Putting Purpose to Work: A study of purpose in the workplace

It’s no secret that employees and leaders see the importance of purpose in business. What does it really mean to bring purpose to life for employees, and why does it matter for the business?

In a time of heightened stakeholder expectations, business leaders are rightly concerned with how purpose can boost innovation and brand value—for them, the value lies in illuminating purpose on the commercial side of the business. But for leaders, it should be much deeper than that.

Fundamentally, a truly purpose-driven company must have purpose as its guidepost for decision-making—including the opportunities it decides to pursue and not pursue—to demonstrate commitment to responsible business leadership. What leaders should also know is that employees see purpose as a way to bring meaning to their work and understand the contributions they are making to the company, as well as society. While it is undoubtedly their imperative to prioritize the success of the business, leaders who are purely focused on the market value miss the chance to drive even greater business value by utilizing purpose to bring meaning to employees’ work, a key driver of employee engagement. Identifying this gap presents an opportunity—and responsibility—for leaders to approach purpose more holistically, to optimize value for employees, shareholders, and other stakeholders.

The current era of disengaged, transient talent impacts every aspect of the business, and the need to activate purpose at work has never been more urgent. And with an ever growing demand for highly skilled labor, recruiting top talent is only getting more competitive. Millennials are direct in their demand for purposeful companies and careers: they are raising the expectations on business to deliver solutions to important societal and environmental problems through their offerings, and the table stakes are only expected to get higher with the entrance of Generation Z into the workforce. But, it turns out that purpose is also top of mind for employees across multiple generations and levels. Companies can put purpose to work by intentionally embedding purpose in three main aspects of the organization: leadership and management practices, communications, and talent strategies.

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