HR Grapevine
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What's the point of work?

Engagement, talent attraction and productivity are some of this year’s most pressing issues – can purposeful, value-driven work fix them?
What's the point of work?

WHAT'S THE POINT OF WORK?


Engagement, talent attraction and productivity are some of this year’s most pressing issues – can purposeful, value-driven work fix them?

People just turn up to work to get paid – right? Some might do it because there’s an acute need to pay for basic securities – a roof over their heads, food, bills – whilst others might be working towards putting a payment down on that Audi TT and a new build in Slough but, at the end of the day, very few people donate their time to an organisation without want of financial remuneration.

Yet, many in HR know that there are many other motivating factors that drive individuals to their get work done or, alternatively, want to join their firm. If an organisation offers adequate compensation for staff to feel secure – how does the business motivate and engage them beyond this? For many companies, the answer is to create a sense of greater purpose. However, that can be difficult. If you’re a financial firm involved in esoteric trading suddenly telling staff, many of whom may have been there for a substantial period of time, that the driving business motivation is now to save the whales. At best, it might seem ludicrous; at worst, demotivating.

However, on an employment landscape which is increasingly competitive, when it comes to trying to secure top talent, and with UK productivity generally considered sluggish, many are turning to purpose as the silver bullet that could both engage employees and attract star hires. However, for HR departments that are considering either trying to find a purpose or communicate their purpose more effectively there are several things to consider.

Why is communication important?
If purpose is communicated effectively, it can provide an upswing for staff. “It’s really important for people today that they feel more purposeful in their job, it helps them to feel satisfied and much more motivated, it’s a great way to connect to people,” explains Laura Plaxton, Head of HR at FDM, a global professional services provider.

Suzanne Hughes, CHRO, Santander UK agrees that communication is key – especially if your purpose is expressed via values or behaviours. “What’s really important is that people, if you have values or behaviours, see they are expressed in very simple language which resonates with them and isn’t corporate jargon.”

Hughes has seen this at Santander. The bank recently overhauled their values – gaining buy-in from staff by going around the country, with the CEO, to get staff to share their opinions on what the new values should be. As Hughes believes that corporate purpose is often easy to understand but difficult to action, she wanted Santander’s evolved sense of purpose to be communicated as nine separate behaviours – described in the language staff themselves used and easy to perform.

“Having the buzzwords of the moment easily lose impact and I think that’s the reason our words have worked so effectively, they are the words of our colleagues,” she says.

It’s really important for people today that they feel more purposeful in their job, it helps them to feel satisfied and much more motivated

 


How to create a purpose that works for your firm?

If you’ve got a shiny new company purpose and set of values, or are in the process of creating them, considering how they interplay with your talent – both incumbent and future – is crucial. Nicholas Pearce, Clinical Associate Professor of Management and Organisations at Kellogg School of Management, a US-based business school, believes purpose can actually play a crucial role in employer branding and talent attraction. “The best companies are ones that not only have a purpose for themselves but also attract and hire people whose individual sense of purpose aligns with the company’s purpose,” he told Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) Ideacast podcast, in April this year.

Plaxton adds that purpose should be closely aligned with the day-to-day business of a firm to have a tangible benefit. “I think if it’s something that’s just done on the side as a CSR initiative, that people can get involved with every now and then, then it doesn’t have the same value as integrating it in some ways into what you do and therefore the purpose kind of needs to be tied into what you do as a business and what you’re trying to achieve beyond profit,” she said.

Hughes explains that employers should also work to ensure that purpose doesn’t just seem like a branding exercise. “I think there is a risk it will be seen as jumping on the bandwagon ‘Oh we’ve got to be purpose led, we’ve got to follow brand values’ and we have to make sure we do that genuinely and not just do it after reading the latest management books and following suit or trends from competitors,” she added.

Is your purpose setting your apart from other employers?
According to Pearce, “an organisation’s purpose should distinguish it from other organistions. But why is the ‘why of a company’ important, beside differentiating a business from competitors? Apart from having a commercial benefit - consumers are increasingly drawn to brands that they perceive will contribute to their wellbeing and quality of life; a recent Porter Novelli Company survey found that over seven in 10 Millennials prefer brands that drive social and environmental change, and in 2019 they will soon be the biggest consumer demographic – it can set you apart in the war for talent.

Data from a 2018 MSD study, a UK-based pharmaceutical firm, found that three-quarters of workers would be happier working with a clear purpose. This tallies with 2016 LinkedIn figures which found that over a third of users describe themselves as purpose-driven. In fact, it appears that purpose is so important that four in 10 employees aged between 13 and 24 would take a pay cut if they could move to a purpose-driven firm. Even Pearce adds that “a lot of people, particularly Millennials, who are making employment decisions not based on profit potential.”

It's clear: purpose and values can be useful, if communicated in the right way, and matched to how the firm already operates and goes about business. However, it’s got to come from the core if it is to work.


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