Graham Massey: How to attract the best talent by restoring meaning to work


If the previous decade was all about the rise of the ethical consumer, this decade is surely about the rise of meaningful work.

It makes sense. The more that we buy organic, shop local and support the businesses we love, the more dissonant a 40-hour week of work without a higher purpose starts to feel. This can be true even if the work is well paid and intellectually challenging. Who hasn’t felt that gnawing sense of “what is this all for?” at some point in their career?

This creates a problem for leaders who want to hire – and hang onto – the brightest, most talented and most motivated employees. How can business leaders restore meaning to work?

The answer is through purpose.

We believe that every business has a purpose beyond profit – a reason to exist other than to make money. The future belongs to companies who realise this and put purpose at the heart of their business and brand strategy.

Having a clear sense of purpose helps you attract the right people to your business, keep them there and get the most out of their talents. Here’s why:

#1 Purpose lets people do good

Fewer and fewer people are satisfied with a system that lets them stay true to their beliefs in their spare time, but asks them to switch that part of themselves off when they arrive at the office.

This is particularly true of under-35s. A 2015 Global Tolerance study showed that 62 per cent of under-35s want to work at organisations that have a positive impact on the world. Even more significant, 53 per cent said that they would work harder if their company benefitted society.

This doesn’t mean that you have to turn your accountancy firm into a wind farm in order to attract top talent. The beauty of purpose is that it unlocks the potential for any business to become a force for good, whether it’s Unilever “making sustainable living commonplace” or Lego “inspiring and developing the builders of tomorrow”.

All you have to do is find the human need that your core business serves – your “why”, not your “what” – and make that purpose absolutely central to business and brand, including your “employer brand”. This will attract talented people who understand and share your goals.

#2 Purpose gives people clarity

Of course, just “doing good” is not enough – otherwise no charity would ever have a problem keeping its employees happy.

Purpose does more. As we say at The House, “purpose brings clarity, and clarity brings peace”.

A strong, well-communicated sense of organisational purpose puts everyone on the same page, increases internal confidence in the business and thus helps you retain talent.

In fact, a 2014 Deloitte study found that employees at purposeful firms were more likely to believe that their firm would deliver strong growth and returns over the long-term (83 per cent vs 49 per cent), more optimistic about the firm’s ability to stay ahead of disruption (83 per cent vs 42 per cent) and to remain or become market leaders (80 per cent vs 48 per cent) than those at non-purposeful firms.

Purpose allows employees to see how their work fits into the bigger picture, how each task and each target contributes to a greater whole. Not just as a cog in a machine, but as part of a story: part of a movement towards an inspiring future.

#3 Purpose opens the door to greater employee creativity

Embracing and communicating your business’s purpose will inspire employees to work more creatively by fostering a culture of ownership and innovation.

From the C-Suite to the mailroom, employees with a strong grasp of the company’s purpose are much better at looking beyond the immediate task or the short-term target and understanding how to nurture the fundamental health and direction of the business. In our work with clients, we’ve also seen how a strong purpose can dissolve ‘siloed thinking’ and help different divisions collaborate more effectively.

Finally, by setting out a clear business purpose you are inviting your employees to think about how their own personal purpose fits into their work. This in turn provides common ground for truly meaningful dialogue about career and personal development.

The world of work is changing – and about time. People increasingly want to bring their “whole self” to work, and enlightened business leaders will clear the path to let them do just that. Businesses who make purpose their beacon will be the ones that attract and retain the best talent in the future.

Graham Massey is the business head of The House, a consultancy that believes valuable businesses are born out of purpose.