportunities for promotion (87.39%) of the respondents
  3. Treats everyone it interacts with respectfully (86.08)
  4. Offers training and development opportunities to its employees (83.62%)
  5. Salary (financial package) that the organisation offers (83.57%)

Top ten indicators by rank were:

  1. The salary (financial package) that the organisation offers
  2. An organisation that provides its employees intellectual challenges
  3. Geographical location of the organisation
  4. An organisation where there are personal growth opportunities
  5. I will work for any organisation, as long as the pay is good
  6. An organisation that follows fair selection and promotion practices
  7. The ethics of the organisation
  8. An organisation that provides opportunities for promotion
  9. An organisation that is free of fraud and corruption
  10. Any organisation that is willing to give me a job.

The finding from the quantitative study that Generation Y job seekers do seem to consider the ethical reputation of an organisation to some extent when choosing a potential employer, may be interpreted either as a) a reflection of real concerns or b) socially desirable/’faking good’ responses to the OCI. Those who indicated that they consider the ethical reputation of the organisation to a large extent, eventually also indicated that they will not work for any organisation just because the pay is good. This may indicate some ethical awareness.

Those individuals who consider the ethical reputation of the organisation to a very large extent also appear to concede that they would work for any organisation that is willing to give them a job. Why this apparent contradiction? It could be speculated that these responses may be ascribed to the high level of job scarcity in South Africa and/or a notion of survival ethics.

In sum then: It appears that South African Generation Y job seekers are not significantly ethical discerning when choosing organisations to work for. Although this lack of consideration of organisational ethical reputation may be explained by the lack of job opportunities in the country, the finding is nevertheless disturbing in two senses, i.e. from the possibility that the national moral fibre could be described as underdeveloped and also possibly from a perspective that organisations negate the value of ethics as a component of their reputations.

The main recommendations that emanated from these two investigations were the following: Employers need to understand the business case for ethics and the importance of ethical reputation in attracting talent. Universities could include more business ethics in their relevant curricula to enhance ethics awareness and assist students to acquire an ethics vocabulary. Job seekers could invest more care and thought in their choice of an organisation and perhaps consider ethical reputation as a criterion. And, lastly, career counsellors may need to orientate clients to be more discerning and to seek potential values alignment between themselves and their prospective employers.  

References

Donaldson, H.K. (2012). Organisational ethical reputation as a decision-making factor in job seekers’ organisational choice. Unpublished master’s dissertation. University of Johannesburg. (Under the supervision of Leon van Vuuren & Koos Uys).

Syffert, R.M. (2013). Ethical reputation as a decision-making factor in Generation Y job seekers’ organisational choice. Unpublished master’s dissertation. University of Johannesburg. (Under the supervision of Leon van Vuuren).