American Millennials

June 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Money, Money and Morality, Money Vault

Director of Media Relations for The Knights of Columbus, Andrew Walther, speaks with The Marist Poll’s John Sparks about the survey, American Millennials: Generations Apart.  The survey, undertaken by The Knights of Columbus in partnership with The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, was released in January and aimed at identifying the views of America’s youth in the wake of the nation’s economic crisis and at uncovering the priorities of these young adults.

knights-of-columbus-logo-200In their discussion, Sparks and Walther touch upon business ethics in the workplace, the similarities and differences between the Greatest Generation and Millennials on the economy and their expectations on the recovery.

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

Listen to Part 1:

Powered by Podbean.com

John Sparks
Andrew, we’re talking about the survey the Knights of Columbus commissioned on American Millennials: Generations Apart. I’m curious, what did the Knights hope to learn from this survey?

Andrew Walther
Well, the Knights hoped to learn what the moral attitudes of Millennials were, both on an individual basis as a group, but also in terms of the comparison to the other generations of Americans to sort of figure out where the up and coming generation, if you will, how they stack up to Americans historically from the Greatest Generation to Baby Boomers to Gen X-ers.

John Sparks
Let’s talk about how you would define Millennials for the purpose of the survey?

Andrew Walther
Sure. For the purpose of the survey, we define Millennials as those between the ages of 18 and 29 years old, and that’s a pretty standard characterization for that generation.

John Sparks
Sure. Now I’m just curious, what did you find distinguishes the so-called greatest generation from their grandchildren?

Andrew Walther
Well, you know, there were some areas of similarity and some areas of difference really. In some ways, the greatest generation was more what we would call I think generally conservative. But at the same time, there were areas of significant overlap with Millennials. Marriage was very important to both groups. Marriage and family were rated very highly by both. The attitudes of Millennials on certain social issues, including abortion and euthanasia were quite traditional. And so I think that Millennials are, really I think in looking at the survey, you can see that they follow the tradition of the American ethic, if you will.

John Sparks
You asked everyone, if they were more inclined to approve of President Obama’s job performance and especially in handling the economy. I believe that it indicated that the Millennials were more inclined to approve of the President’s performance. I’m just curious why you thought they answered that way.

Andrew Walther
Well, the Millennials were in a way the most optimistic to some degree. I mean they were a little more likely to approve of the performance specifically. But when it came to issues of the government’s ability to handle the economic crisis, they were just marginally more positive. 59% of Americans were not confident that the government could handle the crisis, and 55% of Millennials felt the same way, so very, very close. In terms of the country heading in the wrong direction, it was 67% of Americans, 60% of Millennials. And in terms of increased regulation, Millennials were very much in line with the rest of the American population. 55% of Americans and 53% of Millennials wanted a more free market, less government regulation approach to business. So I think, while maybe a little bit more cautiously optimistic, they were definitely in line with the rest of the American population and their outlook. And in terms of believing that their personal career would be negatively impacted long-term by the economic situation, the numbers for Millennials were exactly the same as for the rest of Americans, 55% and 55%.

John Sparks
Now I’m both intrigued and concerned about the finding that both groups had lost confidence in the government’s ability to handle the economic crisis. What do you think it’ll take to restore people’s confidence? Can it be restored?

Andrew Walther
Well it’s interesting to see from the numbers what people are liking or disliking, but I think you have a twofold problem that’s brought to light by the survey. On the one hand, Millennials and Americans in general are concerned that the government may not have a good handle on this. On the other hand, they’re equally or more concerned, frankly, that business is getting this wrong as well. So you have 75% of Americans and two-thirds of Millennials wanting the same set of moral standards in business and personal life, 74% of Americans and 77% of Millennials, an even greater number, seeing decisions and business based on greed as morally wrong. So you have a situation where on the one hand, they don’t have a lot of confidence in the government to fix this problem. But on the other hand, they’re really looking at the problems in the business community in terms of ethical behavior and saying that they want solutions to that.

