By Chris Taylor, CCH senior writer
It’s easy for mainstream employers to envisage and dismiss ethical jobs as being the preserve of rabid left wingers, the old and the unambitious. The dowdy octogenarian folding dead men’s clothes in charity shops; the dyed and pierced eco warrior flinging stink bombs at Japanese whalers in the Antarctic. That’s the view of corporate cynics. They might imagine it can’t be very satisfying and they undoubtedly think it won’t appeal to their own employees. They are wrong on both counts.
While the charity worker and the eco warrior appear to be poles apart, they are actually united by two important factors. They believe the work they do is meaningful and doing it makes them happy. Of course the two examples given are extreme; there are countless industry associations and other non-profit organisations that are operating in the corporate and government middle ground employing people of all ages, skills and experience.
But what these organisations and their employees share is the belief that they are contributing something worthwhile, some higher objective than the clatter of coins into shareholder pockets. They are doing something ethical. And now research reveals that many job applicants are willing to take a substantial pay cut to realise that vision of an ethical job. What’s more, many of these applicants are currently employed outside the non-profit sector – they might even work for you.
According to EthicalJobs.com.au’s survey of more than 60 Australian non-profit organisations, job applicants are willing to take a pay cut as high as 30% to switch to a job they feel is more ethical. Of those employers surveyed, 78% said they received applications from employees working outside of the non-profit sector who were willing to take a pay cut. Of those:
•56% said applicants would work for 10-20% less
•19% said applicants were willing to work for 20-30% less
•6% said applicants would work for more than 30% less.
EthicalJobs founder Michael Cebon says it shows that a lot of employees want more than a big paycheck and a parking spot.
“Increasingly people are willing to put things they believe in above money. And making the world a better place is as strong a motivation as you’ll find,” Mr Cebon says. “This is good news for the non-profit sector and for any employer offering meaningful jobs that are seen as ethical.”
So what are mainstream employers supposed to do about it? You might argue it’s a bit like a short, bald, single man being told that women like tall men with dark hair. Stilts and a black wig probably aren’t going to cut it. Likewise, a heavy industrial firm is going to struggle to sell itself to employees as an environmental champion through overnight window dressing measures like changing the company logo from red to green or half-hearted mission statements about planting trees. Although many have tried.
But what employers can do about it is to show employees why the work they do has value and what value that work has for society as a whole, says Lecturer in Psychology at Monash University, Simon Moss. One way is to link employee goals to a much broader company objective that will show them the worth and meaning of what they are doing on a day-to-day basis.
“Give people a sense of autonomy and importance in what they do,” Dr Moss says.
These employee needs are not new but what has changed is the increase in workload and stress and the effect that this has had on employee burn out and motivation. The actions that employers take to remedy this situation are often counterproductive and exacerbate the problems leading to an even greater degree of job dissatisfaction and decreased sense of worth and meaning in the work involved.
“Managers feel that the best method of increasing motivation is in giving employees very specific tasks and lists of sub-goals,” Dr Moss says. “Then [the employees] are driven out of fear rather than a sense of meaning and as a consequence they are less creative, more tired and dissatisfied.”
“Broader linked objectives are best.”
When managers get this right and employees feel they are doing work that is worthwhile, work that is ethical, the effect can be reversed. When employees feel the job is meaningful in an ethical sense, when they see how the job can affect people, a certain area of the brain is affected and stress, burn out and the sense of fear is reduced, Dr Moss says.
“It seems to be linked to intuition, it seems to be very creative and naturally driven,” he says.
And beware any cynical employer who thinks they can snare an ethically-motivated worker on a lower salary, simply by paying lip service to a meaningful job role and organisational culture. Intuition plays a significant part in the job decisions of those potential employees who have decided to place ethical considerations ahead of getting the largest salary when it comes to assessing a company and its associated culture.
Job applicants who are genuinely interested in a position are more sensitised to cues during the recruitment process and tend to make more intuitive decisions than those who simply blinded by a large salary, Dr Moss says. Indeed those employees who have given up money to do something more ethical tend to end up being more satisfied in their new role.
The message for employers is that ethics are important for the whole spectrum of employees, from those just leaving education to those coming up to retirement; and from the entry level or part-time worker up to the chief executive. And they are willing to sacrifice money in order to attain that sense of worth. While not many organisations are in the position to show a direct correlation between their business and helping the needy or reversing environmental degradation, many substantial gains can be made in the area of corporate social responsibility, creating more ethically-minded opportunities, and communicating to employees the wider social worth and context of what they spend most of their waking hours doing.