By Melissa J. Anderson

What’s one way to engage workers across generations? According to the latest Net Impact report, it’s to make sure they are able to make a difference at work. The survey of 1,726 people (college students about to enter the workforce, and employed Millennial, Generation X, and Baby Boomer college graduates) showed that 45% of employees who felt a project they worked on made a positive social impact reported being “very satisfied” with their jobs, compared with 29% who didn’t.

The numbers were similar for people who, outside their day-to-day work, participated in sustainability or corporate responsibility initiatives, or did volunteer work with coworkers.

Liz Maw, CEO of Net Impact, wrote, “[The study] reveals that employees who say they have the opportunity to make a direct social and environmental impact through their job report higher satisfaction levels than those who don’t. In fact, employees who say they can make an impact while on the job report greater satisfaction than those who can’t by a 2:1 ratio.”

And that’s not just employees. Soon-to-be college grads felt similarly. Maw continued, “This data is backed up by the two-thirds of graduating university students who tell us that making a difference through their next job is a priority, and by the 45% of students who say they would even take a pay cut to do so.”

Companies looking to engage their workforces – as well as attract the next generation of high performers – should find ways to help employees feel they are making a difference.


The report, prepared by Professor Cliff Zukin and Mark Szeltner of Rutgers, revealed some surprising information about values and community engagement. According to the study, “Boomers are more dissatisfied than their younger colleagues with the way their company prioritizes social or environmental responsibility.”

Additionally, it continued, less than half of the students (43%) said they voted in the last direction – compared to 77% of the Boomers. “Boomers are also the most likely to say they will donate to causes, volunteer outside of work, or be involved with a religious community,” the study added.

That’s not to say that younger employees are disengaged when it comes to community engagement. Almost three quarters (72%) of students said “a job where I can make an impact” is “very important or essential to my happiness,” compared to 53% of workers.

The study also showed that women were much more likely than men to seek jobs that make an impact. “Sixty percent of employed women say that working for a company that prioritizes social and environmental responsibility is very important to them, compared to 38% of men,” the study reports.

In fact, 30% of women said they’d take a pay cut in order to work in a role that makes a difference. Only 19% of men said the same. And these differences start early. According to the research, 60% of female students said they want a job at a company that cares about corporate responsibility – compared to 40% of male students.

The report notes, “Impact-related priorities are the only ones that significantly differ between male and female students. All other job-related priorities (such as compensation, culture, and flexibility), are very similar across the genders.”

Engaging Workers

According to the study, most people were dissatisfied with the advancement opportunities in their companies, and Millennials in particular were dissatisfied with “how their company values their input and seeks their opinion.” Gen X employees were most dissatisfied with their company culture.

Net Impact suggests that companies work harder to convey corporate values in order to engage workers, and then “connect the dots” with how they can make an impact. For example, the report continues:

“In addition, employees need to understand how their skills can be applied to specific impact-related activities, either as part of their job description (such as through product or service development), or as an initiative that goes above and beyond their daily role (such as starting a volunteer program).”

They should also reach out to potential recruits about the impact-related opportunities to their workers. “The majority of students in our study, for example, expect their future job to offer impact opportunities. Companies or nonprofits that offer students direct ways to engage with such opportunities through their job will have a recruiting advantage over others that can’t,” the report explains.

By supporting impact-projects, corporate responsibility initiatives, or volunteering programs, companies can better attract, retain, and engage employees.