Corporate social responsibility may be gaining popularity, with more businesses looking to align with the needs of the workforce, the community and the greater good. Top talent looks for companies that represent their goals and values — and when that talent can recognize their own personal purpose while furthering the mission of the company, engagement, motivation and satisfaction all go up.
But even though job seekers are looking for companies that support their values and personal goals, not all employees have identified their personal purpose. If they do have one, they may not have recognized that it can align with the work they do. Business and L&D can help staff members find their purpose and channel it into job satisfaction.
"Purpose has become more true today than ever before," Shravanti Chakraborty, head of people at Coursera, told HR Dive in an email. "We've been seeing for the last several years at places like Google and Coursera — business is trying to understand what motivates people and makes the best teams. Meaning and purpose came out over and over in surveys."
It revolves around working to be more intentional, she said: "How do we think about purpose in one's work life and pull on that thread to engage employees ongoing — is it with managers or leaders or employees directly?"
Purpose driven generations
For millennials, purpose is a strong motivator. In a 2016 study by Cone Communications, 88% of millennials polled found their job more fulfilling when they are provided opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues.
"Most young people already have their personal purpose figured out," Meredith Ferguson, managing director of DoSomething Strategic, a young engagement consultancy, told HR Dive in an email. "They know who they are, what they want, and what they stand for ... so it's not so much about training them to find it as it is businesses helping their young employees align it with what the company cares about so that these young people feel fulfilled and satisfied with their work and their employer."
As a fairly socially active generation, Gen Z wants more than just the once-a-year volunteer day and annual fall corporate giving program, Ferguson said: "To appeal to their sense of purpose, you'll need to create opportunities for employees to engage in your social good initiatives year-round." And a development program focused on forward momentum and skill-building can reach that potential.
Getting there from here
For Chakraborty, creating an ecosystem of how to help the workforce at Coursera and beyond is critical; keeping that purpose front and center helps staff members determine the best way to perform their jobs.
"We work with our managers to craft development plans to build on how they bridge team, individual and company mission and purpose," Chakraborty said. "We invest in our employees attaining their aspirations to manage retention and engagement." Coursera employees have access to their platform, as well, allowing them to grow their skills, even outside their core roles.
At GreatCall, they challenge employees to define what is truly meaningful to them. "We begin each year with the opportunity to attend a creativity-based session where they choose a word that will define their year," Lynn Herrick, CHRO at GreatCall, told HR Dive in an email. "It's called 'One Little Word' and once an employee has selected their word, they define it, set small, attainable goals related to the word and create a piece of art that will inspire and remind them of that purpose throughout the year."
Herrick started the activity specifically with the HR team about five years ago and it was so popular that the team asked Herrick to implement it company-wide.
"It has a profound effect on people and it's a great exercise for self-reflection and intention-setting," she said.
GreatCall reiterates their commitment to living a meaningful life with a program that gives each employee a "Meaningful Day" to do something meaningful to him or her. It is a paid day off and all they ask in return is that each employee fill out a card about their experience to share what was meaningful to them with their coworkers.
"It has been a huge success," Herrick said, "and a great opportunity to learn more about fellow co-workers and to be inspired by their passions."
Purpose from the top down
"While having a purpose starts inside every individual person," Stefan Ries, chief human resources officer at SAP SE, told HR Dive in an email, "companies are also responsible in encouraging and training employees to find their purpose. Especially global players have a responsibility — towards employees and customers, towards society and environment."
In 2017, SAP employees volunteered approximately 298,000 hours impacting 4 million lives. Beyond motivation, personal purpose may keep burnout at bay. "Having a purpose is the basis for success as it drives employee engagement and thus overall business success," Ries said. "In my opinion, having a higher meaning in what we do is a central source for sustainable motivation, and can thus help us stay healthy."
For employee development to truly take off, employee engagement in the broader sense of the organization can go a long way, Ferguson said. "Businesses have a real opportunity to create a deep sense of connectedness and pride tied to the broader purpose of the organization, and then create a spectrum of employee engagements that fosters leadership, trust, and purpose among your young employees," Ferguson added. "That's how you'll get them stay, grow, and mentor others. That's how you move them from employees to true brand ambassadors."