Everybody needs a purpose in life—in fact, it’s a crucial part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, driving self-actualization through the fulfillment of one’s potential. Whether it’s personal or professional, this sense of meaning has an enormous impact on one’s actions, behavior, feelings, and overall wellbeing.
In the context of work, a fulfilling career can have a positive impact on key metrics like productivity, satisfaction, and retention. That’s why nearly 80% of business leaders agree that purpose is essential to organizational success—however, only 34% of these same leaders have actually embedded their organization’s purpose and values into its decision-making architecture.
At the same time, only 18% of employees find a sense of fulfillment in their current role, according to McKinsey. So what are the obstacles holding them back from meaningful work, what are the benefits of providing it—and, most importantly, how can leadership teams help break down these barriers?
The Distinction Between Purpose and Career
Career purpose is the sense of meaning an employee finds in their professional life and career path. Rather than working for survival or financial success, employees want to feel passionate about what they do and know that it has a positive impact on the world. This purpose-driven career or “dream job” would align with their specific values, skill sets, and goals, unlocking their full potential.
Of course, many people find meaning outside of work through things like hobbies, passion projects, or volunteering. This is known as life purpose, and although it’s not mutually exclusive to career purpose, it’s often compartmentalized for the 55% of employees who believe their personal purpose and values are often disregarded at work.
While it’s important to find meaning in all aspects of life, a lack of fulfillment at work could lead to extreme dissatisfaction—and ultimately attrition. After all, full-time employees spend roughly eight hours a day at work, and a career change might be tempting if they feel that time is wasted.
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Why Is Career Purpose Essential for Employees?
According to Gallup, 2020 saw the first annual decline in employee engagement in a decade, and it’s continued to drop each year since then, with the most recent data showing just 32% of employees feeling actively engaged.
Without a sense of purpose at work, employees lose enthusiasm for their current jobs, leading to negative outcomes like absenteeism, poor performance, and even higher turnover as they look for other career opportunities. This is especially true for young professionals who cite a lack of career development and purpose as some of the top reasons for leaving their jobs.
On the other hand, career purpose can energize employees and provide them with direction. By providing workforces with fulfilling career or growth opportunities, employers can help employees achieve their long-term goals and reach their full potential.
The Business Benefits of Purposeful Work
From an organizational standpoint, providing meaningful work opportunities can do more for workforces than simply staving off low engagement and attrition. A purpose-driven career journey can foster success for both employees and employers.
Here are just some reasons why employers benefit from offering fulfilling career opportunities:
Purpose is a powerful motivator, and facilitating it at work is an excellent way to improve employee engagement.
Employees want to know that what they’re doing is making a positive difference in the world, and they want to feel valued and supported. This intentionality often brings dedication—and with it better performance. In contrast, those who lack fulfillment can quickly burn out at work and are more likely to leave.
One way to provide purpose and motivation is to establish a clearly defined career path for each position. Talking with employees about their specific short- and long-term career goals allows employers to understand what success looks like for each worker and develop an actionable plan to help them achieve it.
Create a Supportive Company Culture
When an employee has clear goals and an employer who actively supports their growth throughout their career journey, it’s easier for them to feel enthusiastic about their job and career path.
But beyond the individual, this supportive environment also helps foster a more positive company culture.
Thoughtful encouragement from leadership sets an example for effective communication, collaboration, and problem-solving. And as newcomers become seasoned employees, they can pass along their knowledge and advice, becoming career coaches for new waves of workers.
This results in a welcoming environment where employees feel empowered to share ideas, express themselves freely, and take initiative on purpose-driven projects.
Attract High-Quality Candidates
A purpose-driven workplace not only improves motivation and company culture, but it also attracts top candidates—especially as employee priorities shift toward shared values and culture alignment.
One of the best ways to demonstrate an organization’s values and culture is by offering a robust career development program. After all, if a company wants to attract top talent, it needs to offer incentives candidates can’t find at any other workplace.
This type of workforce development is especially important to young professionals, including Gen Z and millennials—nearly three-fourths of whom are considering a career transition due to a lack of mobility and development opportunities at their current organization. If an employer can offer a clear career journey with actionable steps to climb the corporate ladder, it can be the deciding factor for many high-quality candidates.
On the other side of recruitment is retention. Having a shared career purpose in the workplace is a significant factor in maintaining company loyalty and reducing attrition.
