Employees crave purpose

Most employees want their work to contribute to society, to feel like what they do truly matters. The job itself can still seem mundane. Decades ago when McDonald’s Sweden adopted The Natural Step’s sustainability framework, the burger-flippers reported pride in transforming society when they switched to organic milk and potatoes.

According to the 2019 Workforce Purpose Index (which you can download if you give up your contact info),

More than twice as many people report wanting fulfilling work (64%) versus engaging work (28%). Nearly three-quarters (74%) of people believe employee fulfillment is possible in their current jobs and 68% report that the primary responsibility for fulfillment lies with the individual. A shift from the focus on employee engagement to employee fulfillment is likely to yield higher results as it focuses on benefits to the employee and puts them in the driver’s seat.

In other words, it’s easier and more effective to find out what your employees care about than try to get them on-board with a company-defined mission. And having disengaged employees is bad for business.

82% of unfulfilled employees are actively undermining your culture and brand.

An emphasis on sustainability brings a great sense of purpose, and it’s s a large-enough ‘tent’ to engage a wide range of interests.

But this study flashes a little warning light.

The Imperative report notes that people with a "purpose mindset" — people who believe their work provides meaning in their lives and creates positive change in the world — are 52 percent more likely to report feeling fulfilled at work. Hurst told me that sustainability professionals are more likely to have a purpose mindset, which is good news. But he also noted that "employees working in high-impact roles often under-invest in themselves and their relationships."

This is a classic syndrome in non-profits: people run ragged trying to fix the problems as part of their mission and managers expending little time on team building and professional development. So this research is a nudge: Yes, absolutely take on the big problems of the world but nurture your team if you want the best performance.

According to the research, there are four practices that can make a difference:

Four practices emerged as being strong predictors of fulfillment:

1) Self-Awareness,

2) Peer Coaching,

3) Employee-First Culture, and

4) Purpose Mindset.

Read an article about the study

Download the study