How to keep your employees by helping them find meaning on the job

Rachel Stewart Johnson

Psychologist | Driven by communications about human behavior in Work

As we arrive at the 2020s, evidence is growing that individuals find themselves wanting more than conventional notions of “success.” That’s leading to a collective reassignment of the “why” behind an enterprise.

And it’s having an impact on how young people look for jobs. Today’s job-seeker is mindful of more than checklists and numbers. The modern job search moves beyond lists of job requirements and salary ranges. Instead, the story is one in which meaning matters.

Take a look at the messaging that greets job-seekers as they browse company career websites. Pfizer’s site asks: “Where in the world will you change the world?” Apple includes the imperative: “Have more impact than you ever imagined.” The tagline on The Hartford’s jobs database is “Where passion meets purpose,” a refrain parallel to that offered by JCPenney: “People. Passion. Purpose.”

Organizations large and small are therefore smart to understand this shifting value system. Careers and achievement are often important for workers of all stripes, but so too is having a sense of positive, prosocial productivity. How can a company’s leadership make this more than just language on a website?


Make “meaning” meaningful

Solution 1: Organizational values must be visible and in practice across departments. Undertaking the core tenets of social enterprise means that while an organization can have many role players, locations, and priorities, a principal set of objectives must be consistent across all these moving parts. Today’s job-seekers are equipped with deep information resources, such as Glassdoor reviews and customer forums. Candidates will quickly sniff out an organization that starts and stops its commitment to concepts like “passion”, “impact”, and “corporate citizenship” within Human Resources.

Solution 2: Consistent objectives must apply across the employment experience. The application of a “meaning matters” ethos should follow an individual across the employment life cycle, from prospect to candidate to new hire and beyond. That means paying attention to the employment brand. And it means delivering a candidate experience that both talks the talk and walks the walk. Tools that build self-awareness, for example, and that help even unsuccessful applicants identify career strengths, room for growth, and ideal work settings can elevate the employment experience from one focused on a paycheck to one that is well-integrated with the development of the whole person.

Solution 3: Understand that the search for impact contributes to turnover. The era of an employee spending decades at a single company has passed. Greg Burnison, CEO of consulting group Korn Ferry, identified the worker’s desire to make an impact -- or the perception of being stuck in a position without impact -- as a trigger for looking for a new position. By facilitating opportunities to bring about positive change, even “micro-changes,” or to develop vision focused on future impacts, organizations can make progress in the turnover battle. Further, understanding employee’s personalities can help identify those who are particularly keyed into visionary, forward-thinking, and those who are driven by a sense of duty and empathy for others -- contributors who may be at the highest risk of departing a company when the drive for meaning in one’s work life is not fulfilled.



RSSSubscribe to Our Blog