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Blaire Palmer

That People Thing

Author, speaker, agent provocateur for senior leaders and their teams

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Deloitte 2024 Gen Z and Millennial Survey reveals purpose-driven generation

According to Deloitte’s Gen Z and Millennial Survey, today’s younger employees are highly purpose driven. If we don’t provide opportunities for our employees to find personal meaning in what they do, we risk being unable to attract or retain purpose-driven people who willingly go over and above for the business.
woman standing under blue sky: Are you harming your business by shunning purpose

Business leaders have been aware of the importance of ‘organisational purpose’ for a long time. 

The ‘Mission Statement’ was the must-have accessory for forward looking companies in the 80s. Added to this was the ‘Vision Statement’, and now we often hear company leaders talk about organisational purpose. 

But there is a big difference between having an Organisational Purpose Statement on your website and having an organisational purpose. More than that, even if your organisation is true to its stated purpose that doesn’t mean the people who work for you share the same purpose or derive a sense of purpose from their work. 

That matters now more than ever. 

86% of Gen Z and 89% of millennials say having a sense of purpose is very or somewhat important to their overall job satisfaction and wellbeing

A purpose-driven generation

The Deloitte 2024 Gen Z and Millennial Survey found that today’s younger employees are highly purpose driven. More than previous generations they are ‘willing to turn down assignments and employers based on their personal ethics and beliefs’. 

In fact, 86% of Gen Z and 89% of millennials say having a sense of purpose is very or somewhat important to their overall job satisfaction and wellbeing. And 50% of Gen Zs and 43% of millennials have rejected an assignment or project based on their personal beliefs. Furthermore, 44% of Gen Zs and 40% of millennials have turned down an employer based on their personal ethics or beliefs. 

What this means is that these generations may well be choosing to work for you because of a sense of shared ethics or beliefs. Your claimed environmental credentials, inclusivity practices or support for employee mental health and wellbeing. But they want to see this in action on a day-to-day basis. They are not afraid to call you out if you willingly sacrifice those beliefs because it is more profitable, convenient or comfortable to do so. 

At the same time, one in five (22% of Gen Zs and 18% of millennials) who rejected a task felt they weren’t listened to and had to complete the assignment anyway. A similar proportion said they subsequently experienced a reduction in workplace opportunities available to them. 

The importance of organisational purpose

It shouldn’t need restating, but it clearly does. A team is a group of people working together on a shared work product. 

Unlike a working group, where individuals report to a strong leader on their own individual work products, a team works together to achieve a shared purpose. One person cannot be successful if the others are not. A true team solves problems together, driven by their shared purpose. 

In an organisation, when the purpose is clear, people know what they are working towards. When they make decisions, they understand that those decisions are supposed to serve the organisational purpose. 

But when the organisational purpose is sacrificed for short-term wins, things get very confusing. People start to distrust the stated organisational purpose and develop their own purpose. 

When the purpose is clear, people know what they are working towards

Getting priorities straight

Maybe, reading between the lines, they realise the true organisational purpose is “make a quick buck regardless of the impact on the environment/people/long term objectives of this organisation”. So they start to prioritise that instead. 

Or maybe, as the Deloitte survey suggests, they see this disconnect, call it out and are punished by the organisation as a result. This results in them walking away and seeking an employer who will be more courageous when there is pressure to ignore its stated purpose. 

In diluting or sacrificing its organisational purpose for short-term financial gain, an organisation is ignoring longer-term financial loss. 

Being unable to attract or retain purpose-driven people who would willingly go over and above for the business if they felt their ethics and beliefs aligned is costly for a business. 

Employer brand is important today. Just read your Glassdoor reviews to see how openly disgruntled employees will talk about the culture of your business. Those same Gen Zs and Millennials care about this as consumers too. They know which companies are great places to work and this influences their buying decisions too. 

Employer brand is important today

The importance of personal purpose

We are increasingly asking employees to use their initiative, to innovate, to take risks, to collaborate. And to do so without constant supervision. We are asking them to bring their whole selves to work. They are more than willing to do so if they believe in the mission of the business and its values. 

This is particularly true of Millennial leaders. Those in more senior positions are most likely to feel purpose is important (92% for those in leadership positions versus 82% of those in junior roles). 

Those in leadership positions across both generations are even more likely to derive “a lot” of purpose from their work (31% of Gen Zs and 39% of Millennials) than those in mid-level (24% of Gen Zs and 30% of Millennials) or junior (20% of Gen Zs and 22% of Millennials) roles. 

So, not only must an organisation be true to its organisational purpose, but it must provide opportunities for individuals to find personal meaning in what they do. 

Impact can empower

Often this comes from having an impact. When leaders see that they have made a difference through changes they have implemented they report a greater sense of purpose. 

More than one in three (37%) Millennial leaders say they have made good progress implementing the changes they envisioned before taking on a leadership position. A further fifth (18%) say they have completely implemented the changes they envisioned. 

When organisations get heavy handed with command and control, forcing people to take on projects they don’t believe in, ignoring the values of the people that work for them, or disempowering them from leading on initiatives that they believe in, they undermine this hugely desirable trait they claim to be desperate for. 

Every time an organisation demonstrates that a person’s sense of purpose is only important when it’s convenient to the business, it undermines trust in the integrity of that business. 

And once you lose trust, it’s hard to win it back. The more an organisation’s words and deeds misalign, the more disillusioned and distrusting your people become. And the harder it is to get them to pull out all the stops for you. 

An organisation … must provide opportunities for individuals to find personal meaning in what they do

What can HR do? 

I’ve said before that HR professionals must be the advocates for the culture and values of the organisation. Of course, all leaders should be doing this but no one else has it written into their role like HR. You need to be the ones standing for the ethos, purpose and principles the business claims to stand for. 

That means, every time there is a disconnect you need to call it out. You need to have, at your fingertips, the true cost of short-term, convenient decisions which undermine the employer brand you claim to care about. 

This isn’t touchy-feely stuff. There are hard metrics here – staff turnover, recruitment stats, diversity stats, Glassdoor reviews, levels of engagement, sick leave and mental health. 

Oh, the humanity

At a time when artificial intelligence (AI) is beginning to have a transformative effect on the work that human employees are going to be doing in our organisations, our humanity is really the only unique contribution a human will bring. In the future, tech can and will do anything that doesn’t require humanity.

You’d better understand the cost of treating people like machines, ignoring their feelings and deep sense of motivation. That’s if you want and need innovation, engagement, people who care, collaboration, great customer service and clever solutions to complex problems which can’t be left to AI to resolve.

There’s no one else in the business charged with spelling out the costs and the risks of this to the venture. That job belongs to you.  

Did you enjoy this article? Read: Self-management part three: Purpose, belonging and culture

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Blaire Palmer

Author, speaker, agent provocateur for senior leaders and their teams

Read more from Blaire Palmer