These days, any employer that doesn’t lead with purpose is fighting an uphill battle. Why? Take a look at recent headlines. They’re filled with news about troubling workplace trends. Specifics vary, but the coverage points to a common underlying theme — hiring and retaining skilled workers continues to be a monumental challenge.
The problem stems from a confluence of factors. For example:
- Many organizations have not yet resolved return-to-office policies and remote work options.
- The U.S. unemployment rate remains remarkably low at 3.6%, so top talent is still in short supply.
How can employers turn this situation around? It seems the solution begins when we focus on purpose.
Can Purpose Really Reverse Tough Work Issues?
Although the recent surge in employee resignations has cooled, workforce satisfaction and disengagement remain alarmingly high. As a result, other disturbing trends are emerging — from “quiet quitting” and “bare minimum Mondays” to “resenteeism,” and “rage applying.”
None of this reflects well on the state of today’s workforce. In fact, multiple studies indicate that more than 50% of employees are actively looking for a new position. No wonder employers are still struggling to figure out how to re-engage existing employees, attract qualified new hires, and create a work culture where people flourish and feel a sense of belonging.
To address these challenges, smart leaders are leaning into the power of purpose. This isn’t a quick or easy solution. But when business decisions reflect a genuine desire to lead with purpose, it opens the door to organizational transformation.
Today’s workforce is attracted to companies that genuinely care about tough societal issues and take action to resolve these issues. In other words, employees are interested in organizations with strategies that reach beyond revenue and productivity, alone. They want to work for companies that are committed to more meaningful metrics.
How to Lead With Purpose
What can leaders do to embed purpose into business strategies? For answers, we recently surveyed more than 1000 senior executives from U.S. companies. The findings underscore how purpose is gaining influence in The Future Workplace. Here are four key leadership recommendations:
1. Integrate Purpose With Talent Strategy
Start by prioritizing purpose in the battle for talent. Why? Our survey confirms that sustainability and purpose are top of mind for employees, with 75% of leaders agreeing that a business strategy built on purpose is essential for talent recruitment and retention. In addition, 86% of respondents say this strategy should play a central role when evaluating employee performance.
Younger people are deeply concerned about this. In fact, Deloitte research indicates that 39% of Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and 42% of Gen Z employees (born between 1997 and 2012) are prepared to leave their jobs if they aren’t satisfied with their employer’s commitment to sustainability.
To build purpose into workplace culture, it’s important to align your vision and processes with employee and stakeholder feedback, ensuring all voices are heard and everyone has a seat at the table. As a leader, you can do this by consistently focusing on these action items:
- Invite employees to regular meetings where business decisions are discussed, and encourage them to share concerns and ideas.
- Pay attention to employee feedback. Gather and analyze input from surveys and other internal forums that encourage dialogue.
- Develop and implement process and policy improvement plans based on employee concerns and suggestions.
- Host regular “town hall” meetings to share information about organizational priorities, goals, and progress, as well as the path forward. This helps ensure that all staff feel welcome to come along on the journey.
2. Put Purpose at the Heart of Value Creation
Beyond improving talent recruiting and retention, what else can you do to lead with purpose? Consider everything you do to create business value.
58% of our survey respondents say it’s essential for companies to create value in ways that benefit all stakeholders — employees, partners, customers, and communities, as well as shareholders. This extends to “earning profits in a sustainable way,” which includes minimizing any harm the business may cause to society.
Another 17% said organizations should “contribute to solutions for challenges confronting people and society as a means of earning profits and generating long-term stakeholder value.”
It should be easy for anyone to see how your business creates value and ensures sustainability across its extended ecosystem. Operational efforts that support sustainability should be clear and transparent. This includes everything from budgeting and office design to workplace culture and how you champion change.
To prioritize value creation and sustainability efforts, generate an open dialogue about how your organization can embrace a mission that puts people and the planet first. As you move forward, invite employees to assess their own societal and environmental impact. Also, be sure to ask employees and other constituents for feedback on an ongoing basis.
3. Openly Define Your Purpose
Transparency is also essential in how any organization defines and demonstrates purpose. Creating a purpose statement combines two key elements: setting goals and identifying intentions. This helps leaders and employees accomplish short-term tangible goals, while they simultaneously consider long-term aspirations and potential actions that can more broadly impact society.
Interestingly, 80% of our survey respondents say their company already has a formal statement of purpose that is “well-established and integrated with our strategies,” or they recently developed this kind of statement and they intend to use it as a guide for future culture change.
Only 1% do not have a statement of purpose beyond generating shareholder value, and they don’t expect the status quo to change.
It is also worth noting that business leaders assign real value to these statements. In fact, more than 75% told us they “strongly agree” that a statement of purpose is an effective guidepost. What’s more, a majority also strongly agree that a defined purpose is central to their business success.
4. Weave Purpose Into Your Employee Experience
Effective leaders recognize the connection between purpose and workplace dynamics. This includes supporting individuals who want to work remotely at least part of the time. After all, the future of work is not about working from home or in the office, per se. It’s about having the flexibility to work effectively wherever, whenever and however you choose.
Clearly, if employers want to remain competitive in the future, they need to offer flexible work options that align workforce preferences with business realities. Research indicates that this is especially true for employers in the tech, retail, telecom, manufacturing, and energy sectors.
That said, smart employers are moving beyond strict RTO mandates that force people to work on-site. Instead, they’re proactively making their office environment more inviting and productive. For example, 98% of our survey respondents are taking steps to improve the in-office experience. This includes adding direct rewards and benefits for on-site work, training managers in “soft skills” such as emotional intelligence, or investing in workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Purpose Leads to Lasting Business Benefits
Businesses can no longer afford to discount or ignore changing workforce dynamics. As you navigate these changes, be sure to remember the increasingly pivotal role purpose plays in your company’s ability to recruit and retain talent. This includes new ways to attract and engage job candidates, as well as ways to develop and motivate people once they’re onboard.
Ultimately, this approach can create broader opportunities to strengthen and advance your organization’s position in the global marketplace. Companies that do this effectively are rewarded with improved productivity, profitability, and a brand that represents an enduring sense of purpose.
So, if you want to stay ahead of the pack in the years to come, start answering this question today: “How will we lead with purpose in the new workplace?”