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How to help staff find purpose in their work


Beyond money, purpose is what makes most of us stick with our jobs. Jerene Ang on how you can help your team find theirs.

Beyond the money and benefits, a sense of purpose is what makes most of us stick with our jobs.

In fact, according to a 2014 survey by CareerBuilder, 51% would still keep working even if they won the lottery, with 76% saying they would keep working because their job provides them with – you guessed it – a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

More recently, the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Annual Survey 2017 revealed globally that 40.6% of more than 20,000 respondents considered a sense of purpose/impact on society as their most important criteria when looking for a job. Among these, those aged 22-26 (35%) and 27-30 (29%) were the most likely to say so, with 20% of those aged 18-22 and 17% of those aged 31-35 sharing the same sentiment.

Keeping in mind ManpowerGroup’s analysis of UN population data that shows by 2020 Millennials will make up 35% of the global workforce, it is imperative employers give them the sense of purpose they are looking for. Here are some ways to do so.

Align business decisions with a company mission

When I spoke to Ana Cardoso, VP of human resources, emerging markets business unit, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, for the May edition's cover story, one thing that stood out was the company’s patient-centricity. As a pharmaceutical company, Takeda defines its mission as “to strive towards better health and a brighter future for people worldwide through leading innovation in medicine”.

In line with that, the firm follows a decision making framework (patient, trust, reputation, business) which places the patient first, helping bring a different mindset to the organisation.

Of course, not every company may have as clear or meaningful a mission as Takeda, and you may not be able to change your organisation’s mission. But, that doesn’t prevent you from coming up with a mission for the HR department and aligning departmental processes and decision making to that mission.

Learning from Takeda’s example, this can help your team members see why what they do matters, and how they are crucial in achieving goals – of the department, company or society as a whole.

Ensure accountability

Sometimes a mission statement alone is enough. Other times, you need to really carve out the responsibilities. You may have set the HR department’s mission as to serve employees, but if a team member is stuck entering data for days on end, they may lose sight of that mission pretty quickly. So another way of injecting meaning into your employees’ work is to make them accountable for something.

When I asked Cardoso about who owns the developmental initiatives, I was pleasantly surprised at how clearly responsibilities are defined. She said: “We then have the HR function in EM who is responsible for DNA, while at the area and country level, the local HR will be responsible.”

She added this helps them know they are playing an important role.

Communication is key

The next step is to communicate with your staff and answer their queries. Remember, no matter how meaningful the mission statement, how nicely it connects to the processes and how clearly responsibilities are defined, it is moot if employees don’t even know what it is.

Again, as Cardoso said, it is not just about setting up the strategy, it is also about the followup. She revealed the company invests significantly on explaining its journey to people once the direction is set by the CEO.

So, set up regular meetings with your team and communicate. For example, our team at Human Resources has weekly meetings where we set targets, prioritise tasks and share feedback.

In my humble opinion, addressing our targets during these meetings has helped our team understand how much our work is contributing to the company’s target. Personally, this helps me assign a meaning to our endless rush to meet deadlines. I hope you can help your staff find this purpose as well.

ALSO READ: Q&A: Ana Cardoso, VP of HR emerging markets BU, Takeda Pharmaceuticals

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