How Purpose in the Workplace Offers North Star for HR Leaders

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It’s no secret that having a job that you’re passionate about can make a huge difference in your life. Great Place To Work® research has found that having a sense of meaning in a job can have an incredibly positive impact on employee retention and business success. Employees who feel a sense of purpose in their work are more likely to stay with the company, which can have a positive effect on the organization’s bottom line.

Additionally, the passion and enthusiasm of employees who find meaning in what they do can contribute to a more productive and creative work environment. These work environments are often characterized by an environment of trust, collaboration, and purpose. Leaders in these organizations create trust by being transparent, communicating openly, and consistently following through on their commitments.

Purpose is the cornerstone of this relationship, with everyone having a shared understanding of the organization’s mission and how their individual efforts contribute to the greater good. When this sense of purpose is present, great things can happen.

When you pull back the curtain on great workplaces — where leaders have built trust with employees and workers give extra to help the organization innovate and grow — the key ingredient is purpose.

In Great Place To Work research, the biggest indicator of whether an employee will stay in their job is whether they find their work meaningful. If they feel their day-to-day is not meaningful — if it’s “just a job” — they’re far less likely to want to stay with their company.

How do you create a sense of purpose for employees and what does it look like when employees are truly connected to meaningful work? That’s the focus of a new report from Great Place To Work: “The Power of Purpose in the Workplace.”

What are the benefits of purpose?

Employees who report that their work is more than “just a job” are two to six times more likely to stay with their organization long-term.

Only 52% of workers at average U.S. workplaces say they plan to stay at their company for a long time, according to a 2021 market survey of 14,000 global employees. Among the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For®, that number jumps to 86%.

Employees with meaningful work are also more likely to report being in a high state of well-being. Only 16% of employees at typical U.S. companies said they were in this highest state of wellness in a Johns Hopkins study of 14,000 people from 37 countries. For the 100 Best Companies, that jumps to 58%.  The biggest gaps in their experience? Purpose and connection.

The data is unequivocal on the need for meaningful work. Its presence is what sets apart the best workplaces regardless of geography or industry. When an employee says their work lacks meaning, it often indicates a gap in how different groups experience the workplace. Millennial workers are less likely to report that their work has special meaning, even when they work for great workplaces. In Great Place To Work research, only 79% of millennials report meaningful work compared to 90% of baby boomer workers.

Does purpose bring profit?

Companies that embrace purpose have been shown to reap the financial rewards — if they have clear leadership. In a Harvard Business School study using Great Place To Work data, it wasn’t enough for employees to report meaningful work. The financial returns (beating the market by 6.9%) only came when employees also said, “management makes its expectations clear.”


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Ted Kitterman

Ted Kitterman is a content manager for Great Place to Work®. Ted has experience covering the workplace, business communications, public relations, internal communications, work culture, employee well-being, brand purpose and more. His work shines a light on the unparalleled data and insights offered by Great Place to Work’s decades of research, helping the company share its vision of a great place to work For All™.

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To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.