John Sparks
I would like to ask you about the finding that the Millennials were optimistic that they would be financially better off than their parents.

Listen to Part 2:

Powered by Podbean.com

Andrew Walther
Sure.

John Sparks
I know that the Generation X and the Baby Boomers did not quite share that optimism. Are the Millennials just living in a dream world? After all, we are in pretty tough economic times.

Andrew Walther
Well I think that could be part of it. I mean as things are bad now and for their parents especially, I think that they see long-term prospects as being a little better. Interestingly, the Greatest Generation also thought they would be better off than their parents, and they were the generation that grew up during or shortly after the Depression. So I think in a way you have people whose parents have had careers and tough economic times seeing the future as a little brighter, and I think that’s consistent with the Greatest Generation and the Millennials.

John Sparks
Most Americans, I think it’s safe to say, want to have it all. They want to have a career. They want to have family. You asked a question of the folks that you surveyed whether they believe that their career success would or would not come at the expense of their families, and I believe three-quarters of them believe that career success would not interfere with the families.

Andrew Walther
And, that goes very much in line with the heavy emphasis on marriage and family that we found among the Millennials generally and Americans in particular. I think that people are looking to have a good and healthy balance between their work life and their family life; and I think that there’s certainly a lot of optimism among Millennials, but also among the other groups that such a balance can be achieved.

John Sparks
Now, let’s talk about this topic of morals and ethics in the workplace. I recall about a year ago, the Knights did a survey about morals and ethics in the workplace, and I believe this latest survey, the Millennial survey, that I think about two-thirds or more believe that our moral values are headed down the wrong path. Am I correct?

Andrew Walther
Yes, that’s correct, and that number’s been pretty high over the past year whenever we’ve done surveys like this. I think people are a little concerned that the country, well more than a little concerned, that the country is headed in the wrong direction morally, and I think some of this is certainly the big scandals that we saw in Wall Street in the financial community over the last couple of years with the economic crisis and the causes of that being quite clearly attributable at least to some degree to, if not unethical, certainly less than ethical business practices. And I think people see that as a real problem, but also see that business in their opinion can be both ethical and successful. If you look at the numbers on that, I mean very, very high numbers. I think more than three-quarters of Americans believe that you can have an ethical and successful business and you see that many of the businesses that have continued to do well in this economy are exactly that, the businesses that are run with a higher standard in mind.

John Sparks
I thought that it was interesting that there seemed to be an indication that ethical standards are different in business than in people’s personal lives.

Andrew Walther
Yeah, I think that Millennials in the country in general see that a lot of people might treat their family and loved ones one way and treat their customers and consumers and stockholders a different way, and I think that there’s a growing dissatisfaction with that dichotomy. I think people want consistency. People want there to be morality and ethics, not morality and ethics here and morality and — not home ethics and business ethics. I think they just want ethics.

John Sparks
You mentioned greed a minute ago, and I gather that most everyone senses that greed is at the root of our economic dilemma, but do people just accept that as a way or is there — are there any inspiration or motivation to do something about it, to change that?

Listen to Part 3:

Powered by Podbean.com

Andrew Walther
Well, I think there is a bit of motivation. I mean, I think the fact that you see these high numbers of people believing that you can be simultaneously ethical and successful says a lot for the fact that people believe that they you can in fact have both, and I think that that’s a good step in the right direction because if you can’t have both ethics and success, then there’s frankly little reason not to do it. And, with the economic crisis on everybody’s mind, we’ve seen where the other path leads.

John Sparks
It seems that many Americans think that their religious beliefs and values if they’re a business executive certainly influence their business decisions, but the survey also with this separation seemed to indicate that Americans leave their morals and ethics outside the door on the hanger when they come to work. Why the separation?

