New work ethic: why Londoners demand more from employers

At the start of last year, Elizabeth Knight, a 32-year-old Peckham-based project manager, found herself standing in the drafty offices of a small climate charity packing boxes for eight hours per day.

“There were a few moments where I wondered if I had made the right decision,” she laughs. A few weeks earlier, she was working in tech, managing huge teams, and dividing her time between London and the Middle East. “With my old career, what I kept coming back to was the amount of money, the talent and the time that were invested in the projects. It was cool overseeing the development of an app that controlled a digital shower, but I kept thinking, “What if we put the same amount of effort into something that could make the world a better place?” ”

At the end of 2019, she decided to do just that; she quit her job and applied for volunteer positions in the climate sector. “Honestly, it wasn’t about being personally dissatisfied. I loved my job and the pitfalls of it – travel, parties, as well as pay – but I just realized I had skills and expertise that could be used to make a difference. I thought it was worth a try.

She is one of a growing number of people willing to forgo big paychecks and job security in the name of, as another contributor to this story put it, “aligning career and soul.” “We’re at a critical point,” says Knight. “Even five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought of making career decisions based on my ethics. Now, I wouldn’t think of going into a business without having a clear idea of ​​their values ​​and the impact their work has on the world.

Deloitte’s annual 2021 Global Attitudes Survey of Millennials and Gen Z found that two generations (who together make up nearly half of the global workforce) “determined to stand and keep the others responsible for the most pressing problems of society “. And this responsibility extends beyond the staff. Climate, access to health care, diversity and inclusion – where it was perhaps enough to see ourselves as an “ethical consumer” who bought green and donated to charity, we are now determined to make ethical choices in the world. our careers too. It follows similar findings from LinkedIn: According to its survey of workplace culture, 71% of professionals “say they would be willing to take a pay cut to work for a company that has a mission they are doing. believe and common values ​​”.

“There comes a point where you look at your work and you’re like, ‘I’m not doing anything wrong, but I’m not doing anything better either,’ says Becky Okell, 28, who lives in Hackney. After earning a Fashion Business Degree from London College of Fashion, she spent years working for companies such as Nike, Caravan Coffee Roasters and the Anyways creative agency. Then, in June 2019, she left the security of a full-time job to work on the business she had dreamed of with her partner, Huw Thomas: Paynter Jackets.

“At Paynter, we create limited edition made-to-order jackets. We release four styles of jackets each year, with a maximum circulation of 750 per style. They go on sale on a predetermined date and each jacket is assigned to a customer before we manufacture it. The idea is that we only buy enough fabric for what we are selling.

In the era of fast fashion, Okell wanted to create a business model that didn’t rely on mass production. “Each style tends to sell out in about three minutes,” Okell explains. “The question we are asked the most often is how are we going to develop the business, how we are going to make more money.” But beyond earning enough to survive, Okell’s ambitions for Paynter are aimed at ethical reform rather than larger profit margins. “The point isn’t to make us rich – it’s always about trying to present a business model that works, without huge amounts of churn and waste.”

On a personal level, making career choices that match our beliefs and give us purpose (beyond just paying the bills) has obvious benefits. As an economist and professor of managerial practices at Harvard Business School, Arthur C Brooks recently wrote in the American magazine The Atlantic: “Some of the trickiest parts of a job are also the ones that make it the most rewarding: the values ​​held by your company and your co-workers. ‘

“What motivates people to go to work has changed for some time,” says Joe Wiggins, director of corporate communications at Glassdoor. But he argues that there is also a practical truth about why being selective about where we choose to work pays off. “Employees – and I would say it’s not just the younger generations – are looking to secure their careers. And part of that is working in organizations that value them as individuals, with values ​​that match their personal brands. Beyond mere accomplishment, being associated with companies that are seen as doing good in the world is, he argues, a wise career development. “But it has to feel real, not just like the company is faking it.”

In a world where peering behind the velvet curtain of an organization is as easy as logging into a site like Glassdoor, “those looking to hire top talent need to think very carefully about how they are viewed. ”Says Wiggins. And a brilliant manifesto on the company’s website is unlikely to cut it. It has become of sufficient concern that a new kind of advice has emerged to help businesses go beyond. “There have always been a lot of ethical postures,” says Florence Huntington-Whiteley. “But last year, with all the social mobilization, climate strikes at Black Lives Matter, it got a lot more serious. They were, quite frankly, panic stations for a lot of CEOs.

Huntington-Whiteley (sister of model Rosie) is one of three co-founders, alongside Faith Robinson and Claire Yurika Davis, of CogDis, a consultancy that helps brands operate more ethically. The name is a play on the term “cognitive dissonance,” which means the discomfort a person feels when their actions do not match their morals or beliefs. CogDis focuses on “being on the safe side [of history]’says Huntington-Whiteley. “Not just doing performative things, but creating new models and structures within companies to help them operate in ways that make the world a better place. ”

For CogDis, many of the ethical quagmires companies find themselves in can be traced back to what Robinson calls “the idea that you should suspend your human self when you walk into an office.” “For years that meant companies were allowed to operate in ways that we would never accept in our lives outside of work – ways that are contrary to us as human beings,” says Robinson. They try to “get people to align their caring and caring side with their professional personality.”

All three founders are from the fashion industry (Huntington-Whiteley previously worked in marketing at Nike, Robinson at the Global Fashion Agenda sustainability forum and Davis recently shut down his zero waste fashion brand, Hanger) and they continue to do so. ” undertake other projects. “So it’s been interesting for us to navigate,” says Huntington-Whiteley, whose bustle side includes modeling for brands like Alexander McQueen. “We have had to think very carefully about who we choose to work with in all aspects of our careers. I was excluded from campaigns because I asked brands to clarify what they mean by ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable’, but that’s okay, it’s not about winning the most. ‘money is about living with a goal.’

They have seen first-hand the growing unrest of workers trying to find more meaning in their post-pandemic life. “The past year has given us all the opportunity to look at our lives objectively,” says Davis. “A moment to face our own mortality and think, ‘If I survive this, I’m going to live a better, more honest life. And we can also see it in the workplace. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t encountered pockets of resistance. “The idea that you leave your human self at the door is pervasive,” says Robinson. In fact, the people who “get” their jobs most often are the students. “We are trying to articulate business ethics in a new way,” she continues. “Young people understand quite intuitively.” This is a good sign when it comes to Robinson, Davis and Huntington-Whiteley – these young people are the ones who are ready to take over.

It is important to note that risking your career for ethical reasons is a utopian gesture that many people cannot afford to make. “I was at the right time in my life,” Okell says. “I’m in my twenties, I’m not financially responsible for anyone and I had savings. I can see how difficult that would be for parents who have to provide for their children. Taking a risk, even if it’s for the best reasons, may just not be possible. Knight nods, “I happened to be in the very lucky position of having savings. I could afford to volunteer.

After two months of volunteering and six months in an entry-level position, Knight now works for the World Wildlife Fund for Nature. “I’m making about a third less than in tech and I’m one level below what I was in terms of progression,” she says. “But I feel like I’m making a positive contribution to the world, which is amazing

Maria D. Ervin