The strong business case for giving employees a sense of purpose

Employees who have a sense of purpose in their lives and careers are better workers and healthier than their peers who don’t have a purpose, and their attitudes can boost a business’s bottom line.

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These were the findings shared Wednesday by Dr. Britt Andreatta, CEO of 7th Mind Company and author of a series of books on neuroscience in the workplace, in her HR Tech Virtual keynote address “Wired to Become: The Neuroscience of Purpose.” The free, online event runs through Friday. Register here.

Related: Britt Adreatta explains purpose as a path to innovation, profitability

Purpose is an overarching sense of what matters in a person’s life, according to Andreatta. “It’s driven by their core values and gives their life a sense of meaning and acts as a north star,” said Andreatta. “It even helps us know when we veered off the path and that there’s no longer purpose in our lives and work.”

Today’s push for careers with a sense of purpose is being driven by millennials and Generation Z workers who are poised to be the dominant demographic in the workforce.

According to McKinsey & Co. podcast, the market research firm found that 70% of people surveyed said that they define their purpose through their work and millennials are likely to see their work as their life calling. Likewise, 71% of millennials rank finding work that is meaningful as one of the top three factors that they consider for defining career success; 30% rank it as their No. 1 factor.

“Millennials have been driving this for a while, and they will be 75% of the workforce by 2024. We’re almost there,” she said.

Millennials and their priorities cannot be ignored. Andreatta says these employees are the first generation to prioritize purpose over salary and to expect work cultures that are built on social purpose and consistent application of values.

“They are obsessed with authenticity and will actively publicize ugly corporate cultures,” she said.

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The benefits of a purpose-driven life

They might be on something. According to various studies, people with a sense of purpose in their work lives report several types of health benefits: a 50% reduced risk of dementia, 72% reduced risk for stroke and slower age-related decline. Having a purpose also reduces depression in both adults and teens, and addicts who enter rehab with a sense of purpose show a 50% increase in avoiding relapse.

These positive results help with health costs. People with a sense of purpose have reduced hospital stays by 17%, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease by 44%, reduced risk of heart attacks by 48% and lower levels of inflammation.

“They also are more likely to engage in self-care and get their regular screenings and exercise. In addition, they just live longer,” says Andreatta.

At the other end of the spectrum, a lack of purpose in life and work—especially as the global pandemic continues into its third year—has been found to fuel the Great Resignation, according to Andretta.

Nearly seven out of 10 employees are reflecting on their purpose because of COVID-19 and its death toll. “Half of American employees are reconsidering the work that they want to do,” she said.

Having a sense of purpose also allows people to thrive—not just survive—in tough times. Employees who say that they have a sense of purpose at work are:

  • nearly seven times more likely to report higher resilience;
  • four times more likely to report better health;
  • six times more likely to want to stay at the company and one and a half times more likely to go above and beyond to make their company successful.

In addition, Google found 125% higher productivity among inspired employees and PwC reported 400% higher performance in purpose-driven companies compared to their peers.

“We know that people who have a sense of purpose have a 50% stronger leadership potential because they’re ‘other-focused’ and not self-focused. They’re going to do a better job leading teams,” she said.

While CEOs and C-suite executives can provide a sense of purpose—younger workers are known to look for a company’s mission statement before they go on job interviews—bad managers can crush a worker’s spirit and sense of purpose. After all, they are the ones who create the employee experience.

“When it’s not good, managers do a lot of damage and this is true across every industry,” said Andreatta. She added that 57% of workers say they’ve quit a job because of a bad boss.

“Study after study proves that people leave a boss, not a company. If you’re seeing a lot of attrition right now, you have a manager problem,” she warned.

Andreatta pointed to a survey conducted before the COVID-19 outbreak; in it, one in four people said they dreaded going to work. “I feel that this number has increased during the pandemic,” she said. “It’s much higher now, which is what’s driving the Great Resignation.”

Watch the full session here.

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