Employees Demand More Meaning From Their Work Than Pre-Pandemic, Study Finds

C-Suite recognizes the power of Purpose, yet lack of alignment across functions threatens impact

New research released reveals how American workers’ priorities have shifted from pre-pandemic times – with 66% of employees citing employers’ positive impact as more important than before the pandemic – identical to the increase in importance of salary and compensation. The research also uncovered the deep commitment of senior executives to the power of Purpose, with 92% agreeing if their companies were more focused on Purpose, their organization would be more successful. Ninety-five percent of C-suite leaders agree that their corporate Purpose is a clear source of pride for their employees.

Even with the strong support for Purpose by corporate leaders , the research also uncovers new early indicators that Purpose is being underutilized at some levels and in certain departments within organizations, which is especially problematic at a time when employees are seeking it out more than ever before.

The report, Purpose Under Pressure, released jointly by Allison+Partners, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE and The Harris Poll, examines the benefits of a strong Purpose during turbulent times, as well as how Purpose can help create more resilient organizations to face ongoing business, operational and societal challenges. Purpose Under Pressure reports how corporate Purpose – the reason a company exists in addition to making money – drives employees’ decision-making and overall buy-in. The research builds upon the findings of a 2020 study, The B2B Purpose Paradox, to understand how Purpose has evolved internally during a tumultuous two years.

“This research proves that the prominence and influence of Purpose is stronger than ever – especially among employees. We were encouraged to see that 84% of respondents said they would only work at a Purpose-driven company. In a ‘free-agent’ employment world, an authentic and activated Purpose is a powerful magnet for talent,” said Carol Cone, CEO of Carol Cone ON PURPOSE. “Yet unfortunately, many organizations have an inconsistent commitment to their Purpose, substantially lessening its impact.”

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A Company’s Purpose Increases in Importance from Pre-Pandemic Times

More than a third (35%) of employees say a company’s positive impact is among the top two most important attributes when deciding to stay or leave a job, signifying the power of Purpose to influence people’s employment choices. The report suggests employees seek opportunities that better align with their values and the impact they want to make through their work. Key findings related to retention and recruitment include:

91% of employees say a company’s Purpose makes them feel they are in the right place as they weather ongoing challenges, such as the pandemic and economic risk

88% believe companies focused on Purpose will be more successful compared with those that are not

86% say having “meaning” in their work is more important than ever before

84% will only work at Purpose-driven companies/brands

“The events of the past two years have changed the priorities and consideration sets for many employees,” said Whitney Dailey, executive vice president and co-lead of the Purpose Center of Excellence at Allison+Partners. “The Great Reshuffle means that companies with a strong Purpose will win in the ongoing fight to retain and attract top talent. And with new clouds of economic uncertainty on the horizon, companies with a fully activated Purpose will be rewarded with a loyal workforce that is fully committed to the direction and success of the organization.”

Early Indicators of Lack of Purpose Pull-Through

Despite Purpose’s significant gains as a critical workplace satisfaction metric for current and prospective employees, employers have much work to do in holistically embedding Purpose throughout their organizations. The research revealed:

Purpose is in the corner office but not at the water cooler. Purpose is highly valued among senior executives but does not resonate as strongly at other levels: 92% of C-suite leaders believe greater emphasis on Purpose would lead to greater corporate success, while only 76% of managers agree.

Purpose is siloed from key stakeholders. Strategy and marketing functions present barriers to company-wide purpose adoption. HR is largely bought in, with 70% of employees agreeing their employer’s Purpose gives their work meaning. But only 36% of marketers and 32% of strategists agree.

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Employees demand more meaning from employers. Purpose helped companies weather the storm of the pandemic and the Great Resignation, but they need to do more. Nearly nine-in-10 (86%) employees said companies should double down on Purpose and only 53% said their company’s Purpose was mature. Staff want to see companies embed Purpose more deeply (77%), behave in ways more aligned with their Purpose (75%) and better define organizational Purpose (68%).

“It’s not enough to have proclaimed, ‘we are a Purpose-driven company.’ Employees, especially, must be central stakeholders when recalibrating the impact an enterprise wants to have on people and the planet,” said Aaron Pickering, executive vice president and co-lead of the Purpose Center of Excellence. “Driving impact requires constant collaboration and disruptive thinking – and nobody brings that to the table more than employees.”

Data into Action: What Organizations Can Do to Ensure Authentic Pull-Through and Employee Engagement

Purpose Under Pressure also outlines specific data-supported steps organizations can take to avoid the early warning signs outlined in the report. Companies should make their Purpose specific and authentic to what the organization can uniquely provide to the world. The more precise and “human” the Purpose, the more employees can see how they align with it. Further, as the past two years have confirmed, a company’s Purpose is often put to the test in moments of unexpected and mounting external conditions such as crises and societal strife; to guide highly challenging decision-making during these times, companies should embrace their values and Purpose to shape their actions and communications.

“Now more than ever, Purpose is a critical corporate asset. Our findings make clear the pivotal role Purpose plays in the attraction/retention ecosystem companies are navigating today,” said Wendy Salomon, managing director at The Harris Poll. “Companies are well-served to better activate Purpose across functional areas and at all levels of the org chart.”

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The research was conducted online in the United States by The Harris Poll as a collaborative effort between Allison+Partners, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE and The Harris Poll among 352 B2B and B2C Business Professionals. All qualified respondents held a title of Manager or higher, worked at a company with at least 100 employees, and represented companies in sectors, including financial insurance, healthcare and allied industries, manufacturing, professional services, technology and telecommunications, consumer packaged goods and other, with base sizes within each sector ranging from 25 – 66 respondents. Within the research, Purpose was defined to respondents as: a company’s reason for being in addition to profits that guides its business growth and positive impact on society. The survey was conducted Feb. 15 – March 8, 2022.

Raw data were not weighted and are therefore only representative of the individuals who completed the survey. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in our surveys. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within + 5.2 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. This credible interval will be wider among subsets of the surveyed population of interest.

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