Purpose-Driven Work – The Growing Priority in a Post-Pandemic World?

As we begin to slowly emerge from the stifling confines of a seemingly never-ending pandemic, we step out onto the sands of a world that is both alien and familiar. Against a backdrop of tremendous global change, another shift seems to be happening – a cultural shift, within the world of work.

COVID-19 disrupted labour markets around the globe in 2020, accelerating existing trends in e-commerce and automation, and normalising remote and hybrid working. A number of UK companies have signed on to a pilot scheme trialling a four-day work week, and across the pond, the ‘Great Resignation’ has swept through the USA.

As global populations have emerged from prolonged periods of isolation, we have all been reminded of the things that mattered most to us, giving many of us the chance to reflect on ourselves, the wider world, and our place in it. As a result, purpose-driven work has seen a huge surge in demand.

The ‘why’ behind work – purpose in the workplace

So how exactly do we define ‘purpose’ within the context of the workplace? More generally speaking, purpose can be thought of as the reason why we do or create things, and our sense of purpose becomes fulfilled when we are making progress towards the things that matter the most to us.

For some, fulfilment sits in the everyday moments of joy, in family and friendship. For others, work is an essential piece of the purpose puzzle – in a recent McKinsey survey, 70% of the employees said their sense of purpose is largely defined by work. But when we talk about purpose in the workplace, it's a matter of alignment – how in line are the values you hold with the company that you work for?

This notion of purpose within the workplace is by no means a new concept. Whether you are choosing to stay in your job, move into a new role or make a career change, purpose is a deciding factor that will significantly influence your choices.

But for a growing generation, the feeling of fulfilment is no longer just nice-to-have, but a deal-breaker. Society is currently being faced with the challenge of confronting issues of climate change, public health, and social and economic equality. For a new generation of employees, customers and shareholders, business-as-usual is no longer good enough. People are increasingly holding businesses and government institutions to account, demanding digital transparency, climate action and social change.

When firms fall short of the public’s expectations, social media is the megaphone amplifying a rallying cry for change, for good or for ill. But in this social media-driven age, it’s also never been easier for individuals to seek out and actively engage with the companies whose values align with their own.

Embracing a purpose-driven culture

Whether they are ready for it or not, employers will need to help meet this need, or be ready to lose talent to the companies that will. The good news? The benefits of leading with purpose are numerous and embracing a purpose-driven culture benefits both employee wellbeing and company performance.

Mission-driven companies grow faster, attract and retain better talent. According to Porter Novelli’s 2020 Executive Research report, nearly all executives (99%) saw the reputational advantages of responsible business — and the majority noted employee recruitment and retention (95%) and increased consumer trust (93%). When employees feel that their purpose is aligned with the organisation that they are a part of, the benefits expand to include stronger employee engagement, heightened loyalty, and a greater willingness to recommend the company to others.

In a time of tremendous uncertainty and upheaval, businesses have an opportunity to take the lead, drive change and create solutions — and leading executives recognise this. Indeed, according to the Porter Novelli report, 83% agree there’s an urgency for businesses to be a critical part of driving solutions for some of today’s most pressing issues, from COVID-19 and racial injustice to economic resurgence. And nearly the same amount (81%) understand that businesses are in a unique position to drive these solutions, with the scale, speed and acumen to really make a difference. Many feel a responsibility to fill an emerging leadership vacuum, with 80% stating that due to the lack of government regulation and progress, they believe that businesses have a more prominent role than ever to address pressing social and environmental issues.

However, there are challenges when it comes to maintaining a purpose-led work environment. Start-ups are well placed to rally behind core values and a shared mission, but as companies grow rapidly it can be harder to nurture and sustain a mission-driven culture. Hybrid and remote working also presents its own challenges – Redhouse surveyed over 500 CEOs and Board Members at major UK companies and found that 29% of senior leaders in these companies are concerned that hybrid working could lead to people becoming disengaged, or even create a two-tier workforce, with negative consequences for morale (26%). A quarter of respondents (25%) foresaw this culture change eroding loyalty and making employee retention more challenging. But as Redhouse’s report also suggests, clear communication of company purpose and values can also be a unifying force amongst socially distanced staff.

Balancing corporate requirements and employee preferences may continue to prove a challenge. But we are at a watershed moment in the world of work. Monetary compensation is important for surviving – but purpose-driven work could hold the key to thriving.

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