The fight for talent will come down to ethics


Employers these days complain bitterly about the difficulty they face when trying to land the best talent during the recruitment stage. It seems that a healthy wage and established role is no longer enough of an attraction for many talented young workers. There is a new motivation to contend with.

This pressure to attract the best employees has forced many companies to consider and even integrate sustainability into their operations, so as to appear more ethical as an organisation. For progressive businesses the battle is now over which one can display to biggest social impact, as well as business impact.

Yet many businesses are too short-sighted to attract the best talent. Their business models are based on maximising profit at any cost, which often undermines their longevity as a business as they scrape away at the bottom line in order to offer the best deal. Ultimately they are poor at ensuring their own sustainability, let alone that of the wider environment.

Research suggests that directors of these short-sighted businesses are not only ignoring social and environmental issues, but three quarters don’t even believe they are issues businesses should be contemplating, and up to 58% of boards don’t engage with their own company’s sustainability agenda. Alongside this lack of board engagement, barriers also include unclear financial benefits of ethical practice, a lack of sustainability expertise among board members, short-term business models and a more general view that senior management should prioritise shareholder value above and beyond any other consideration, particularly one that may drain resource from revenue.

This lack of engagement eventually trickles down to affect senior management, who may share ambitions to improve the ethical foundations and activities of a business, yet are hampered by a lack of interest from those who hold the purse strings.

The facts speak for themselves. 79% of UK millennials do not feel that their current organisations are utilising the skills they have to offer, and as such, they feel it necessary to seek new employees who recognise their talents. What’s more, cynicism towards business is shown to be festering among younger workers, who question the ethics and purpose of modern business to satisfy their needs and affirm their identities. There is growing disengagement and if businesses are serious about attracting the best young talent then the pressure is on to start demonstrating meaningful change.

Talented young workers want to see how their work connects with the greater good, and they use their talent as a bargaining tool to ensure the roles they take up are tied to creating value for both the company but also the wider society. There are even predictions coming from leading business thinkers that this aim of creating value for society, as well as business, will soon be written into, not only job descriptions as a way of attracting talent, but also employment contracts.

Ultimately the dilemma played out here comes back to the question of ‘what is the purpose of a business?’ Is it simply to make money and grow, putting all other issues as secondary? Or is it something more profound, where the ‘means’ are equal to the end result? The fight for talent suggests that, whilst business growth is important, what a business can provide in terms of employee integrity, cooperation, meaning, ethics, is increasingly as important, if not more.