Organizations are increasingly focused on carefully crafting or defining their purpose or overarching non-profit-related goal, which all their products and services play a role in achieving. Below are a few notable examples:
Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
AT&T: “To inspire human progress through the power of communication and entertainment.”
eBay: “To empower people and create economic opportunity for all.”
Ford: “To drive human progress through freedom of movement.”
Part of the goal of organizational purpose is to motivate and engage employees. The assumption is that people will work harder and enjoy their jobs more if they feel that their work is meaningful and contributes to something beyond profits.
To determine whether companies are successfully creating compelling missions that resonate with employees, Wellable asked the large, growing, and dedicated community of human resources professionals, wellness practitioners, and organizational leaders subscribed to the Wellable Newsletter how connected they feel to their organization’s purpose.
How connected do you feel to your organization’s purpose?
Despite companies’ best efforts, most employees are not fully connected to their organization’s purpose. Nearly half (46%) are only somewhat connected, and one-fifth (22%) are not at all connected.
Why Missions Are Missing The Mark
Organizations must develop a better understanding of why their purposes aren’t resonating with their employees. Though there is likely no single, one-size-fits-all explanation, there are several common factors that collectively contribute to this purpose gap.
Employees Don’t Know What Their Organization’s Purpose Is
Employees can’t connect to their organization’s purpose if they don’t know what it is. To address this, employers must highlight their mission through a variety of messaging channels. It should be included beyond the employee handbook, regularly being incorporated in meetings, emails, and even social media activities.
It’s Too Abstract
Some purposes are too vague or broad for employees to easily identify how their daily tasks contribute to them. While these missions may help motivate those in executive positions, they are unlikely to impact employees in other roles.
In response, companies should make their missions more concrete. While “creating economic opportunity for all” sounds important and compelling, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it amounts to. Companies may also want to create more than one mission, tailoring each one to individual departments within the organization.
They Don't Believe Their Organization Is Committed To It
If a company doesn’t appear to care about its purpose, employees won’t either. Fortunately, there are several steps organizations can take to make it clear that their purpose matters to them, including:
Making it a regular topic of conversation
Using purpose as a way to guide problem-solving and strategizing sessions
Posting about relevant topics on social media
Donating to appropriate causes
Asking employees for feedback on how effectively they are fulfilling their mission
It Doesn’t Link Up With Workers’ Values And Aspirations
Knowing about a company’s purpose, understanding how it connects to one’s job, and believing leaders are committed to it are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for feeling connected to it. If what an employee hopes to achieve with their role doesn’t link up with their company’s underlying “why,” they won’t feel connected to its mission.
Employees are unlikely to change their fundamental values and aspirations. This gives companies two options. First, they can learn more about what their employees want and value and adjust their mission accordingly. Second, they can look for purpose alignment when interviewing future employees.
Employees Are Burnt Out
Purpose has a curious relationship with burnout. On the one hand, employees may be less likely to burn out if they feel their job contributes to something they find important. When employees care more about the mission of their company, they may find it easier to cope with stress and overcome obstacles.
On the other hand, if an employee is already burnt out, a sense of purpose might not have these positive effects. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout can cause employees to feel cynical and disillusioned with their jobs and struggle to feel satisfaction from their achievements. These effects can quickly make it difficult for workers to care about their company's mission.
In response, employers must implement effective strategies for preventing and treating burnout. Some examples include:
Increasing job autonomy
Proving comprehensive mental health resources
How Much Purpose Is Paramount?
Purpose is undeniably valuable to employees. According to one study, 72% of workers feel that working at an organization with a purpose they believe in is very important.
The question remains, though, how connected do they need to feel. It could be that workers are primarily looking to avoid working for a company where they feel no connection to its purpose. Once a moderate level of meaning is acquired, other priorities (e.g., work-life balance, flexibility, culture, etc.) might take over.
The answer to this question is not yet settled, and it may differ from one organization to the next. In the meantime, companies should try to assess how much purpose their employees are looking for. With that data in hand, leaders can make an informed decision on whether they need to make adjustments to increase employees’ sense of connection to their organization’s purpose.