Employees Want Purpose at Work: How to Deliver on This Priority

This article was contributed by our friends at Forbes

Employee retention is understandably top of mind for many leaders and business executives. A confluence of factors — from increased financial autonomy to an advantageous hiring market — means people are leaving their jobs at a record rate. This is especially true in the people-focused service sector, where modest pay, difficult customers and various other factors are pushing people out the door.

In response, companies are scrambling to enhance their employee retention efforts, offering more pay, increased autonomy, and lavish in-office perks. And yet people are still leaving.

That’s because, as a recent Morning Consult study found, “The ‘Great Resignation’ is actually a ‘Great Reprioritization.’” Understandably, in a study by McKinsey, two-thirds of American employees said that the pandemic caused them to reflect on their purpose in life, and around half are now reconsidering their work.

To be sure, compensation continues to be a leading factor in the decision-making process. However, the two studies found that people most often cite work environments, relationships with managers, and company alignment with their personal goals and values as important criteria when choosing to remain with a company. Simply put, companies shouldn’t expect to overcome low pay and poor opportunities with purpose and mission, but the latter factors can keep appropriately compensated employees engaged, committed and productive.

This is no easy task. Many managers may not feel equipped to help people recognize and live out their purpose at work. That’s why the solution must be both introspective and outward facing. It involves hard work from leadership teams to produce meaningful results that last. Here are three steps to starting that process today.

Step 1: Define your purpose.

Company leaders can’t help their employees discover and live their purposes until they complete the hard work of introspection and identification to define their own, as well as their business’s. This might include clarifying your top priorities, desired outcomes, and foundational values. At the same time, consider how these factors influence day-to-day operations at work. Is your purpose just a poster on the wall, or do these priorities actually impact people’s lives?

When companies generally, and leaders specifically, understand and live out their purpose, employees will self-select into the work environment that aligns with their values, mission, and priorities. The results can be expansive and far-reaching, including increased employee engagement and loyalty.

Step 2: Meet people where they are.

People’s purposes are as varied and unique as people themselves. However, their purpose often includes work. McKinsey’s analysis found that 70% of employees said that their sense of purpose is largely defined by their work.

Interestingly, when it comes to living their purpose at work, there is a significant disparity between leaders and front-line workers. While 85% of executives in the McKinsey study said they were living their purpose at work, just 15% of front-line workers felt the same way.

This paradox is unsustainable, and it’s likely leading to fissures between leaders and their teams as those teams grapple with more rudimentary realities like work-life balance, remote work arrangements, or staffing shortages.

Companies need to address this disparity, recognizing that leaders and employees are having very different experiences and developing strategic opportunities for everyone to connect with a company’s purpose and mission in personal and meaningful ways.

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Step 3: Show up for people.

High turnover and recruiting challenges are symptoms, not diseases. They are the inevitable outflow of misplaced priorities and people who feel unsupported in the things that matter most to them.

In 2022 and beyond, helping people reconnect with purpose and find meaning in their work will be a top task for leaders looking to make a difference.

Recommit to showing up for people by serving their needs, supporting their pursuits, and connecting their efforts to genuine purpose and meaningful outcomes. This starts by creating time for interpersonal relationships, as well as getting to know people and understanding their desires, ambitions, and challenges. Leaders must both create regular opportunities for engagement and demonstrate their willingness to show up for people, which helps them connect their individual purpose with the company’s mission.

A final thought

Some leaders might be wondering if helping people find their purpose, live their best life, or participate in the “Great Reprioritization” is really their responsibility. After all, many people deploy their talents in jobs they don’t love. They clock in, work hard, and head home.

This cynical approach won’t get you very far. As Gartner’s analysis of today’s quickly changing workplace observes, people now “demand more personal value and purpose from both life and work. Smart employers will acknowledge this truth and respond with a more human and purpose-driven employment deal.”

When employers and leaders get this right, they will reduce turnover while moving forward with a more empowered, inspired, and productive workforce. In other words, giving attention to an employee’s purpose isn’t an obligation. It’s an opportunity to support people and build a better business than ever before.

Michael McFall is the co-Founder and co-CEO of BIGGBY COFFEE, as well as author of the Inc. Original book GRIND. This article was written by Michael McFall from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.