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The Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility on Millennials’ Employment Choices: Altruism or Attention Seeking?

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1. Problem Statement and Rationale

Millennial job seekers are frequently reported to ascribe a greater importance to corporate ethics and sustainability than any of the past generations (Papavasileiou & Lyons, 2015, 2166). They are not merely looking for fulfilling and meaningful work, but for work that has a positive impact on the general society (Cattermole, 2018, 291; Klimkiewicz & Oltra, 2017, 449). The Cone Communications survey found that 64% of millennials would not consider a job with a company that lacks in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and 75% would prefer a socially responsible firm even despite a lower salary (Cone Communications, 2016, 1). However, the underlying psychological mechanisms of millennials’ preference for socially responsible employers have received considerably less attention. One possible factor in shaping this pattern is a high level of altruism in the millennial population. In this case, millennials are preferring sustainable companies because they truly care about the broader impact of their choices. This explanation is challenged by the ample research evidence of millennials’ being actually less altruistic than earlier generations (Leveson & Joiner, 2014, 21; McGinnis Johnson & Ng, 2016, 287; Twenge, Campbell, Hoffman & Lance, 2010, 1117). An alternative hypothesis is that millennials’ choice of employment is driven by their powerful urge for social recognition (Balda & Mora, 2011, 19; Bivolaru, 2017, 17). As attention seekers, they want to work for companies that are positively perceived by their immediate social network, including online networks. Thus, the choice of socially responsible companies is determined by the favourable perception of such companies in society.

This research project was motivated by the lack of previous research specifically comparing altruist and attention-seeking motives in the millennials’ employment choice. The contrast between millennials’ portrayal as committed to the general benefit in some studies (Klimkiewicz & Oltra, 2017, 449; Papavasileiou & Lyons, 2015, 2166) and highly egoistic and narcissist in others (Bivolaru, 2017, 17; McGinnis Johnson & Ng, 2016, 287) represents a research gap that prompts further investigation. From a practical perspective, understanding the inner mechanisms of millennials’ response to CSR strategies can help companies design more effective engagement strategies for this category of employees.

1.2. Background of the Thesis

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are commonly defined as those born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s (House of Commons, 2017, 5; KPMG, 2017, 4; Tilford, 2018, 1). Currently, there are 13.8 million Generation Y people in the UK (KPMG, 2017, 4), making up about 20% of the country’s population. Globally, millennials are the most numerous living generation, expected to comprise 35% of the total workforce by 2020 (Tilford, 2018, 1).

The employment patterns and work attitudes of British millennials are fairly well-researched. 82% of millennials aged 25-34 are currently in employment, working mainly in retail, health, and education (House of Commons, 2017, 5). Being strongly hit by the aftermaths of the 2008 crisis and then by Brexit, they are making less money than past generations at their age (BBC, 2017, 1; Collinson, 2018, 1). Generation Y is estimated to change jobs every three years (KPMG, 2017, 5), which is somewhat less frequent as compared with the previous Generation X (Tilford, 2018, 1). Millennial employees are highly sensitive to organisational justice and can leave a workplace lacking it even despite good salary and career opportunities (George & Wallio, 2017, 112). The stereotype of millennial generation as highly narcissistic and attention-seeking was found to be strong in academic literature, despite the scarcity of empirical evidence supporting this view (Baker Rosa & Hastings, 2018, 922). Nonetheless, several studies have established millennials in the workplace to be highly praise-oriented (Cassell, 2017, 144).

1.3. Research Aim and Objectives

The overarching purpose of this doctoral project is to explore the contribution of altruism and attention seeking as possible mediators of the relationship between CSR and millennials’ employment choices.

  1. To examine the millennials’ perception of employment through the lens of the social capital theory.
  2. To evaluate the impact of CSR on millennials’ choice of employment.
  3. To evaluate the mediating effect of altruism on the relationship between CSR and millennials’ employment choices.
  4. To evaluate the mediating effect of attention seeking on the relationship between CSR and millennials’ employment choices
  5. To provide recommendations on how British companies can more effectively engage the millennial

1.4. Intended Contribution

This study is intended to contribute to a better understanding of psychological motives driving the millennials’ employment choices. In addition, it can contribute to resolving the broader debate on whether the millennials’ behaviour is influenced to a greater extent by altruism or by attention seeking. Practically, the research findings can be used by British companies to attract millennial job seekers more effectively.

1.5. Research Methodology

A quantitative survey-based methodology is adopted to collect and interpret primary data for this research project. The target population is graduate millennials between 23 and 34 who are either currently in employment or seeking it. A mix of convenience and snowball sampling was used to reach 121 participants. The initial participants were identified in the researcher’s personal network and approached with an invitation to contribute to the study. Each respondent completed the Altruistic Personality Scale, the Brief Histrionic Personality Scale (BHPS) to measure attention-seeking behaviour, and a survey focusing on CSR. The data was analysed using cluster and regression analysis techniques.

1.6. Expected Findings and Limitations

Based on past empirical evidence (Bivolaru, 2017, 17; McGinnis Johnson & Ng, 2016, 287), the researcher expected to find a stronger evidence of attention-seeking than of altruism in the research population. The impact of CSR on employer choice was expected to be positively mediated by attention-seeking, but not by altruism. In addition, a strong preference for employers with established CSR in the sample was anticipated by the researcher.

Since this research project used a non-probability sampling frame, the established patterns are not generalisable to the whole population. The reliance on self-reported data leads to a lower validity of results as compared with observational or experimental studies.


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Twenge, J., Campbell, S., Hoffman, B., & Lance, C. (2010). “Generational Differences in Work Values: Leisure and Extrinsic Values Increasing, Social and Intrinsic Values Decreasing”. Journal of Management, 36(5), 1117-1142.

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