Perspectives

“Swiss Millennials want companies to work for the good of society”

Consulting Leader Bjørnar Jensen shares his views on Switzerland’s younger generation

The millennial generation in Switzerland feel that companies lack social responsibility. According to the Deloitte Millennials Survey 2018, a mere one-third of those surveyed believe that the conduct of companies is ethical. Bjørnar Jensen, Managing Partner Consulting at Deloitte Switzerland, responds to critical questions raised by the study and explains what companies can do.

Why are young people so critical of business and companies?

People aged between 20 and 35 have clear and high expectations. They want companies to work for the good of society, develop useful products and create exciting jobs – while at the same time taking into consideration the personal needs of their employees. Millennials are disappointed because business does not, in their view, meet these expectations.

Millennials are more vocal in Switzerland than in other countries about demanding ethical conduct and social commitment. Why is that?

It's probably linked to affluence. There is less economic pressure in Switzerland, and young people are not forced to accept the first job that comes along. They can afford to have high standards and very specific ideas about what an employer should be like. Their strong opinions are not attributable to the conduct of companies in Switzerland: many companies have a commitment to society and the environment, and they take Swiss values out into the world, even though their efforts are not uniformly successful.

This year’s survey shows a negative shift in millennials’ feelings about business’ motivations and ethics. 48% millennials believe businesses behave ethically (vs 65% in 2017) and 47% that business leaders are committed to helping improve society (vs 62% in 2017). What is the cause of this significant deterioration in attitudes in both Switzerland and abroad?

This is a worrying development, and we have to take it seriously. I believe that external events have been the main reason for this deterioration in opinion, rather than the conduct of companies. Last year an entrepreneur took over the office of the world’s most influential politician. His views are in direct opposition to those held by many millennials. Just think of equality, protection of the environment or transparency. The #metoo movement has also damaged the image of business. In Switzerland, we have seen the emergence of a previously unfamiliar scepticism towards business at the ballot box: the voting population rejected the corporate tax reform with a surprisingly clear majority. Business was unable to convince the public. But I am confident that attitudes to business will improve going forward.

What role do Swiss corporates have to play in this?

We have seen quite recently that not all business leaders in Switzerland have taken their position as a role model seriously enough. Misconduct is now the subject of greater public attention and criticism than ever before, and rightly so. Regulatory demands have increased, and Swiss people (millennials in particular) expect much more from their business leaders. These developments will hopefully result in business leaders becoming better role models. Then trust in business will also rise again.

Have the most recent incidents at various Swiss companies in the financial and logistics sectors contributed to the development of these negative perceptions?

Our survey was conducted in December 2017 and January 2018, so the effect of these recent incidents on the results is minor. However, millennials take a particularly critical view of the apparent lack of ethics in business. Misconduct weakens confidence in business and increases cynicism among many young people. But as far as I am able to judge, allegations of potential misconduct by companies are now being investigated very seriously and those responsible are being held accountable. In addition, an increasing number of business leaders are becoming aware that in order to be successful in the long-term companies must not only meet their financial targets but also demonstrate that they are making a positive contribution to society and the environment.

To what extent do the results of the study present a problem for Swiss companies? Is there a risk that the competition for young employees will intensify?

Unemployment figures have been very low in Switzerland for many years, and they continue to fall. The global economy is growing. This means that the underlying conditions for recruiting young talent are becoming more challenging. Companies have to make a positive effort and offer young people exciting tasks, a varied and modern setting, and flexible working hours. Companies that get into the headlines because of alleged wrongdoing will find it more difficult to recruit young talent. At the same time, however, companies are pursuing other strategies: for example, they are promoting older employees and using more freelancers, and some are resorting to crowdsourcing and other digital tools. This allows them to obtain the relevant skills quickly without having to take a lot of time searching for and recruiting personnel.

Are the expectations of millennials about companies too high or even unrealistic? In future, are they more likely to work as freelancers or set up their own companies?

The high expectations of millennials are a reality, as our survey has been demonstrating for years. Business needs to get a handle on this. Our global survey shows that in Western countries, younger respondents below the age of 25 are even more pessimistic. Nevertheless, I cannot see that the upcoming generation will turn its back on business. At the same time, for young people in Switzerland freelance and flexible working (the ‘gig economy’) have become a genuine alternative to employment in a large corporation. Our survey found that 45% of respondents in Switzerland could imagine themselves doing these kinds of work. Although they offer less security, they provide a lot more personal freedom. As another Deloitte study has shown, Switzerland lags far behind when it comes to entrepreneurship. In order to support young entrepreneurs, there is a need to improve underlying regulatory and fiscal conditions, and to promote within the Swiss education system a greater awareness of entrepreneurism. Entrepreneurial and economic thinking need to be included within the teaching of business management and digitalisation and delivered early on in schools, as well as during professional training.

Just how important to companies are the needs and expectations of millennials? How can they be squared with the demands of the older generations? Is there potential for conflict here?

Millennials are very important, as they will soon form the largest share of the working population. I do not anticipate generational conflict, however, since in most cases the needs of millennials are compatible with those of older employees – although older employees also want more security and stability than the younger generation. But there is still a long way to go: a Deloitte survey of HR managers in Switzerland found that almost three-quarters (71%) of respondents consider the integration of older employees in the company to be a very important issue. But less than one-third (31%) stated that they have a concrete strategy in place on how to achieve that.

Swiss Millennials are specifically critical

Percent of millennials who agree with the following statements about business’ behaviour

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