In Search of Purpose in the Workplace
“The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.” -- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Since the beginning of time, humans have questioned why we have been put here on this planet. Writers, philosophers, and politicians have all wrestled with this universal issue and most conclude that living a “purposeful” life is what is ultimately satisfying.
The same can be said for the workplace. We spend more time at work than we do sleeping or with our families and friends. We spend much more time at work than we do recreating – doing those little things that give us the greatest satisfaction. If we could only find ways to make our work lives more focused around purpose, wouldn’t we find work more satisfying, enjoyable, and fulfilling? Wouldn’t it feel amazing to walk into an office each day with excited co-workers full of purpose and pride, ready to help your company be a shining example of what business can do to make the world a better place? I know -- outside the mission-driven, nonprofit world, this almost sounds like a pipedream – but is it?
This desire for purpose in work is coming to a head as millennials are becoming the largest generation in the workforce. Having a purposeful work experience that goes beyond earnings is no longer an option; it is a requirement. Recent studies have shown that 79% of Millennials (58% of all employees) would not work for a company that didn’t have strong social or environmental commitments. 93% of employees want to work for a company that cares about them as an individual. Most would actually choose to work for a socially responsible company even if the salary was less. 74% say their job is more fulfilling when they are provided opportunities to make a positive impact at work. 87% of millennials polled across 29 countries believed business success should be measured by more than financial performance, according to Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey.
How does a company facilitate purpose in the workplace?
A company’s authentic commitment to purpose is often reflected in a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) program. Purpose can be reflected and facilitated in the workplace through three approaches: Work Itself, Work Related, and Work Facilitated.
Work Itself – CSR has been shown to be most effective and beneficial when it is strategically integrated into a company’s Mission, Vision and Values. When the work itself is directly linked to a mission, a company vision, and a set of values, not only is it authentic and resonates with us as humans, but it inspires. It makes us want to get up and go to work, work longer hours, and less prone to call in sick. It compels us to work harder for the greater good. And ultimately, employees are more satisfied and fulfilled with their employer when they are having a positive impact on areas beyond profits.
Work Related – Beyond the actual scope of the job description, there are opportunities for an employer to tap into this thirst for purpose within the broad confines of a robust and strategic CSR program by using company resources for work-related endeavors. One example of a work-related CSR/purpose-based program is skills-based volunteering efforts (either locally or in foreign countries). Another is matching programs where an employer matches donations to charities of an employee’s choice dollar for dollar or “dollars for doers” programs where the company matches an employee’s donated time to a nonprofit with a financial donation as well. Another work-related opportunity companies can provide is paid time off for employees to volunteer for charities – this could range from a single, company-wide day of service to unlimited time off for volunteer efforts.
Work Facilitated – Companies can demonstrate a commitment to purpose by utilizing their business to enhance communities; in other words, facilitating community or global enhancement that will, in turn, provide enhanced reputation in the community and pride amongst current (and future) employees. These programs may involve supporting and sponsoring the arts, donating to community (re)development grants, facilitating on-site job fairs or sponsoring them in the community, hosting on-site charitable collections (toy, food, book drives, etc.) or dedicating space for a community garden.
Regardless of where your company sits in the CSR spectrum, creating and implementing an authentic commitment to purpose not only will enhance reputation and differentiate your company from the competition in the eyes of customers, investors, and employees, but ultimately will create a more powerful, more effective, profitable, and more purposeful narrative.
And who doesn’t want to come to work with a sense of purpose?!