Natalie Fleming is bright, passionate and full of hope – despite sending more than 50 applications to land her first job after graduation.  “I have a lot of passion,” she told us. “To keep my energy levels up and help others do the same, I need to be doing meaningful work.” So she held out for a job where she could apply her personal values and ethical sensibilities from day to day.

Natalie is not alone.

In a recent Net Impact and Rutgers University study, 74% of student respondents say that working for an organization with values that reflect their own is very important, ranking above considerations such as flexibility, advancement, and innovation.  Fifty-eight percent of students would even take a 15% pay cut to do so.

Yet the number drops significantly – to 34% – among working professionals offered the same choice. Equally disturbing is the fact that three out of four working professionals say that most companies only care about profits, with just 25% agreeing that most companies try to strike a fair balance between profit and the public interest.

It might seem that the reality of mortgages and car payments eclipses our need for shared values once we hit the workforce, and that trade-off becomes easier when an employee believes that profits – not ethics – come first on the job.

But as students like Natalie are increasingly holding out for jobs they believe in, are employees really forgoing their own values once they walk into the office?

Megan Smith (not her real name) was a rising star at a global consulting firm. She recalls being pressured early on to sell more business even though it was clearly not in the interest of the cash-strapped client, and was overruled when she spoke out. About a year later, she resigned.

We shouldn’t have to leave our jobs to be able to sleep well at night. But I believe that we don’t. At Net Impact, we are seeing more companies embrace the benefits of tying core values and mission to day jobs. They recruit students and provide them with opportunities to apply their personal values to projects, knowing that ethics-focused employees become true leaders in the workplace. And they share their sustainability stories with our global network of emerging leaders to demonstrate that these opportunities do exist.

But this concerns not only companies. How do we challenge ourselves to stand up at work for the values we think are important, such as environmental and social responsibility?  How can we make sure our 9-to-5 jobs contribute to shared value, not detract from it?

Natalie Fleming was ecstatic to receive an offer recently from EcoScraps, a Utah-based startup that turns organic waste into compost. Natalie has found a job that aligns with her values and she’s giving it her all. I’m rooting for her, and for the rest of us.



Author: Liz Maw is CEO of Net Impact, which mobilizes people to use their careers to improve the world. A lifelong “impact careerist,” Liz joined Net Impact in 2004 and has tripled the organization’s size to more than 30,000 members and 300 chapters globally.

Photo Credits: Net Impact