Nina Wong

Currently located in the UK, tech junkie, journalist, advocate, and bird lover.

Millennials are Leaving Tech’s Old Guard in Favor of Social Enterprise Startups

For all its talk of disrupting existing technologies and making our lives better, the tech industry hasn't been especially good at keeping its employees happy. In fact, Millennial tech workers
are reaching alarming burnout rates and leave their jobs more frequently than previous generations. There are several factors at play in both issues, but one big problem is that many Millennials are not finding meaning and purpose in their work.
Millennials, more so than their parents or grandparents, are looking to make an impact through their work. While traditional goals for money making are still relevant, Millennials are actually willing to take pay cuts when they find a job that provide them with meaningful work. This trend has already caused a shift in the type of work this generation seeks, and has resulted in the prominent development of social enterprises.

When Disruption Isn’t Enough

Although the idea of social enterprise is nothing new, brands like Toms mainstays in non-tech sectors, the tech industry often seems to place more value on “disruption” than effecting social change in the world. Technology companies place, somewhat disingenuously, more value on projects that offer the appearance of disruption without any actual regard to genuine impact.
Companies that are overvalued and underperforming are glorified and put forth as shining beacons of the “change” technology is providing. Even so, they offer little in terms of providing real meaning for Millennials. The industry continues to put its stock behind companies like Facebook, where workplace culture has been described as “cult-like”, dissent is discouraged, and employees’ concerns over social impact are routinely
ignored.
Even newer more "friendly" seeming companies like Snap and Lyft have been rated as terrible workplaces (with over 60% of employees at both firms noting they experience burnout at their jobs). The optics become
even worse when billionaire CEOs like Elon Musk, glorify overwork as a means to “change the world”.
Musk’s comments on how employees should be happy to put in 100+ hour work weeks seem out of touch seeing as mental health problems are on the rise among tech company employees. Moreover, when coming from executives that pay themselves tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and salaries, these calls seem like little more than invitations to indentured servitude.

Tech for Social Good

Luckily, the rat-race mentality is not the only option for young tech workers. As a reaction to tech executives instilling a culture of overwork, more Millennials are instead focusing on work that is both meaningful and helps produce positive social impact. Social enterprise, the idea that companies can make a profit and provide an actual solution
to social needs, is experiencing a revival in the 21st century.
There has been a real push from within the tech world to abandon the “disruption at all costs” mentality and embrace projects that produce real change to a pernicious status quo. In fact, there has been a rise in the number of companies where the main focus is resolving social issues.
Smaller projects like DataKind, which connects data scientists with NGOs working on humanitarian problems; or Kiron, which supplies an educational platform exclusively for refugees across the world, demonstrate that technology can create profitable solutions that make the world a better place.
Some companies are providing more immediate help to address pressing problems such as clean technology (cleantech) firms. Lumos Global, for instance, seeks to provide reliable off-grid electricity to rural populations across Africa and Asia.
Others, like LastMinuteSottoCasa, work on reducing food waste by helping sellers distribute food which would have otherwise gone to waste to those in need.
This tech-for-good philosophy is also attracting investors with major names like BlackRock CEO Larry Fink noting that social enterprises are the best bet for long-term financial returns. Projects that employ technology are also more likely to attract workers who will be more motivated to work.
A 2016 study found that 76% of Millennials care about a company’s social and environmental commitments when considering whether to work for it, and 64% won’t work for a company that doesn’t have strong corporate social responsibility practices.

The Future is Social

As the veneer of the Silicon Valley dream wears off, tech entrepreneurs and employees are finding that the companies they work for are not the benevolent institutions they purported to be.
Even Google, whose “Don’t Be Evil” directive has been scrubbed from its code of conduct, can no longer claim to care about anything other than profits.
As more Millennial tech workers face burnout and depression they are likely to look for employment elsewhere. It therefore makes sense that companies who ditch the growth-and-profit-above-all-else mentality and care about social good are almost certainly more likely to be sought out by
Millennials striving for happiness and fulfillment instead of simply pursuing money. These companies, while less profitable in the short term will be significantly rewarded in the long term.

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