Leaders need to increase priority around helping employees find a sense of meaning at work, by more clearly and deliberately communicating the purpose of what they do each day. Creating a meaning-centered organization will help drive employee engagement and create a culture of accountability.
Organizations need to do better at communicating a larger sense of purpose.
The Great Resignation (or Great Reassessment, as I’d like to call it) isn’t just a white-collar phenomenon. Workers from all walks of life are reconsidering the place of work in their lives and reassessing whether the terms of their employment are really worth it. Many service workers, for example, are demanding higher pay, not because they’ve suddenly lost their work ethic, but because the pandemic has prompted them to reevaluate whether working long and unpredictable hours, in often-poor conditions, for low pay—and putting their health at risk—is really worth minimum wage.
How can organizations fight back against this massive trend? How can leaders ensure that their direct reports aren’t among the millions of people who decide their work isn’t worth it and walk away?
A company that can articulate a clear sense of purpose and create a genuine sense of meaning has always been attractive to employees, but purpose is increasingly crucial today for a few reasons. First, younger generations value purpose more highly than Baby Boomers did. So as time goes on, purpose only becomes more important to employee retention. More immediately, the pandemic has prompted this mass reassessment of work and its meaning. This is a live issue in employees’ minds right now, and organizations need to respond.
Finally, the shift to more and more remote or hybrid work strips away some of the things many organizations and leaders have used as substitutes for a thriving organizational culture. Without birthday cake and happy hour, purpose becomes all the more critical as a way to unify a team and build a strong, committed culture.
WHY IT MATTERS:
Both employees and consumers respond to a sense of meaning and purpose.
I’ve been writing all month about meaning and purpose at work. The research is clear that communicating a clear sense of purpose increases employee engagement. On the flip side, from the employee’s point of view, or for you personally, as a leader, decades of research also prove that feeling that your work is connected to your personal values or involves serving others or making the world a better place greatly increases your job satisfaction and personal happiness. As human beings, we crave a sense of purpose, and people from all walks of life, in all kinds of jobs, can find that kind of meaning in their work.
Research also shows that consumers respond strongly to brands that are associated with a strong sense of purpose and meaning. So an organization that can create and communicate a strong sense of purpose is not only more likely to attract and retain top talent, but more likely to succeed in the marketplace as well.
Organizations that lack a clear sense of purpose will struggle to keep employees connected in a hybrid world.
If you’re not paying careful attention to your organization’s culture and working deliberately to strengthen it, your employees will become more and more disconnected in a hybrid world of work.
It’s not that coming into the office every day was creating a strong culture in the past—but as people spend less time in the office, they spend more time reconnecting to other parts of their lives that give them a sense of meaning. And if you’re not deliberate about articulating why the work you do is important, you will start to lose employees who are reevaluating their purpose and the place of work in their lives.
WHAT TO PAY ATTENTION TO:
Leaders have a clear role to play in articulating the organization’s purpose and connecting it to daily work.
Articulating a sense of purpose should start at the top of any organization and flow right down to the front line. This should be a front-of-mind concern for every leader right now.
Research shows that making work feel meaningful is a deeply personal process for individual employees. But leaders can also play a big role.
- Accountable leadership: Bad or mediocre leaders undermine employees’ sense of the purpose of their work when they do things like force people to cut corners, micromanage, fail to recognize hard work, act unfairly or treat certain employees differently than others, cut people off from relationships with colleagues, or even put people at risk.
- Connect work to purpose: Leaders should articulate directly for employees what the organization’s broader purpose is and connect employees’ work to that purpose. Whenever possible, individual tasks should be connected to a sense of purpose—people hate busy work.
- Facilitate relationships: Supportive relationships at work can also help create a sense of meaning. Especially in a remote or hybrid context, leaders can do a lot to encourage employees to connect. Don’t let yourself become a go-between when your direct reports are working with someone outside the team—make introductions and get out of the way.
- Connect work to personal values: Remember that meaning is personal. In one-on-one meetings, don’t be afraid to ask people why they chose to work at this company. Your goal should not be to catch someone out who simply took a job to get a paycheck but to help anyone who doesn’t already have a clear sense of meaning in their work to find it. Talk about why you work for this organization and what the work means to you. Connect the work to your personal values. Strive to build a team and organizational culture where people connect around what matters most to them.
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