“The youth are the future”. It’s an easy cliché that most of us automatically say. And while of course it’s true, it risks overlooking the fact that they are so much more than just the future – they are also, critically, the present.

The reality is that right across the globe, millions of young people are already dedicating their lives to standing up against environmental injustice. The youth won’t accept the status quo, and are active, aware, and unapologetic in their desire to demand change that will make the world a better place.

It’s little wonder that ‘Youthquake‘ – vast social, cultural, or political change brought about by young people – was declared word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries just five years ago.

What’s more, as the first ‘digitally native’ generation, Gen Z’s proficiency on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram makes them ever more influential in that drive for change. It’s little surprise Gen Z has already been labelled ‘the most disruptive generation ever’.

This strong sense of justice and moral responsibility extends beyond their personal lives though, with many increasingly challenging their employers to do more to tackle climate change. Gen Z employees in particular are increasingly selective about working for businesses that are aligned to their morals and ethics.

Research from Bupa found in 2021 that 64% of 18–22-year-olds consider it important for employers to act on environmental issues, and 59% would remain longer with responsible employers.

Put simply, if businesses cannot meet Gen Z’s expectations on sustainability commitments and action, attracting (and retaining) the next generation of talent will be challenging. Research has found that one in three (31%) Gen Z’s would turn down roles in companies with poor environmental, social and governance (ESG credentials), highlighting how important it is to get this right.

As a people leader at a business employing thousands of people across the UK, I’ve seen first-hand a number of the ways business leaders and HR teams can work together to create a sustainable workplace that fosters next-gen talent.

Place a strong ESG stake in the ground

If employees – current or prospective – are unaware of your environmental credentials, it’s time for change.

Outline your goals both externally and internally, which we’ve done with the our new sustainability strategy, the Better Connections Plan, and commit to updating them regularly It’s important to be transparent, using plain and inclusive language that everyone can understand.

To attract and retain talent in the long run, businesses must facilitate action, encouraging employees to engage with environmental initiatives in the workplace.

Highlight how people can get involved and demonstrate the real-world impact that employee contributions have had. With the impact of climate change so well publicized, it’s important to celebrate where we are making a difference.

Give younger people a seat at the table

With so many young activists determined to make positive changes, companies must create space for their voices to be heard.

Currently, nearly three quarters (72%) of Gen Z believe young people’s views and futures aren’t listened to enough when it comes to tackling the climate crisis.

If people in your business feel unheard and unsupported, you risk them eventually heading towards the exit.

There are a number of ways you can open up a dialogue with people across your business. For example, we currently work with five young people in our Youth Advisory Council, made up of Gen Z activists and designed to advise us on the impacts of the climate crisis on young people.

We’ve sought their input on a range issues, including our approach to COP27 and commitments to creating a circular economy.

In addition to our Youth Advisory Council, we have also set up a dedicated Future Careers Committee made up of Gen Z across our apprentice, intern and graduate programs.

We work with this committee to ensure we are creating content and programming that addresses topics most relevant to them, especially from an ESG perspective (e.g. sustainability and purpose).

We are also working towards our 1,000 apprentice pledge, with a focus on recruiting Gen Z talent from diverse backgrounds. This is a crucial element as we continue working toward creating an organisational culture that represents the diverse communities we serve.

It’s been refreshing to hear unique and fresh perspectives on today’s biggest issues, and I’ve learnt a lot myself.

As a mother of a soon-to-be two-year-old spirited daughter, hearing from such passionate young people has filled me with great hope for her future.

Make sure every role reflects your sustainability values

Rather than restrict progress towards ESG goals to one small subsection of a wider business, ensure that every role reflects your sustainability values.

You could consider establishing individual ESG objectives within each role, ensuring they’re linked to recognition programs.

This needs to be supported with ESG education and training and critically it must apply to the boardroom too, making sure that they have dedicated ESG skills resources to learn from.

By weaving sustainability priorities through the business you empower the entire workforce to make a tangible difference and tackle the climate crisis head on.

Set aside time for employee volunteering

With 63% of Gen Z (18-22) feeling the weight of climate change on their shoulders compared to just 37% of Gen X (39-54), it’s important they have the time and space to make a difference in a way that suits them, alongside the wider business initiatives.

One of the most impactful and effective ways to do this is by giving people volunteering days that they can choose how they spend.

By giving people the chance to get involved in anything from a climate awareness charity to a local community sustainability project (and much more), you are giving them the opportunity to spend time on things they are truly passionate about.

I’ve seen first-hand through our ‘Take Five’ scheme (where we give people five paid volunteering days each year) the sense of purpose it can give people.

Through schemes like this, organizations are likely to see people feel a sense of pride and strong advocacy for the organization, which can lead to high employee engagement and motivation.

Meanwhile, your people will also gain by learning new skills outside of their typical responsibilities and forming connections within their local communities as well as supporting your organization to contribute to society. It’s a win-win.

Lead from the top down

Finally, leaders must take personal responsibility to drive change and concentrate on developing a purposeful corporate culture.

If young people are to invest their time and energy in an organization, they need to understand that everyone is accountable for their part in moving the ESG strategy of the company forward.

This can be done in part by having clear communication from the top down, supported by compelling sustainability commitments.

The efforts from businesses of all size are essential to combatting climate change. In order to retain talent, and crucially improve the world we live in, it is essential to give employees of all ages the tools they need to make a difference.

The International Festival of HR is back! Discover amazing speakers at UNLEASH America on 26-27 April 2023.

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