recent survey of young people in or just entering the workforce reveals bad news for the business world. After a two-year upward trend in how Generation Y viewed businesses, the numbers have dropped to the lowest they’ve been in four years. Basically, millennials and Generation Z have lost faith in business, are not loyal to their employer, and don’t feel equipped for the changing workplace. So how do business leaders build trust, earn loyalty, and create confidence to keep them both as customers and employees?

Viewing Business with a Jaundiced Eye

Less than 50 percent of the millennials and Gen Z members recently surveyed believed that companies behaved ethically and were truly committed to helping improve society. Last year, more than 60 percent expressed a positive answer to these questions. One significant factor in this decline is that, for the first time, the survey included Generation Z. Born roughly starting in 1995, Generation Z is set to make up 20 percent of the American workforce by 2020. And unlike the generally optimistic millennials, they often have a less-positive perspective on the motives and methods of major companies.

One reason for these suddenly jaundiced perceptions could be that some companies’ too-quick espousal of inclusion and diversity, a cause near and dear to the heart of the younger generations, has aroused suspicion. This movement represents a high priority for Generations Y and Z, but young people realize that businesses may be mouthing the right statements just to win them over. They want companies to move in the direction of inclusion and diversity not because it’s expedient from a business standpoint, but because they really mean it. 

Business leaders who are able to communicate these values with honesty and believability will convince disillusioned young people that their organization is worth supporting and/or working for. Management should also take a good hard look at the motives behind their public stance on inclusion and diversity to determine if these values truly are at the heart of the company — or if they’ve been adopted solely as a means of catering to a particularly desirable demographic. 

Flexibility + Follow-Through = Loyalty

Unsurprisingly, millennials and Gen Z are initially attracted to careers that offer good pay and positive cultures. But retaining young talent requires an ongoing game plan of both career flexibility and company follow-through on initiatives like inclusion and diversity. 

Today, the younger generations want careers to fulfill both their logistical needs (for example, working from home) and their innate desire for purpose and meaning. This push for purpose is one reason I call both Generations Y and Z collectively “the Why Generation,” because they need to know the big-picture reason and purpose behind everything. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves and contribute to an organization that makes the world a better place. They may take a job because it meets their salary requirements, but if the organization does not meet either their logistical needs or their larger vision, they’ll jump ship at the earliest opportunity. Conversely, they’ll stay — and perform at a higher level — when the career fits their lifestyle goals and supports their giving-back worldview.

Capture the younger generations’ imagination with a cause they can embrace, and they will deliver far beyond what anyone expects of them. It really boils down to one word: purpose. Provide that, and they’ll do the rest. 

Equipping the Next Generation

Today, young workers feel unprepared for what Deloitte terms “Industry 4.0.” They recognize that the workplace is changing more rapidly than ever before, but don’t view themselves as equipped to negotiate these changes successfully. Who is going to stand in that gap for them?

Companies that effectively develop their people to succeed in a globalizing, automating workplace rank high in the opinion of younger workers. Three out of four Gen Z workers say that a boss’s ability to coach is important, with almost one in four saying it’s the most important attribute of a manager. Companies like AT&T and Northrop Grumman that have innovated new ways to advance careers, such as fast-track “nano” certifications and entry-level rotational programs that give new hires experience in multiple departments, are in touch with what the young workforce is looking for. 

It’s not just technical skills that young people want to learn on the job, but the soft (or professional) skills that will never expire and can’t be replicated by AI. In a workplace being transformed by robotic technology, young people instinctively understand that “the answer isn’t to out-do the machines, it’s to be more human.”And professional skills are part of that human competitive advantage. 

We can recapture the trust, loyalty, and confidence of the Why Generation –but first we have to admit we’ve lost them. Re-examining inclusion and diversity initiatives, offering a flexible and purpose-driven work culture, and investing in employee development are three ways to change the paradigm for today’s younger workforce.