Most of the differences between the generations you see the media and experts touting are bogus. Science shows Millennials aren't lazy, disloyal, or financially illiterate (though a lot of them are broker than previous generations were at the same age for reasons largely beyond their control.) 

But even if young people back in the day were a lot like young people now, according to a new study that crunched through a massive data set of eleven million employee comments, there is one thing that genuinely does set the youngest generation in the workforce today -- so-called Gen Z, or those after 1996 -- apart. 

That thing is politics. 

Want to keep your youngest employees engaged? Take a stand. 

This conclusion comes from employee feedback company Peakon, who is in a unique position to sift through the millions of comments that cross their platform each year. Recently, they looked at a massive set of eleven million messages from 160 countries to see what they revealed about generational differences. 

The first truth this exercise revealed was simple but profound. "Different generations have more in common at work than you might expect," the report states. Everyone, unsurprisingly, wants to be paid decently, shown respect, and allowed to have a life outside the office. 

But while the fundamentals of a good job are the same no matter your age, Peakon's analysis did show one glaring difference between Gen Z and other generations. 

Generation Z is "the only generations to reference social concerns within employee comments," Peakon found. "Raised in a time when the effects of climate change are making weekly headlines, it shows that they care deeply about the world around them." 

Given that millions of young people took to the streets to protest climate change last week, that probably shouldn't come as a huge shock to employers. But understanding exactly how committed your youngest employees are to social causes can help employers attract young talent and keep them engaged. 

"For employers, it underscores the importance of listening," Peakon co-founder Kasper Hulthin told Inc.com. "Companies need to be receptive because employees are increasingly taking jobs based on whether their personal values align with those of their employer."

"Businesses need to consider if and how they'll implement policies like plastics bans, or where their coffee comes from, or which causes an organization supports. It's not enough to simply have a recycling bin in the kitchen anymore," he continued. 

Will politics alienate older workers? 

Some employers might be leery of wading into environmental or political causes. President Trump, for instance, has made reusable straws, which are apparently much requested by Gen Z, a rallying cry for the right. But, while taking a stand inevitably involves tradeoffs, the positives can outweigh the negatives if you calibrate your stance to the issues your specific workforce is most passionate about. Just ask companies like Nike who have seen their results shoot up after taking controversial political positions. 

"It's going to be a balancing act. The first step is always listening, so you can assess your workforce and understand exactly what the pain points are," Hulthin advises. 

Even if your new fair trade coffee sparks debates in the break room, that's not all bad. Another recent study showed that arguing about politics at work, if it's done respectfully, actually improves the quality of a team's output. Political diversity, like other kinds of diversity, is a great starting point for productive debate and more innovative brainstorming. 

So if you're wondering how to attract and retain the youngest workers out there, consider taking a stance on a political issue close to your company's heart. This won't be right for every workplace, but this new study suggests that Gen Z is powerfully attracted to companies with an engaged social mission

Published on: Sep 30, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.