In other articles within this series, my peers have asserted that we millennials thrive in modern and diverse environments where we are challenged to pursue our own core purposes while maintaining a good work-life balance. This is a big goal, not only for the organizations that are trying to create these kinds of environments, but also for the young talent who are trying to find these companies.

Often, hiring for young talent may feel like a moving target. As soon as an organization seems to understand what appeals to a millennial, more research is released on how to engage us in the workplace.How can a purpose-driven organization stand out? How can it use its strategy to put a stake in the ground and make the goal posts stop moving so millennials can score and realize their desire to contribute and make a positive impact?


What goes around comes around

Long before Justin Timberlake made the phrase “what goes around comes around” catchy, researcher Albert Bandura found that the way a person behaves both influences and is influenced by personal factors and their environment. The Canadian born psychologist and 2016 winner of the National Medal of Science for Behavior and Social Science also suggested that individuals are highly responsive to their environment, which can validate or dissuade their behaviors.

Bandura’s concept, called reciprocal determinism, describes how personal factors and previous experiences play a role in how an individual chooses to behave, while his or her environment can shape future decisions. That is, the way a person is responded to in a situation can perpetuate certain instinctual reactions or opinions (formed by previous experiences), or it can initiate a change in reactions and opinions. In other words, just as the environment tends to cause a change in the behavior of the individual, the individual’s behavior causes changes in the environment.

For example, let’s say that Josh is a university student who enjoys his financial analysis class (personal factor) and conducts additional research to expand his learning (behavior). His professors are impressed by this and offer Josh opportunities to compete in global financial case study challenges (environment). This encourages Josh to work harder in his finance classes and provides the university a representative to compete in these challenges.

An organization’s work environment is created by its priorities and purpose, which are in turn driven by the behaviors that employees display and develop into everyday culture. Extending Bandura’s concept to the business world suggests that the way employees form responses and opinions is influenced by both existing personal factors and their work environment.

So what does this mean for a purpose-driven organization? With the concepts of reciprocal determinism in mind, I believe that organizations can influence the way employees think, act, and work, and employees can contribute to the development of the organization’s culture and environment.


Connecting the dots…

With Bandura in mind, I believe that millennials will gravitate toward organizations that demonstrate their purpose and values in the culture and work environment. In turn, millennial employees will be influenced by their working environment and will begin to live out the purpose, values, and strategy that the organization embodies.

What steps can your organization take to embody its purpose-driven strategy and support your millennials – and really, all your employees?

1. Positive modeling. When your organization has ambassadors for your brand who live its purpose and values, a ripple effect is created for both young talent and seasoned employees. They act and react within your organizational environment through coaching and mentorship so that all parties are influenced in a positive way.

2. Stretch work. While a good emphasis on health and activity in the workplace should be a priority, it is also important to give your millennials the opportunity to learn accountability through the ownership of challenging work. By creating an environment where all employees can expect a “stretch” goal through their day-to-day work, your employees will seek to be more proactive in their search to contribute purposefully to your organization. To explore this even further, you can read more about the “Courageous Accountability” framework for millennials.

3. “Goodness” in the workplace. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and volunteerism in the workplace can give your employees a chance to live your company’s purpose-driven values and priorities. Ongoing research shows that employee giving and volunteering can transform an organization and build an engaged and inclusive workplace. As discussed in the Huffington Post article linked in the previous sentence, all generations can agree on the value of CSR, as millennials are attracted to and stay with employers who give them these opportunities. In turn, this influences them to make this an important part of their work-life balance as they represent themselves and an organization like yours in the community.

Millennials in particular are searching for purpose-driven organizations that provide great models for support and growth, challenging and interesting work, and an opportunity to give back to the greater community. I believe it is important for organizations to better understand the impact of the work environment on their employees as well as how employees work to shape that environment. When this happens, they will have an incredible opportunity to attract and retain the best talent, whatever the generation.

This article originally appeared on Digitalist Magazine, in the Improving Lives section. See here.

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  1. Stephanie Chi

    Thanks for sharing, Jessica! Love the cyclical pattern of company culture that you’ve identified – that our work environment is an output of the individual and group inputs to create a cohesive identity. This message is both empowering and challenging to give each person, millennial or not, the ownership to create a positive environment.

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