Climate change, plastic pollution, the pandemic. What do these types of issues have in common? They have become part of the psyche of a large proportion of people across the planet, which in turn has influenced their attitudes and behaviours in many ways.
One of those ways is to ask what purpose there is in their work. People are increasingly looking to their employers to see what meaning and purpose they bring to their businesses' activities. After all, we spend a considerable amount of time at work, and we want to know that what we do stands for something.
Purpose in the private sector is becoming a big deal in terms of business success. According to a 2020 Deloitte Insights report on global marketing, purpose-driven companies grow three times faster than their competitors while still retaining high employee and customer satisfaction.
Put simply, people want to work for companies that have a purpose beyond the generation of profit - ie, what they are doing also benefits society. All types of businesses could lose out on attracting and retaining top talent because they can't demonstrate that their reason for existing isn't meaningful in some way.
Consumers link brand purpose with social and environmental issues. Business For Purpose, a US-based organisation, reports from research that consumers believe that businesses can increase profits and improve social aspects of their community at the same time. Employees, particularly younger staff, are becoming more concerned about climate change and want to work for companies that have goals to reduce their impact on the planet.
Ignoring these growing concerns risks a significant reduction in the recruitment talent pool. Research consistently suggests that the majority of millennials want to work for employers that contribute to social causes and ideals. However, there is evidence that businesses have more to do in this area. A 2020 Purpose Pulse report states that only 34% of young people trust CEOs to engage in the issues facing their generation.
Businesses have responded with job advertisements and websites that promote their values to let customers and candidates know what they stand for. However, job seekers have become wise to this trend and want to know that the companies to which they are applying are really 'walking the talk'.
The Deloitte Insights report mentioned earlier goes on to say that authenticity is the key to leading with purpose. If you are looking to establish an authentic culture around purpose with your employees, find out what is important to them. Is it the carbon footprint of the materials the company uses? Is it the level of waste generated by business activities? Or is it about the types of employment contracts offered to workers?
Authenticity links to making a difference, being honest, living the values and standing for something. Areas where companies can progress these types of issues, are through initiatives such as increasing diversity, building links with local charities, and reducing the carbon footprint on key activities.
The good news is that SMEs are making strong progress in becoming more socially responsible. Like anything else, starting with the small things can help to make a difference - examples include using low-energy light bulbs, installing energy-efficient heating, and going paperless. Engaging with staff and working on social responsibility with them will benefit business performance, attract new talent, and improve job satisfaction and staff retention rates.