Andrew Walther
Well, I think the people view business as different from their home life, and I think that, unfortunately, in various ways a culture has taken hold in, not everywhere but in enough places that it’s a problem, that says profits first and profit is the only thing that matters when you start down that road. When you start looking in I think the survey we did last year, last February, there was a series of questions about what people thought business decisions were motivated by. They thought they were motivated by personal career advancement. They through they were motivated by greed, but they didn’t think they were motivated by the common good. And I think when you completely exclude the common good from the calculation, and you’re looking to get as much as you personally can right now at the cost of everybody else, you end up with situations like we have now — it’s simply not sustainable. And, so I think it’s very easy for anyone probably to be dazzled by the promise of instantaneous riches and a quick buck. But at the same time, we’ve seen that that may work for one person today, but it hurts a lot of people tomorrow.

John Sparks
Sure. You know, Andrew, the results are all very interesting, but other than raising an awareness, I’m just curious what the Knights of Columbus might do with the information to effect a positive change in our country and the in the workplace.

Andrew Walther
Well, we’ve certainly done a fair amount of writing in various places, in our own magazine, and also our CEO Carl Anderson has done a fair number of columns in the media on the importance of ethics in the workplace and of having an ethical standard that really is taken from home to the workplace and not left at the nightstand, if you will. And, I think both in terms of our 1.8 million members and in terms of the public at large, we’ve been always very outspoken in terms of taking care of your neighbor, and this is something that we continue to do with these numbers, with these — with the release of these numbers and our various conversations with the media and various outlets and the writing and so on that’s been done by the Knights of Columbus in a variety of outlets. The message is pretty clear. An ethical approach to business is really the way forward and really the way to make sure that we don’t fix this crisis and end up with another one based on the same problem.

John Sparks
Certainly. I found the survey most interesting. Any other thoughts that you’d like to share about the survey?

Andrew Walther
Well I think it’s — I think it is a very good place for people to look to see that Americans are looking for a more effective response from the business community and also a less heavy-handed approach from the government. They don’t want to sleight of hand from the Wall Street community. They don’t want a heavy hand from the government, as Carl Anderson’s pointed out on several occasions. They’re looking for common sense solutions, and that begins with taking the ethics that this country shares and that makes our country the great place that it is and our families, the places that they are, and bringing these into the workplace, treating our neighbors in a way that really takes into account the common good and not looking to get an extra dollar today at the expense of everybody tomorrow.

Business Ethics in a Time of Crisis

March 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured, Money, Money and Morality, Money Vault

The tumult of the American economy has reverberated in homes, workplaces, and boardrooms and has left few untouched. Business Ethics in a Time of Economic Crisis surveys Americans and top level business executives to understand their opinions and reactions to the events which have shaken Corporate America.

Undertaken by the Knights of Columbus in partnership with the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, the study looks beyond the headlines. This report presents the findings from two quantitative surveys: one which spoke with 2,071 Americans, and a second which interviewed 110 high-level business leaders.

Contributor’s Corner: Beyond the Numbers

March 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Money, Money and Morality

Knights of Columbus CEO, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, discusses the findings of “Business Ethics in a Time of Economic Crisis,” a survey conducted in partnership with the Marist Institute for Public Opinion to determine the public’s level of confidence and trust in business and leadership.

Carl Anderson

Carl Anderson

2,072 Americans and a group of 110 high-level business leaders were questioned about ethics and business credibility.

Here’s the transcript of Anderson’s interview with The Marist Poll’s John Sparks about the survey’s findings.

JOHN SPARKS
Carl, I was wondering first of all, why did the Knights of Columbus commission a poll on Business Ethics?

CARL ANDERSON
Well, of course, one of the reasons that the Knights of Columbus was founded in 1882 was to provide a financial assistance to the widows and orphans of members, and out of that grew an insurance company.  So we’re very much a part of corporate America from that standpoint.  Over the last number of years, we’ve been very concerned about ethics and morality in public life and in American society and culture, so we thought this was one of the ways that we might be able to add value to the discussion of what’s going on in the American economy over the last four or five months.

Listen to Part 1 of the interview:

JOHN SPARKS
Have you sustained substantial losses since we’ve hit the recession that we’ve been experiencing the past few months?

