As companies continue to struggle to fill open positions amid record numbers of employee resignations, retaining existing talent has become a top priority. As important as competitive wages and benefits are to recruiting and retaining employees, so too are workplace intangibles. The Limeade Institute found that 97% of employees who experience workplace intangibles (e.g., purpose, openness and resilience) are engaged at work. This is compared to only 55% who don’t. Smart HR’s last blog addressed the importance of authenticity, another intangible, in the workplace as a recruiting and retention tool. In this blog, we will explore how feeling purpose at work leads to more engaged, satisfied employees who want to stay at their companies.
What is Life Purpose?
What is our “raison d’etre?” Why do we get up every morning? What’s the point of our existence? These are difficult questions to answer. A person’s purpose is like their North Star, guiding their daily behaviors and actions. For some, identifying their life’s purpose is a lifelong quest. Others may be on the path to a purposeful life at a very young age. Most agree that when living a purposeful life, they feel more alive, energized and happy. Life has direction and meaning. Without purpose, we are rudderless, drifting along. In Stephen Covey’s words, “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”
Life Purpose is Healthy
Numerous studies have linked living life with purpose to living a longer, happier and healthier life. In a study conducted by Randy Cohen, Chirag Bavishi, and Alan Rozanski, over 136,000 people were evaluated and followed for about seven years. The average age at the start of the study was 67 years old, and as the people in the study passed away or faced health issues, interesting data emerged. In a nutshell, the study showed a lower risk of death for participants with a high sense of purpose in life. After adjusting for other factors, mortality was about one-fifth lower for participants reporting a strong sense of purpose.
Dr. Patricia Boyle, a neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, studied thousands of elderly people who reported a low sense of life purpose. The study revealed those people were 2.4 times more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease than those with a strong purpose. Further, people with purpose were less likely to develop impairments in daily living and mobility disabilities. Ed Diener, a psychologist, professor, and author, conducted extensive research on the science of wellbeing and found that people with a strong sense of purpose are better able to handle the ups and downs of life. In other words, they are more resilient. His research suggests having purpose offers a psychological buffer that keeps one satisfied with life even in the face of significant obstacles.
Are Passion and Purpose the Same Thing?
Often, the terms “passion” and “purpose” are used interchangeably. While passion and purpose are certainly related, they are not the same thing. If looking for the most satisfaction and happiness in life, an abundance of passion and purpose are key. When distinguishing between the two, think of passion as an emotion you feel while executing your purpose in life. You give purpose and in return receive passion.
What is Work Purpose?
When defining work purpose, questions often start with, “Why?” Why am I doing this task? Why does this project matter? Why do I devote, on average, 90,000 hours to work in my lifetime? People have an inherent desire to be part of something larger which carries over into the workplace. Employees want to feel like their work product contributes to something larger than themselves and that the work actually matters. Healthy organizations act as a conduit, linking what is asked of their employees to a stated purpose.
Creating Purposeful Work
Corporate leadership plays a critical role in establishing and sustaining purposeful work for employees. Here are some ways to get started.
Define and live the organization’s purpose. Inherent in a company’s mission statement is its purpose. Most companies have a mission statement, but do they live it? A mission statement buried in the corporate website or employee handbook is worthless. Great corporate leadership weaves the company’s mission into all it does, using it as a guiding light in both good and challenging times. Is the company living credibly and authentically? Does the company do what it says it will do?
Whether a company is living its mission is a question that needs to be asked regularly with input from all sectors of the company, from frontline workers to C-suite executives. Some companies use metrics to keep track of the commitment of corporate leadership, employees and other stakeholders to fulfilling the company’s mission. Taking it a step further, other companies use the metrics as part of performance evaluations. By routinely assessing everyone’s commitment to furthering the corporate mission and holding accountable those who do not, employees can better connect their role with the company’s purpose.
Involve employees. When attempting to align an employee’s personal and work purpose, it’s helpful to know about an employee’s life purpose. A manager can make inquiries about an employee’s life purpose during a formal or informal meeting, or information can be gathered as part of a company-wide survey.
The discussion can occur during a performance appraisal or career development conversation. It may be that an employee’s job responsibilities can be tweaked, or the employee could join a corporate committee to better align the employee’s personal purpose with her work purpose. Maybe the company provides professional development training that would further the employee’s personal purpose while also supporting his work purpose. In one recent study, when given the chance to reflect on their own sense of purpose and how it is connected to the company’s purpose, employees were nearly three times more likely than others to feel their purpose is fulfilled in the office.
Get Smart HR
With remote and hybrid work arrangements the norm, employees’ work and personal lives are more intertwined than ever. The pandemic forced many people to take a hard look at their work/life balance, and a lot of people didn’t like what they saw. This led to a mass exodus from the workforce and unprecedented career changes. Where companies once provided more money and vacation days as the be-all and end-all of retention tools, those benefits alone aren’t likely to cut it now.
Corporate leadership needs to take a fresh look at what really matters to employees such as feeling connected to a larger cause, knowing their work matters and understanding how their work contributes to the greater good. These intangibles are often hard to identify and articulate and likely vary by industry, company size and geographical location. A Smart HR consultant can help you identify what’s important to your employees, whether you are providing what they need and, if not, real solutions and a path forward. Call today.