Now more than ever, workers want ‘purpose’ – but what exactly does that mean?

The world of work has changed. The pandemic accelerated the changes that were already happening. The lockdown enabled all of us to reflect on our relationship with work, what it meant for us and what it did for us. So, what people want from work itself has changed forever, let alone what they want from us as employers.

For years, people talked about the Millennials driving the ‘rise of purpose’ as a lever in talent attraction and engagement. (I’ve never subscribed to the view that a single generation was entirely responsible for this, but let’s leave that for another day!) However, in the post-pandemic world, ‘purpose’ will no longer be a lever, it will be a central facet in the employee/employer relationship.

Treat people as individuals

But as ever, there is a trap lying in wait for us! It’s the temptation to become slightly myopic and see meaningful work solely through the CSR lens. Of course, the societal effect a business delivers is important, but in order to really nail this we need to learn from our Belonging, Inclusion & Diversity colleagues and think of our employees more individually. We need to talk to them to understand what makes work meaningful for them personally. When we do, we will appreciate the breadth of their definitions – it could be societal, or it could be doing good for themselves, their mental health, their family, or equally their team.

How employees derive meaning from work is personal and it will change over time as their personal circumstances change. As employee comms professionals, we need to resist the ‘one size fits all’, CSR-led definition of purpose and show our people that we have listened to them, understand them and want them to have an individual relationship with us.

Levels of employee expectation have risen, and we need to raise our game to meet them. So, let’s all pause, and take some time to understand how our people think and feel about work. Then let’s create comms as diverse as their definitions and put the ‘me’ in meaningful.



Simon McLoughlin