In November 2015, Imperative, a B Corp that is looking to “double the number of purpose-oriented people in the workforce over the next 10 years”, in collaboration with the New York University, published its 2015 Purpose Workforce Index. The report is based on a survey completed by a sample of 6,332 working adults, aimed at measuring how American workers regard the role of work in their lives: their work orientations.
While 72% of the surveyed workers said they regard work as a means to an end (whether financial gain, social status, or advancement), the other 28% said they see work as a source of personal fulfillment and a way to help others (i.e. they are purpose-oriented),
One characteristic of these purpose-oriented workers is that they are more likely to believe their work makes an impact, so they also tend to have a more positive perception of their jobs.
Moreover, they seek to create meaning even when they do not inherently experience it day-to-day. In fact, the report shows we can find purpose-oriented workers anywhere, though, of course, in some industries their proportion is higher. For example, in the education and non-profit sectors more than 40% of workers are purpose-oriented, while in other industries such retail, utilities, real estate, advertising, and food services they represent less than 20% of the total workforce.
And there are three other things I find particularly inspiring:
1) Women and workers over 55 are significantly more likely to be purpose-oriented than their male or younger counterparts,
2) Purpose-oriented workers tend to be better educated than their peers
3) Being purpose-oriented at work does not necessarily imply an economic sacrifice…
But, where does this interest for purpose-oriented workers comes from?
Different studies evidence that being purpose-oriented and finding meaning in one’s work have significant advantages for both workers and their employers.
The Purpose Workforce Index report shows us how purpose-oriented workers consistently outperform their colleagues in several dimensions: they are 50% more likely to be in leadership positions, and 47% more likely to recommend their employers to others. They also tend to have stronger and more meaningful relationships with colleagues and customers, which is particularly relevant in a volatile scenario where social capital is key for both organizational competitiveness and individual employability.
Furthermore, research by the Energy Project concluded that employees who derive meaning and significance from their work are more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations, report 1.7 times higher job satisfaction, and are 1.4 times more engaged.
All of which is consistent with what we observe in our daily practice at the iOpener Institute where we have statistical evidence that people who feel their jobs have a positive impact on the world also tend to feel more motivated, more effective, and more resilient when times are tough.
Now, in line with Imperative’s aims, and taking into consideration all those advantages, imagine a workforce where purpose-oriented workers are the majority…
At first sight the idea seems to be a utopian dream. Yet, there are reasons to think it’s more than wishful thinking:
First, because millennials, who are already the largest generation in the workforce in many countries, come along with a different set of values. Even if those younger workers don’t declare themselves as being purpose-oriented, our research shows that a fulfilling job is what keeps the Gen Y employee on board, not simply throwing money at them. And we also know that for millennials there is an extremely strong alignment between job fulfillment and feeling that their occupation is doing something worthwhile.
Second, because we know that educators, parents, and companies can influence to a large extent the work orientation of their students, children and employees. We know, for instance, that there is a strong connection between an individual’s work orientation and the perception that person had of her parents’ orientations, while managers and HR professionals in organizations can help employees connect the dots to realize how their jobs have a positive impact on the world.