Working from home during the pandemic, or being unemployed at home, offers individuals more time to reflect on their life during moments of less activity during the day and evenings. Usually, downtimes offer opportunities for unscheduled socializing or errands.

These unusual pauses now can result in a chance for deeper thought on how their work-life relates to what they care about, to their embraced purpose in life. According to a recent article by McKinsey & Company, seventy percent of employees said that their sense of purpose is defined by their work, and over sixty percent indicated that they wanted to get more purpose from their work. Digging deeper into the data, those who are finding no connection or not enough connection between their work and their purpose in life are 50% of the staff and frontline supervisors (and yes, many of these are Millennials, who were found to be three times more likely than others to say that they were reevaluating work). Unsurprisingly, 85% of middle and upper management view their work as a manifestation of their purpose in life. Overall, sixty-two percent of all employees surveyed said that while they get some purpose from work, they want to get even more.

The implications of the “purpose in life” gap – whether no connection or just some connection – can be seen in the wave of resignations now occurring among those frontline staff and supervisors. Given time to reflect, they realize that what they are doing for a job is not having the positive impact on the world as they had once envisioned, why they pursued this career in the first place. When the job is just a way to pay the bills at home, the studies found that this resulted in lower levels of production and innovation. Such employees are more ready to jump to a new job that offers the same or likely better pay and offers that sense of purpose, particularly in a hot, lower-risk job market where they are less likely to be last-in-first-out in the near term economic slowdown.

The good news is that most successful firms have identified a means to make that positive impact. This is exemplified by their middle and upper management’s beliefs and their ability to alter their company’s direction to make sure the work aligns with their purpose in life. These companies do not lack a compelling purpose to make the world a better place, they are poorly communicating that purpose.

To support your retention of employees in these times by supporting their need for sense of purpose, McKinsey’s experience suggests the following tactics:

Clearly Communicate a Compelling Mission and Vision:  Frequently reiterate what your company is doing to improve its community and its industry, as well as the lives of its employees and their families. This may entail wordsmithing those statements to identify your business’s “why.” This purpose must be inspiring, something each employee should be proud to be part of, to tell their friends and families that they work for such a company as yours.

Link Individual Jobs to Accomplishing the Mission:  Each employee should be clear about how their job is vital to the completion of the mission.

Again, all positions are vital (or they would be terminated), so this is more your communication challenge than a call for corporate organizational restructuring. You should communicate this linkage as often as possible, daily preferred.

  • Again, all positions are vital (or they would be terminated), so this is more your communication challenge than a call for corporate organizational restructuring. You should communicate this linkage as often as possible, daily preferred.

Provide Occasional Assignments that Directly Connect to Purpose:  Not all positions offer the opportunity to feel impactful every day. Sometimes, the closer an associate is to the front line, the farther their job appears to be connected to your company’s overarching purpose.

  • By periodically providing a non-routine activity that is closer to the purpose, the positive results of the mission can be reinforced. This may be a placement in a “tiger team,” providing inputs in strategic planning, or visiting with a customer or recipient of your products and services.

Seek to Link the Individual’s Purpose with the Company’s Purpose:  This is the hardest action to accomplish, but offers you the most reward! An individual purpose in life is a highly personal subject, and like other personal subjects, not easily shared before a significant amount of trust is generated. However, if there is an opportunity to demonstrate how the individual’s mission is aligned with that of your company, then the bond between the individual and the company becomes less likely to be broken.

There is one caveat on all of these efforts: the company must be living its mission and vision. Identifying a purpose (whether or not the employee identifies it as their purpose, too) and then operating contrary or without regard to that purpose, will only induce more staff to flee from the hypocrisy and arrogance. For example, a company that purports to be “green” but continues to purchase gas-guzzling cars for its executives will not attract and retain those who want to be part of climate change mitigation and reversal.

McKinsey & Company concluded their review of their results as follows:
The COVID-19 pandemic has people everywhere reevaluating their lives and work, and many now expect their jobs to be a significant source of purpose in their lives. Employers -ready or not- will need to help meet this need, or be prepared to lose talent to companies that will. The good news? The benefits of getting individual purpose right are substantial, self-reinforcing, and extend not only to the well-being of employees but also to the company’s performance.

Original “Inc.” article: 

In my 25 years of working with thousands of companies I have found four key strategies that any company can take to help increase the sense of purpose all employees experience and better link them to the pride they have in their company and their work:

  • Create a clear and compelling mission and vision
  • Build out the company’s purpose in your employee orientation
  • Embed purpose into your ongoing work processes
  • Systematically reinforce your mission and values daily.

Build out the company’s purpose in your employee orientation

Clarifying one’s vision is a useful starting point for deciding what is most important for the organization–and its employees–to focus on to be successful. And the result needs to be a compelling purpose that can inspire everyone. “A vision is not just a picture of what could be, it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more,” says Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter.

Embed purpose into your ongoing work processes

The vision and mission then need to be translated into ways every employee can impact. For example, at British retailer Marks & Spencer, each business area writes its commitments on a poster, which is then displayed publicly. This way commitments are visible to all and become a way of working, rather than an action plan that is put in a drawer.

Systematically Reinforce Your Mission on a Daily Basis

To sustain an organization’s mission and purpose, you need to systematically reinforce its principles and practices daily. Recognition and positive feedback are fundamental drivers for creating a company culture where employees feel proud of their work and the mission of their company.
Companies who are serious about doing recognition right typically invest in a software platform that integrates and aligns individual, group, and organization recognition around the mission, strategic objectives, and core values of the company. Do the four strategies described in this article and you will be well on your way to having employees fulfilling more of their purpose at work.

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