What You Need to Do to Give Employees a Sense of Purpose

If you’re an HR professional, odds are good you already understand and appreciate the importance of boosting employee engagement. This is particularly true if you also understand just how low worker engagement tends to be in most cases. According to Gallup research, 70 percent of American employees report being “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” from their job.

While that’s not exactly something to be happy about, you could use this information to see an opportunity where others merely see failure. Prioritizing engagement gives your organization an edge that not many others share.

Obviously, engaging workers with incentives is one strategy to consider — the question is, which incentives boost engagement the most? Don’t make the mistake of assuming higher pay is enough to reverse a low engagement trend. Surveys indicate that, while adequate pay and benefits packages are important to workers, it’s also critical that they have a sense of purpose.

Employees are increasingly reporting a desire to do work that fulfills them. They want to know their efforts are valuable and meaningful. As an HR professional, helping your organization find ways to provide that sense of purpose should be one of your top goals.

The following suggestions may help. Keep them in mind as you develop your own engagement-boosting strategy.

Employees are more likely to feel their work has meaning if they understand how their company’s product or service helps other people — they want to know that the company’s reason for being isn’t only profit. It’s important for management to publicly articulate this organizational purpose, and to be specific when doing so. You can’t be vague when identifying your organization’s mission or purpose; otherwise, you won’t fully engage employees.

Consider the example of Apple. Yes, for the business to succeed, it was always necessary for Apple to sell as many computers and devices as possible. But that doesn’t mean that profit was the company’s true and only purpose when it was founded. Steve Jobs co-founded Apple because he wanted to empower members of the general public who, at the time, largely did not have access to computers. He wasn’t simply targeting businesses, government agencies, and the other organizations that already used computers, even though they may have represented the most practical customer base at the time. Instead, he wanted to develop and sell products that would “remove the barrier of having to learn to use a computer,” as he is quoted in the biography Becoming Steve Jobs. To that end, he prioritized clean design and intuitive interfaces to make computers easy for anyone to use. In other words, he “domesticated” the computer.

This approach clearly yielded results. Despite many being skeptical that there would ever be a market for personal computers, Apple managed to create one. This happened because its employees believed in what they were doing. Even when Jobs’ somewhat tyrannical management style should have made working for him unpleasant, his teams were driven by a sense of purpose and were thus committed to their goals.

Your company isn’t Apple. But it does have the potential to offer value to customers in its own unique way. When you identify exactly what that is, and express it in company documents, internal branding, corporate speeches, onboarding sessions, and anywhere else you can, you’ll see employees responding accordingly.

Don’t feel as though you need to shoot for the moon. A sense of purpose is important, but a company’s purpose doesn’t need to be as substantial or earth-shaking as the example described above.

Steve Jobs succeeded in engaging employees by reminding them that providing normal people with access to computers would genuinely change the world. However, how can you reach for the same heights if your organization has comparatively modest goals? How can you make employees feel as though they are changing the world if, for example, you’re an HR professional at a small digital marketing agency serving clients in the niche insurtech industry?

The answer is: maybe you shouldn’t. A purpose must be real for it to boost engagement. Employees won’t be more engaged with their jobs if the company inauthentically tries to convince them they’re starting a revolution, saving lives, or saving the planet. Inaccurate, grandiose claims like these will only elicit eye rolls from employees.

Luckily, however, any sense of purpose can give work meaning. This isn’t just a theory. Studies actually show that hospital janitors find more meaning in their work than many others in what most would assume to be more rewarding roles. Perhaps simply knowing they are keeping their facilities clean so that patients can receive the best care possible is enough to engage them.

Remember this point when trying to determine how you can give your employees a sense of purpose. To return to the digital marketing example, providing insurtech companies with marketing services helps them put their products in the hands of customers. To find your company’s greater purpose, consider the fact that insurtech products have made it easier for small business owners in developing markets to acquire business insurance, helping them promote economic growth in their communities.

It’s not difficult to see how an employee could derive meaning from their job if they understood this purpose-within-the-purpose. Your role as an HR professional in this situation would be to help them (and the company as a whole) reach this place of understanding. When you do, engagement may improve substantially.

Executive Recruiter, clients NFL, Google, Patagonia, Under Armour, Gucci, Nike, Northwestern, eBay, UFC, Vail, REI, Electronic Arts, Live Nation, #HR #Recruiter

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