When employees share a connection to their organization’s purpose and values, they experience the motivation they need to continue their critical work. Moreover, the company culture and engagement benefits can also translate to increased retention.
But a positive culture and meaningful work won’t last without continued effort on the part of employers. Workers want to feel seen, valued, and respected, which is why it’s crucial to acknowledge those who embody an organization’s purpose and exhibit its values. Doing so regularly shows employees they’re appreciated and encourages others to act with intention.
Engaged, passionate, and purpose-driven employees put more effort and energy into the work they do each day. This ultimately leads to greater productivity, as they learn to make better use of their time and skills.
And while some leaders may fear that investing in career development will encourage employees to leave with their newfound skills and capabilities, it often does the opposite. When employees learn new skills, it adds mutual value for both the worker and the employer.
Not only does this upskilling increase engagement and productivity, but even if an employee does leave, it shows other candidates that the organization cares about employees as people and professionals.
Taken altogether, these benefits offer organizations enormous potential to maximize employee wellbeing while improving business outcomes. However, developing and fostering career purpose in the workplace is no simple task.
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How to Instill a Sense of Purpose in the Office
Making work meaningful is a vital part of maintaining a motivated, productive, and engaged workforce. Organizations can cultivate this sense of purpose through a variety of actions and strategies that align with both individual and company goals.
By creating a work environment that fosters personal and professional growth, employees are more inclined to feel connected to the company’s overall mission. Here are six ways employers can permeate a sense of purpose throughout their workplace:
1. Clearly Articulate Company Mission and Values
The first step in instilling meaning and purpose in the workplace is to effectively communicate mission statements and core values. But employers should also go beyond mere words by entrenching these principles into their company’s culture and its actions.
In other words, they need to not only share the vision and impact the organization has, but also lead by example to foster greater meaning in daily work.
2. Help Employees Set Career Goals
Without a clear path of mobility, it’s easy for employees to feel uncertain about their futures. Employers can also nurture this sense of purpose by helping employees set career goals.
It’s crucial to take a holistic approach to goal-setting that considers all aspects of overall employee wellness. Encourage them to find and analyze patterns in their interests, skills, and strengths to help them better understand different aspects of a role they might like or dislike.
However, when acting as a career coach, it’s important to adapt to employees’ aspirations rather than steering career advice in a particular direction.
3. Encourage Career Development
To further promote fulfillment in the workplace, employers can encourage employees to explore various roles and functions within the organization. Providing access to internal resources, training, networking events, and other career development opportunities helps employees acquire new skills and expertise in different areas while also meeting company needs.
Allowing employees to freely move vertically or laterally within an organization also encourages them to seek professional growth and advancement, adding more value while boosting engagement, productivity, and retention.
4. Measure and Discuss Performance
As employees progress on their chosen career path, it’s vital to regularly measure and discuss progress and performance.
Rather than a traditional performance review, which can cause undue anxiety, regular one-on-one meetings offer a more casual platform for open conversations around job satisfaction, career goals, and progress toward those goals. Outside of work-related topics, these meetings also offer an opportunity to get to know an employee’s personal interests and aspirations.
Understanding this larger picture and integrating it into a career development plan not only demonstrates a genuine commitment to an employee’s growth, but it also enriches overall occupational wellbeing.
5. Promote Open, Honest Communication
During meetings (and in general), it’s crucial to facilitate a safe, honest, and transparent environment in which everyone feels free to express their feelings. An open-door policy can help, but only if employees are comfortable sharing ideas, concerns, or feedback.
It’s essential to actively listen to employees and validate their experiences. When employees feel heard and valued as people, it cultivates a sense of trust and enables greater fulfillment.
6. Support Career Purpose Through Wellness Initiatives
Finally, employers can support their employees’ sense of career purpose by implementing various programs that prioritize a holistic approach to employee wellness.
To foster overall fulfillment in all aspects of employees’ lives, these programs should target the six pillars of wellbeing: physical, mental/emotional, occupational, social, financial, and purpose. Career growth initiatives discussed here only touch on the occupational aspect of holistic wellness—however, each pillar is essential, and professional development is often a great place to start due to the value it provides both parties.
Incorporate Career Purpose into a Holistic Employee Wellness Program
Looking to infuse purpose into your workplace wellness program? At WellRight, we’re here to help employers transform their work environment and empower their employees with tailored, purpose-driven wellness programs that address all aspects of wellbeing.
To learn more about career purpose and holistic wellness, reach out to our team today.