Engaging employees in the Age of Purpose

Stéphanie Grawehr February 26, 2020

The world of work is changing.

You’ve probably heard of the ongoing war for talent. In today’s environment, retaining top talent has never been more important. An undeniable transformation in the way employees work and their expectations is in full swing.

People want more than benefits, they want to do work that matters, that’s aligned with their values. To succeed, companies need to engage their employees to retain and get the best out of them.

Welcome to the Age of Purpose.

Let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?

But first, a look at the numbers

Employee engagement statistics paint a clear picture: 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged, or even actively disengaged. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg:

There is plenty of data showing the problems in today’s workplace, but there are also examples of what happens when we get employee engagement right:

In a nutshell, employees want meaningful work, guided by a clear employee purpose.

What is employee engagement?

So, what becomes of employee engagement in this new Age of Purpose?

First, back to basics:

  • Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.
  • The HR Technologist defines employee engagement as the emotional investment employees make in their organizations.
  • According to Quantum Workplace, employee engagement is the strength of the mental and emotional connection employees feel toward their places of work.

In other words, it is the motivation, passion, and involvement people bring to their work which fuels their will to contribute positively to the company’s goals.

Am I making a difference?

While there are other drivers of engagement, such as wellbeing, learning and development opportunities, rewards, it all boils down to something deeper.

It’s about going beyond the perks, benefits and work-life balance. It’s about the meaning of the work itself, asking the question: “Am I making a difference?”

Companies that provide meaningful and purposeful work don’t only have higher profit margins, but their employees feel like they make a difference. They are emotionally invested in the business—it isn’t just a paycheck to them, it’s an opportunity to do work that matters.

Here are some more characteristics of engaged employees:

  • Engaged employees are naturally inclined to learning and seeking new challenges, continuously investing in their work.
  • They make a clear connection between their skills and their role.
  • They commit to improve and align with the company’s purpose.

What happens when HR leaders focus on employee engagement?

One day, on John F. Kennedy’s first visit to NASA, he met a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA. The janitor replied, “I’m helping put the man on the moon!”

He had a clear understanding of the purpose, expressed in NASA’s vision, that guided his actions and showed him how his work mattered. That’s engagement. Multiplied across an organisation, this has a ripple effect: Highly engaged teams have better customer engagement, higher productivity, fewer accidents, and 21% greater profitability. Engaged employees also have lower absenteeism and higher morale.

How to improve employee engagement?

A purpose is only good if it’s backed up with actions.

Offering perks and benefits might improve job satisfaction, but the effect on engagement is short-lived. You can quickly find yourself in a spiral of ever-increasing perks to be offered to employees, trying to top the latest craze.

Engaging employees must connect to the individual’s need for meaning and accomplishment in the world. Talented and skilled workers will be drawn to the businesses whose purpose is clearly integrated in all aspects of their work and communicated to their stakeholders.

A Japanese ideology, Ikigai, captures this beautifully. When researchers went to Okinawa, Japan to figure out why their population has the most centenarians in the world, they heard one sentence over and over again:

“I have something that gets me up every morning and keeps me going.”

Ikigai is about finding joy in life through purpose. It stands at the intersection of four categories:

Ikigai - at the intersection with meaningful work

Image: Bodetree, adapted from Francesc Miralles

Bringing Ikigai to the company level, employees love what they do at their company, make an impact in the world, get paid for their work, and do what they are good at. Over the last couple of years, the mission piece of the Ikigai puzzle has become the differentiator for people, whether it’s selecting which company to work for, whether do more for their current employer, or whether it’s time for a change.

A meaningful workplace: The role of employee volunteering and giving

The age of social enterprise we are entering into calls for companies to invest in their social responsibility in a way that aligns with their purpose and empowers their people to act.

Corporate volunteering and giving programs can offer a meaningful opportunity to channel every employee’s willingness to make an impact. Not only are people doing good and making an impact, but they are developing their hard and soft skills. And a company that understands, provides, and encourages employee volunteering could be the one that gets and keeps the best people.

Act now, employees are ready to be engaged

The changing dynamics of the employee’s relationship with work makes it necessary for leaders to make changes that truly align to today’s challenges. Adapting the culture and mindset will support a sustainable model to continuously fuel the business with engaged and innovative minds.

By implementing an engaging employee volunteering program, companies can build onto the momentum of current global action and empower every employee to act.

With a little help, we can all find our Ikigai in our work.

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