CARL ANDERSON
Well, I would say everybody in business has had some losses. Ours, although we’ve had some, have been much more modest than many other companies because we have a very conservative investment philosophy and a very conservative investment policy.  So, for example, we did not invest at all in any subprime mortgages that did such damage to many other companies, and of course we only invest in investment grade bonds, so we don’t do anything in the junk bond market or we don’t do anything in hedge funds, thinks like that.  So everybody’s taken on some water here, but ours has been modest by some other standards, and frankly in terms of the way the industry looks at surplus ratios, we’re actually stronger now vis-à-vis the industry than we were a year ago.

JOHN SPARKS
What did you expect to find out when you commissioned the poll on Business Ethics?

CARL ANDERSON
It’s hard to say that we had any preconceived notions. What we really wanted to take a look at was how Americans felt about the general idea of business ethics, whether they thought corporate America was measuring up to their expectations, and then we wanted to see carefully what corporate executives actually thought and where there was a parallel and maybe where there was some divergence.

JOHN SPARKS
Were you surprised by any of the results or any of the particular answers that you got back?

CARL ANDERSON
Well, I think one of the surprising things was how in alignment many corporate executives were with what we would call the general American public, or there was a kind of consensus between corporate executives and the American public about what they expect out of business, which is to say, that most of us, whether we’re corporate executives or not, think that a person’s ethics should not be left behind when they walk into the job, and therefore that there should not be one set of business ethics and then a different set of personal ethics. People expect there to be convergence there.  We saw that to be the same, American public in general, corporate executives.  We also thought that it would be interesting to know whether there was a difference between, once again, corporate America and the American public in terms of whether ethics made sense in terms of looking at a corporations’ long-term success or even short-term success, and here we found again both the public and corporate executives felt that there was not a contradiction between ethical business practices and successful business practices, and even corporate executives believe that high ethical standards actually contributed to the long-term success of a corporation.  What we found strong on the part of the American public, which maybe was a little bit surprising, was that they felt that a personal gain, career advancement was perhaps some of the most important indicators in corporate decision making rather than the public good or even the success of the corporation; and while the business executives diverge from that, still there was a significant number of corporate executives that found that to be the case as well.

JOHN SPARKS
Carl, there’s been a lot of things that have come into play during the last few months because of the recession we’re experiencing, and there’s no one critical factor I don’t suppose, but we read about the Madoffs of the world.  Did you find or do you believe that there’s a need for new corporate leadership that’s ethically based?

Listen to Part 2:

CARL ANDERSON
I think that was one of the strongest results, one of the strongest findings from the poll, really. As we move forward, and we’re going to get through this crisis, at the other end, the question is:  What kind of leadership will have brought us through this, and what kind of leadership do we expect at the other end of it?  And the survey found, I think, very strong evidence among the American people that they expect a new kind of corporate leadership that is strongly committed to ethical values and ethics in their business practices.  And so if there’s one message to take away to corporate America, I think it is that what a courageous corporate executive or CEO must do in terms of ethical leadership both for himself driving it down through his corporation and then within, could we say, the industry of the corporate community not being reticent to articulate strong standards.

JOHN SPARKS
What kind of traits are we looking for in major corporate leadership?  What kind of traits do you think our leaders need to possess?  Do you think this would’ve made a difference in our current recession had we had more people of that caliber?

CARL ANDERSON
I think it would have made a great difference because one of the issues here is the confidence of the public, and it’s not simply confidence in the question of the free market system, but it’s got to be confidence in the people who are making the decisions within a free market system.  After all, that’s what the free market system is about:  decision making.  And even if you go back to Adam Smith, the hidden hand, that was a moral hand in many ways according to Adam Smith, and so for this system to work well, people have to have confidence in the moral values of the people at the top and the people making the decisive decisions along the line.  So it’s very important in restoring confidence.

