Finding a sense of purpose is inherent to personal wellbeing, whether from a personal or professional standpoint. Millennials, in particular, have been pointed to as a generational cohort that especially craves the ability to create purpose — they want to do work that is meaningful to them and that provides benefits in meaningful ways to others.
In fact, HRDIVE reports that: “90% of millennials in a recent study said it was either ‘somewhat important’ or ‘very important’ to them that their work have a positive impact on the world.” More than half — 64% — also indicated that their current work provides meaning with those in the education sector finding the most meaning and those in retail or sales finding the least.
This need for meaning isn’t limited to millennials, of course. Research by Gallup indicates that a multigenerational workforce — millennials, Gen X and baby boomers — all include “the organization cares about employees’ wellbeing” and “the organization’s leadership is ethical” among the top three things they look for from their employers.
Arguably, finding meaning is important for everyone.
Where do your employees land on this scale? Are they in the 64% bucket that is finding meaning — or among the 36% that are not?
Finding Meaning Amid the Pandemic and the Great Resignation
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused employees across all generations and status levels to reevaluate their work and personal lives and to make adjustments when they feel these experiences aren’t meeting their expectations. That has led to what is being called the “great resignation” as employees either seek new work opportunities or exit the workplace entirely.
McKinsey reports that: “Nearly two-thirds of the US-based employees we surveyed said that COVID-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. And nearly half said that they are reconsidering the kind of work they do because of the pandemic.”
Those who stay in the world of work are seeking better career choices that support remote work or flexibility, better compensation and benefits, more realistic workloads, and a more inclusive and positive team culture.
In this environment, employers have a tremendous opportunity to improve their cultures and attract — and retain — talent by creating a community within their organizations where employees feel a genuine sense of purpose.
What It Means to Have a Sense of Purpose
Employees’ senses of purpose are integrally intertwined with the purpose of the organizations they work for. They want to work with companies that have a purpose that aligns with their own values. This means:
- Feeling a sense of being connected to something larger and having a sense of belonging.
- Knowing that their work matters — that their efforts help boost innovation, positively impact the team and the organization and, ideally, have a positive impact on society.
- Feeling fulfilled when they have evidence that what matters to them also matters to their colleagues and the leadership within their company.
Forbes says that people tend to point to three elements that affect their sense of purpose: “feeling connected to something bigger than themselves, knowing their work matters and, perhaps most importantly, understanding how their work affects other people — not just the organization’s bottom line.”
The need for employees to feel a sense of purpose isn’t lost on most organizations today. In fact, 79% of business leaders believe that purpose is central to business success, according to PwC. So, what steps can employers take to create, build and sustain a culture that contributes to employees’ sense of purpose?
Steps to Take to Build a Culture that Contributes to a Sense of Purpose
Building an inclusive culture and climate that supports and sustains a sense of purpose among employees is a process, not an event. Organizations need to do a number of things to help build team culture, requiring action from the C-suite through senior leaders, managers, supervisors and the HR team. These include:
- Clearly communicating organizational values. What is it that your organization values? How do those values impact the key stakeholders that you serve in positive ways?
- Living the values. Organizations need to do more than simply promote values, they need to live those values through the words and actions of leaders from the top down, to build trust.
- Build a culture of recognition that supports employees whose efforts support and amplify the company’s values. Make recognition frequent, public, and meaningful.
- Provides a means to connect employees with each other and to allow them to share each other’s life celebrations. Peer-to-peer recognition is very powerful; make sure you’re making it easy for peers to recognize both work efforts and important life events in meaningful and visible ways.
- Promote brand ambassadors to help deliver and support your message and purpose. Employees can be effective as brand ambassadors when they are aligned with organizational values, believe those values to be real, and support the work the company is doing.
- Reward employee behaviors that align with values. The old saying: “what gets rewarded, gets repeated” is true — not only of those receiving the reward, but also acts an incentive for others who see their peers being rewarded for value-aligned behaviors.
Engagement starts with purpose. After going through almost two years of a global pandemic, everyone is craving meaningful purpose in all aspects of their lives. It’s a leaders jobs to define what that 'sense of purpose' looks like in the workplace and how it will be supported. Not only do you need a clear and meaningful corporate purpose and mission, but you also need to ensure that this purpose permeates throughout the entire organization at all levels.