As Millennials And Gen-Z Become More Brand Conscious, How Will Professional Services Adapt?

Companies giving something back with a purchase has been a dominant trend in the retail sector over the past few years—for instance, Warby Parker donates a pair of glasses for every pair a customer buys, and shoemaker Toms give away $1 for every $3 they make. Some companies have even created Chief Giving Officer roles. These examples are attempts to appease existing consumers who are increasingly socially conscious - but they are also ways to increase sales by attracting new customers.

As the boardroom becomes more diverse and a younger generation becomes the key decision-makers, this trend is sure to impact the professional services industry, where there is no tangible product or give-back. Millennials and Gen-Z are increasingly aware of the authenticity of their employer organizations’ giving programs and want to produce work that contributes to a greater good. So what impacts can we expect to see on the professional services industry?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs have been the most popular way for companies to navigate this transition for many years. They allow organizations to give back to the communities they are based in, where often gleaming office buildings sit next to communities in need. 

In looking at various CSR programs at accountancy and law firms, it is clear there are efforts to give back to the communities in which these organizations operate. Community-focused programs, such as Habitat for Humanity, Endeavor and Soles4Souls, work with companies looking to donate time and resources to local charitable organizations. These groups typically facilitate days for company staff to donate their time - such as revamping a community garden, creating reading groups in schools, or volunteering at food banks. 

However, employees are becoming increasingly aware of the limited impact some of these programs are having. While companies are conscious of the cost of giving back and sometimes do the bare minimum, employees, particularly Millennials and Gen-Z, want to see employers do more to put their money where their mouth is. 

In terms of charitable contributions, larger organizations often have matching programs for donations made by employees. While the extra cash is welcome, it does serve the company too. A portion of the company’s income can be deducted from its tax bill and likewise matching programs increase employee engagement. 

Big organizations dedicate webpages and glossy ads showcasing their contributions to the community, but in the greater scheme of things, is it enough? Consumers are aware of ‘greenwashing’ and similar schemes, and consumer savviness is sure to be a concern for buyers of professional services - whether that be when seeking legal counsel, recruitment services, or financial advice. 

For Millennials and Gen-Z, there is already a trend towards activism within key professional industries, such as legal services, where students are putting pressure on Big Law to change their behaviors. They are leveraging their academic brand to remind firms that want to hire from their class cohorts that they are willing to go elsewhere for social-good. 

The conversation is moving towards brand identity over corporate responsibility. Consumers of products want a brand to be doing good at its source. Applying this to professional services, clients are likely to start looking into this deeper in a company’s brand identity. Who do you work with, what do you represent and what is at the core of your people? Consumers, especially Millennials, are becoming more aware of the organizations with which they engage, and they are strongly exercising their consumer choice.

Concrete action seems to be favored, as is and allowing employees greater say in how companies give back. Leading organizations are taking strong political and social stances on key topics - for example, LGBTQ employees and allies benefit from more inclusive company cultures and policy adaptations, such as expanding parental leave policies to be gender-neutral and encompass all forms of parenthood, as well as greater investment in pride events. On the political side, companies such as Delta now refuse to give discounts to members of the NRA following an increase in school shootings—a bold stance when traditionally, corporations have remained neutral on this issue. 

Overall, whilst these are some impactful examples of current CSR and giving programs, the reality is the arrangements are often quid pro quo - and organizations will need to start doing a lot more as the savvy consumer spills over into professional services.

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