JOHN SPARKS
Carl, what do you think it’ll take to change that culture and mentality in the business world that currently says to many people, “Get yours while you can and leave the mess for somebody else to clean up”?

CARL ANDERSON
Well, I think there’s a responsibility on the part of both corporate executives and consumers and investors that they insist that it not be business as usual, that there be higher standards, and I think you can point to many leaders in corporate America in terms of executive decision making.  Peter Drucker is a perfect example of this.  I mean Drucker was very strong in speaking out saying he didn’t believe there was such a thing as business ethics; he believed there was only personal ethics and that a person’s ethics had to carry forward into his business decision making and it had to be – - had to be strongly committed to that, and I think you can replicate that many times. Those individuals have to stand up, and they have to speak out more, and they have to insist that they do business with individuals who have the same type of commitment.  And investors have to be cognizant of it and also to demand those kind of high standards.

JOHN SPARKS
Now the survey reported that two-thirds of Americans believe that our corporate leaders should rely on their religious beliefs and values to guide them in their business.  And yet there are many folks that’ll tell you that religion no longer plays a role it once did in the lives of Americans and they’ll cite dwindling church and synagogue attendance, and that might seem to present a problem. Do you have any idea what role that religion and personal faith presently play in the lives of our country’s financial and corporate leaders?

Listen to Part 3:

CARL ANDERSON
Well certainly there are many corporate leaders who are deeply religious, and I think the one important value that religion brings to this discussion is the age old question of how one treats one neighbor and the recognition that we are a country of neighbors.  And therefore, we’re not dealing only with an abstraction of a consumer or an investor, but we’re dealing with a live person whose welfare is going to be affected by our decisions.  And I think that recognition that we all have a responsibility to each other, and that comes out of the Christian tradition, the Jewish tradition, the Islamic tradition, that’s a very important value and we should not be reticent in articulating it, and it’s one of the most important things religion brings to our culture in general, but certainly to any successful business culture.

JOHN SPARKS
Carl, can Christians change the tone and direction of our culture do you believe?

CARL ANDERSON
I think it is one of the fundamental responsibilities of a person of faith to bring those values into the public sector, not in a confrontational way, but certainly from a Christian perspective one would do that as a matter of personal witness, and that witness has to be something that is, like I say, personal, but personal in two senses:  one that is authentic with the individual who’s professing it, and secondly, that it affects other person’s in an authentic, real way that makes a difference in their life.  And so this is how religions have historically influenced the culture, and I think we would be much poorer if those values from our Judeo-Christian heritage are diminished in society because, let’s say, if we look back even at recent history, more humane, a greater commitment to the common good, a greater commitment to those less fortunate, a greater commitment to those who are suffering or who have particular kinds of hardship in their lives, these are all responses that come out of a Christian-Judeo heritage, and I think we have to do a lot to try to preserve that because everyone benefits regardless of their religious faith or their lack of faith.

JOHN SPARKS
Carl, for those people that say the bottom line is the bottom line, is there a payoff or competitive advantage for companies whose leaders conduct their business ethically and with the highest standards in values that you’re calling for?

CARL ANDERSON
Well, I would say it’s not just my view, but take a look at Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’ book, Built to Last, which I don’t know how man most successful American corporations over time are ones who are committed to a value beyond and above profit.  Profit is always important.  You’ve got to have profit if you’re going to survive. But the great companies, companies listed in Built to Last, for example, like Johnson & Johnson or Marriott are two examples, or Boeing, are companies that have historically placed a value beyond profit. People recognize that, and they respect it, and it’s what they found to be a key to long-term success.  So yes, I would say that’s a very much part of it as is strong ethical stand because that is what is going to build affinity in terms of both investors and in customers and in loyalty to the company among employees.

JOHN SPARKS
Carl, I’ve got pretty much what I looking for. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about in the realm of business ethics that you’d like to add or say that we haven’t talked about?

CARL ANDERSON
No, I think that’s very good.  If you’re happy, I’m happy with it.

JOHN SPARKS
I’m very happy.  I thank you for your time.