Pragmatism over values

Posted by Flux on 

12 June 2024

What we learnt:

When asked “On a scale of 1-5, how much does a company’s values or stand on social justice issues matter to you?”, the average answer was 3.6. This response indicates that company values are reasonably pertinent to them. Some revealed that securing employment in a climate of high unemployment was more important to them than the ethical practices of an employer.

“I haven’t really put too much attention into it. I haven’t been following it that much because for now, my main goal is to just secure employment.”  – Sunita (22, Mixed, female)

“So yeah, no and yes. I mean, the previous jobs that I’ve worked for, it’s kind of just been okay, what’s available, this is what’s available, how much money can I make? Okay, it’s good enough. It meets my minimum threshold. So just go for it until you can figure something out if I don’t enjoy it, you know, so I’ll say yes and no.”  – Aviwe (28, Black, male)

What does the research/experts say?

Our country differs from the global West in that we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. While other more developed countries face labour shortages, we are experiencing the opposite – competition for a limited number of jobs. As such, it makes sense that our young people are adopting a pragmatic approach when letting company values get in the way of securing a job. Despite this, a rating of 3.6 out of 5 suggests that the moral compass of our youth is still strong. 

An April 2023 LinkedIn survey of 7,317 Gen Z respondents in the UK, France, Germany and Ireland found that 59% would not work for a company if its values did not align with their personal ones. According to a 2023 Gen Z and Millennial survey by Deloitte, 44% of Gen Zs say they have rejected assignments due to ethical concerns, while 39% have turned down employers that do not align with their values.

“They aren’t blindly loyal, there’s a lack of trust in institutions, and I get the sense they believe the pursuit of wealth is morally questionable. They kind of remind me of very well-groomed hippies but without the tie-dye and more about ‘protecting their peace’ than ‘Peace Out’,” says Deborah Pead, founder and chief executive of Pead PR. 

What can businesses and policymakers do about this?

South African Gen Zs want employment first and foremost. When securing their first job, company values take second place. Once they have secured employment, they may become more discerning.

The customer this cohort represents will be selective about how to spend their money. If a brand is unethical, this generation will sometimes publicly boycott its products or services. Woolworths suspended the sale of Israeli products in November 2023 in response to accusations of being pro-Israeli. However, they highlighted they were not taking sides and said, “Despite reports commending us for taking a pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli position – we have not. Woolworths would like to explicitly affirm that we neither support nor boycott anyone. Woolworths has no political affiliations and does not support any political party, organisation or country.” Brands must be mindful of the sociopolitics of the time and be prepared for the consequences if they choose a side on a polarising topic.

Similarly, employers should also tread carefully concerning ethics violations. Aside from being called out by customers, employees may also take action by protesting or resigning. It will make it more challenging to attract quality young employees. They should encourage open communication so employees feel comfortable speaking up about ethical concerns without fear of retaliation. Anonymous reporting mechanisms are one such example. Employees who display unethical behaviour and decision-making should be held accountable. Doing this will convey that unethical conduct is intolerable within the organisation.

Policymakers should uphold a company’s values or take a decided stance on social justice issues. There should be laws to govern this that monitor and administer justice for breaking the law. One such diversity issue gaining media attention is the acceptance of neurodiversity in legal frameworks. According to Letlhokwa George Mpedi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg, “Legal systems must establish and enforce anti-discrimination laws that address the unique challenges neurodivergent individuals encounter, ensuring equal opportunities for employment, fair treatment and reasonable accommodations.”

The data and quotes mentioned above refer to a project that we are in the midst of, in conjunction with Student Village called “The 30/30/30 Project” whereby we collected insights from 30 South Africans, under the age of 30, 30 years into our new democracy.

By Flux Trends 


Use these and many more insights from the 30/30/30 Project Report to BUILD your team, by booking a Bridgebuilder Workshop. 

Close the generation gap and dive into the future of work and how to manage it.

Contact Bethea Clayton at  or +27764539405, if you are interested in exploring any of these options with your team or clients.

Image credit: Miltiadis Fragkidis

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