Do It For a Reason

Eduardo Plastino, Director of The Cognizant Center for the Future of Work, on why ‘purpose’ is now key to engaging a younger workforce.

Events over the last few years have catalysed a major shift in the values that today’s workforce prioritises – particularly younger generations. The ongoing cries for social justice and better workplace equality following the pandemic have come to influence a new era of workers who strive for something more out of their work. This has left businesses with no choice but to evolve in meeting these new expectations, otherwise they risk leaving themselves vulnerable to the crippling phenomena that is now dubbed ‘The Great Resignation’.

The Great Resignation has undoubtedly left many business leaders and HR teams anxious about how to maintain their competitive edge while competing with thousands of other companies to fill widening talent gaps. The proposed solutions and initiatives have ranged from improving workplace benefits to offering permanent hybrid work packages. However, many organisations are still missing the mark.

The latest report from Cognizant Research, ‘The Purpose Gap’, reveals that fewer than one-in-five (18 per cent) workers under the age of 40 strongly believe they are living their day-to-day purpose in their work life. This demonstrates a ‘purpose gap’ within the workplace that needs to be addressed. If we are to remain a leading nation in business, our Gen Z and millennial (20- to 40-year-old) talent must be made to feel they have a greater sense of purpose in their work in alignment with their personal values. In short, businesses need to ramp up their efforts if they want to attract the best and brightest talent of the younger generations – and keep them.

How to bring ‘purpose’ to work

What younger workers mean by purpose is twofold. While the majority of young employees claim that it’s ‘extremely’ or ‘very important’ for their employer to positively impact society, it is also vital for many that they work for an organisation that fuels their own personal sense of purpose. Taking a dualistic approach to employee values is therefore integral to understanding how to better support one’s staff.

Young people now look particularly closely at the pledges businesses make to carefully evaluate whether these align with their individual needs and career goals. Because of this, businesses can no longer consider how they give back to society as an afterthought or an embellishment to an already successful organisation – businesses’ social purpose should now be a key priority if they want to attract the future workforces.

This is in stark contrast to how businesses operated decades ago, meaning leaders must continuously do more to show their dedication to social purpose to candidates and their employees and demonstrate authenticity in the values they hold dear.

How workplace dynamics are now changing

When it comes to personal purpose, millennial and Gen Z workers are focused on the direct impact their work has on their personal lives. According to our report, the top three traits they’d use to define purposeful work are feeling passionate about the work they do (59 per cent), having a good work-life balance (53 per cent) and getting paid well (49 per cent).

Young employees will not gain the purposeful and socially-charged employment they deserve if they do not have a healthy work-life balance to base it on. Setting clear boundaries at work is one way they are attempting to achieve their highest personal priorities of finding fulfilment through their work.

However, having a sense of fulfilment at work cannot be achieved if workers are constantly monitored in what they do and how they do it. As a result, alongside these changing employee values is a significant upswing in employee autonomy, which in turn leads to increased worker satisfaction, creativity and productivity. In short, employees are less likely to quit and leave the HR team scrambling to fill these talent gaps if they feel empowered in their jobs, trusted by their managers, and engaged by their work.

A senior leadership team that is more present

A healthy workplace culture is another crucial attribute for businesses that need to get better at attracting and retaining talent. To achieve this, business leaders must recognise that culture starts from the top down. The report reveals that scepticism about employers’ commitment to their stated positions in key purpose areas is high. In fact, only 24 per cent of respondents believe their employer’s position on the environment and climate change to be “very genuine,” while 46 per cent see it as half-hearted, or “slightly” genuine. It takes leaders at the top to start changing this perception.

To combat the effects of the Great Resignation, it is therefore important that the makeup of an organisation’s senior leadership team genuinely reflects the values that the company says it stands for.

When asked to identify the leadership traits that matter most to them for supporting their sense of purpose, respondents from the Purpose Gap report identified flexibility (42 per cent), honesty (39 per cent) and work competence (35 per cent) as their top three. It is critical that when hiring employees at senior leadership level, they are able to demonstrate these qualities, while having a profound understanding of the changing dynamics that affect the work and personal lives of their colleagues.

These efforts must be complemented by a clear internal communications strategy. Shockingly, almost one-third of respondents stated they had no idea whether their employer had a long-term plan to become carbon neutral. Poor intra-communication undermines the values of a business – creating a disconnect between employees and employers.

Building a relationship between work and purpose

Ultimately, businesses do not exist in a silo; they are inextricably linked to the societies in which they operate. This means that organisations need to understand and better align themselves to the changing social attitudes of young people and reflect these values within their workplaces moving forward. Just as their social values and needs evolve, so will workers’ purposes.

Business leaders who want to be successful in recruiting their future workforces therefore need to acknowledge this evolution and recognise the importance of work trends and employee expectations.

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