Why work needs to be worthwhile

A meaningful corporate mission looking beyond profits will set companies apart in the future world of work, as employees align themselves with organisations promising a greater sense of purpose

It is human nature at the end of a decade to look ahead. And, concerning the future of work, it is clear company purpose is imperative to attract and retain top talent in 2020 and beyond.

Millennials and the equally ethical Generation Z will make up almost 60 per cent of the global workforce at the start of the new decade, according to Manpower Group. By 2025, Deloitte predicts, 75 per cent of the workforce will be millennials. Therefore, it is critical for leaders, striving to future-proof their businesses, to tap into that ever-expanding talent pool of principled digital natives.

Company purpose can attract talent

“Employee motivations are changing, and people need to feel they are doing something worthwhile,” says Professor Jeremy Myerson, director of WORKTECH Academy. “There needs to be purpose in work, a broader meaning and communities of practice.”

This chimes with Jo Cresswell, a community expert at Glassdoor, one of the world’s largest job and recruiting sites, who says: “Job seekers are demanding more meaningful workplace experiences.” This is backed up by Glassdoor’s Mission and Culture Survey 2019, which indicates 77 per cent of adults would consider a company’s purpose before applying for a job.

Little wonder almost three quarters (73 per cent) of the 7,300 respondents to Mercer’s 2019 Global Talent Trends survey are bracing themselves for employee-related disruption. Encouragingly, 99 per cent of those quizzed said they are taking action to prepare for the future of work.

A happy worker is a productive worker, goes the maxim. But in 2020, an increase in wages doesn’t equal greater happiness or output, posits James Lloyd-Townshend, chairman and chief executive of Frank Recruitment Group. As he points out, recent Betterup research shows nine out of ten people are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work.

“Today’s workforce wants more than a paycheck,” he says. “They want to be fulfilled by the work they do. A company which can offer them the purpose they crave will reap the benefits of having that talent on their team. In a world where it’s incredibly challenging to keep employees engaged, creating a collective ambition is an easy win.”

Indeed, engendering trust and loyalty is more likely to boost profits, from the inside out. “Thriving organisations,” the Mercer study says, “put purpose at the heart of their talent value proposition and ensure the diversity and adaptability of their workforce.”

The importance of meaningful work

Bud Caddell, founder of NOBL Collective, an organisational design firm spanning London and America, argues company purpose is an organisation’s most valuable asset and attracts stellar talent and loyal customers like a magnet. He says: “It can also reinforce ethical behaviour without the need for draconian rules and enable faster decision-making because it creates simple heuristics for teams to follow without escalating every issue back up the hierarchy.”

Unfortunately, leaders are often confused about the subtle differences between company purpose and its vision, which is why NOBL has created a how-to guide and toolkit. The template says company purpose is “why you choose to exist together, beyond financial gain”, while vision is “the difference you’ll create in your customers’ lives or the larger world when you ultimately realise your purpose”.

Worthwhile work statistic

Facebook’s “We believe connectivity is a human right” and Muji’s “We believe in the allure of the natural” are held up as examples of purpose. Compare them with the visions of Uber, “We will change the way the world moves”, and Airbnb’s “We will help you belong anywhere”.

“Company purpose is the most important element,” says Mr Caddell. “It’s your organisation’s strongest, longest and most widely shared belief. Markets can change and vision may shift with those changes, but your sense of purpose should be unwavering.”

Progressive culture over cash

Linda Aiello, senior vice president of international employee success at Salesforce, says delivering profit is not enough when it comes to attracting top talent. She urges business leaders to “think strategically about their purpose and what this offers employees”.

Success is achieved by flattening hierarchies, encouraging feedback and ideas from all employees, as well as fostering inclusivity in the workplace. “It’s about creating a progressive culture,” says Ms Aiello. “There’s a huge opportunity for forward-thinking businesses to reap the rewards from building a workforce that has a diverse set of influences and backgrounds. The right cultural framework and environment must be established for employees to be their authentic selves at work.”

Adopting an agile, startup approach and day-one mentality has enabled Amazon to innovate repeatedly. For Ben Farmer, head of human resources for Amazon UK Corporate, that pioneering attitude tops the list of how to attract talent. “Often team members share their knowledge with management teams rather than vice versa,” he says. “We are constantly learning and teaching each other about new ideas because it makes us better as a business, and hiring and developing the best talent is vital to Amazon.”

Using meaning to keep staff motivated

Moreover, failure to either recruit or retain talented staff is costly. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s latest Labour Market Outlook Report, launched in November, found that in the UK 43 per cent of businesses report it is becoming harder to fill vacancies. Company purpose and a progressive culture have to be utilised in tandem to lure new workers and keep them motivated.

“Organisations need to invest in and deliver a strong employee value proposition (EVP),” according to Brian Kropp, group vice president for HR at Gartner. “Companies with attractive EVPs can reduce the compensation premium needed to attract qualified candidates as well as potentially decrease annual employee turnover by just under 70 per cent, all of which helps the company’s bottom line and brand reputation,” he says.

Given the pace of change, fuelled by ethical workers and enabling technology, it is hard to predict what the future of work will look like in 2030. But progressive organisations, anchored by a company purpose, stand the best chance of surviving, and thriving, in the coming turbulent decade.