Employee Engagement

How Companies Can Embed Purpose in Their Employees for Higher Engagement and Retention

By Leeatt Rothschild

Dec. 2, 2019

Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, but they’re increasingly unhappy at their jobs. According to the 2019 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, 49 percent of millennials would quit their current jobs in the next two years if they could.

One likely reason for this is a lack of purpose at work. In fact, the Deloitte study found that only 37 percent of millennials think business leaders “make a positive impact on the world.”

A company with strong core values and a clear mission aligns people of every generation and role to perform their best, feel like they’re making a difference and stick around for a longer tenure.

To champion happy, engaged employees and send retention rates soaring, HR leaders need to cultivate a sense of purpose among their employees. Here’s how they can do that.

Hire for Purpose

You can’t create a culture of purpose without purpose-driven individuals, and it’s difficult to instill a sense of purpose in those who don’t have one. Your best bet is to screen for purpose during the hiring process.

Enthusiastic, mission-driven candidates will help uphold a larger sense of purpose in your organization. They’ll also likely lead by example. A Harvard Business Review study found that positive behaviors and attitudes are contagious and are often passed from manager to employee. Finding mission-driven workers at every level can help you weave purpose into your organization.

To find purpose-driven employees, ask candidates about their values during an interview, add an application question about defining purpose and outline your company’s mission in job postings.

Incorporate Core Values into the Onboarding Process

A longer and more meaningful onboarding process is tied to higher rates of retention, according to Harvard Business Review. Be sure to introduce new hires to your organization’s core values and mission from day one.

Then show them these values in action with stories about current colleagues living the purpose. New hires will feel more connected to your company and more inclined to forge meaningful relationships with their co-workers. That way, they’ll feel compelled to embody these values — with like-minded colleagues — as part of their job.

Give Your Employees Purposeful Gifts

More companies are using gifts to show employee appreciation. But most corporate gifts are generic and forgettable. Branded mugs and t-shirts can’t capture a company’s values in a meaningful way.

Purposeful gifting is an excellent way to demonstrate your company’s commitment to social impact and community engagement. Mission-driven employees, especially millennials, care deeply about environmental and social causes.

A 2019 Gallup poll revealed that millennials’ concern about global warming is at a high point, and the Case Foundation’s “Millennial Impact Report shows that millennials care about social issues rather than institutions and believe in the power of activism.

Gifts can simultaneously support those causes and show gratitude to your employees. These gifts could include a food basket filled with snacks from a company that employs survivors of abuse, a backpack created from recycled materials, or a tumbler and coffee set whose manufacturer offers jobs to individuals with disabilities.

Send these gifts during important milestones in your employees’ tenures. For instance, consider sending a food basket during onboarding or a backpack to accompany a prospective employee’s offer letter. Gifts can show gratitude in a concrete way that emails, letters and words may not be able to.

Leadership Should Embody Your Organization’s Core Values

Your organization’s leadership should be constantly reinforcing your core values, purpose and mission. As an HR leader, you can broadcast that vision to every employee at your company.

Identify company thought leaders — inside or outside of the C-suite — and highlight their perspectives on company value-driven goals and initiatives through internal newsletters and media. Purpose feels more genuine when it’s voiced by a real person at your company.

Offer Opportunities for Employee Development

Organizational purpose should nurture an individual sense of purpose. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, 87 percent of millennials consider training and development opportunities important when considering new jobs. When employees feel supported to pursue their own career and self-fulfillment goals, they’ll feel better aligned with their company.

Create room for employees to have purpose-based goals in addition to performance-only evaluations. Then, give them the resources they need to achieve those goals: one-on-one mentorship, leadership development programs, retreats, volunteering and enrichment activities such as cultural competency training. When their employer encourages and invests in them, employees want to stay and keep growing.

Purpose Drives Satisfaction and Retention

Today’s workers are increasingly looking beyond the old indicators of job satisfaction, such as job security and fixed salary.

Through hiring strategies, onboarding, gifting, leadership and employee development, HR leaders have a chance at every step of the employee timeline to show each employee how they can enact their personal and company values.

Purpose is a two-way street: you can demonstrate your company’s values in the same breath that you demonstrate how you value your employees. Values, after all, mean nothing if they’re not put into action.

Leeatt Rothschild is the Founder and CEO of Packed with Purpose.

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