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Organizational Change
Employees Demanding More Meaning from Their Work Than Pre-Pandemic

New report from Allison+Partners, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE and The Harris Poll finds the C-Suite recognizes the imperative for organizational Purpose; yet, lack of alignment across functions threatens impact.

New research released Tuesday reveals how US workers’ priorities have shifted from pre-pandemic times — with 66 percent 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 percent agreeing if their companies were more focused on Purpose, their organization would be more successful. 95 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 today, 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.

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 percent 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. “Yet unfortunately, many organizations have an inconsistent commitment to their Purpose, substantially lessening its impact.”

A company’s purpose increases in importance from pre-pandemic times

The research was conducted online in the US in February and March 2022 by The Harris Poll among 352 B2B and B2C business professionals in a variety of industries. 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.

More than a third (35 percent) of employees said 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 percent 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 percent believe companies focused on Purpose will be more successful compared with those that are not.

  • 86 percent say having "meaning" in their work is more important than ever before.

  • 84 percent 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 today,” said Whitney Dailey, EVP 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 percent of C-suite leaders believe greater emphasis on Purpose would lead to greater corporate success, while only 76 percent 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 percent of employees agreeing their employer’s Purpose gives their work meaning. But only 36 percent of marketers and 32 percent of strategists agree.

  • 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 percent) employees said companies should double down on Purpose and only 53 percent said their company’s Purpose was mature. Staff want to see companies embed Purpose more deeply (77 percent), behave in ways more aligned with their Purpose (75 percent) and better define organizational Purpose (68 percent).

“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, EVP 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.”

How 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.”