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Should You Focus on Meaningful Work to Attract and Keep Top Employees?

Ahu Yildirma

Vice President and Head of the ADP Research Institute

More than ever before, North American employees want to do meaningful work and look for organizations that share their desire to have an impact on the world around them. According to ADP Research Institute’s® report, The Evolution of Work: The Changing Nature of the Global Workforce, one of the top 19 workplace trends in the coming years will be people choosing to "spend their time working on things that are of personal interest to them or have a broader impact on society," and an overwhelming 81 percent of employees view that trend in a positive light.

Generational Trait or Broader Trend?

The prevailing opinion is that millennials are driving the trend toward meaningful work. For instance, according to a survey from Virgin Pulse, 73 percent of younger workers seek meaningful work at an organization with a mission they support.

Additional research, however, shows that employees of other generations are equally interested in doing work that matters.

In a multigenerational, global study of IBM employees, researchers found that there was no significant difference in the number of millennials and the number of workers in other generations who want to do meaningful work. For instance, 22 percent of millennials said they want to help solve social and/or environmental challenges, but so did 24 percent of baby boomers and 20 percent of Gen-Xers. Similarly, 25 percent of millennials said they want to make a positive impact on their organizations, along with 23 percent of baby boomers and 21 percent of Gen-Xers.

Capitalize on Workers' Desire for Meaning

Because workers of all ages seem to value work they can be proud of, a growing number of employers are finding ways to make work more meaningful and communicate it to job candidates, increasing employee satisfaction and employee retention.

Here are four ways to start focusing on work that matters:

1) Time for passion projects. Google famously offered its employees "20 percent time," meaning they could devote one-fifth of their working hours to developing their own passion projects at the organization. While the practice has been revised and refined recently, it has led to products such as Gmail, AdSense and Google News over the years. Even if your organization can't afford to allow employees one day each week to pursue projects that matter to them, look for ways to give them opportunities to pursue projects of their own choosing, such as electing to serve on a specific committee or facilitating opportunities to complete temporary assignments in new departments.

2) Opportunities to give back. Many organizations are involved in community service or outreach in some capacity, but are your outreach efforts meaningful to your employees? If you want them to participate, make sure employees care about the causes your organization is supporting. For instance, you might consider polling employees to find out which community service causes they'd like to support. You could also offer employees a set amount of paid time off to participate in volunteer work of their choosing. For example, ADP has a Volunteer Paid Time-Off Program that led to "30,000 hours of service to [their] supported non-profit agencies and charity partners" in 2013 alone.

3) Carefully considered messaging. The way in which you communicate about the work your organization does to potential employees can give them a sense of the impact your organization has on the world. For instance, if you manufacture roofing materials, you could simply say, "Our company makes shingles," or you could say, "We make it possible for millions of families to have a reliable roof over their heads." Don't make false claims, but do learn to view the work you do from the perspective of making a difference—and communicate that impact to your employees and prospects.

4) Career planning and advancement. Millennials—and many employees of other age groups—are not just looking for a job; they're looking for an opportunity to learn, grow and build a career they can be proud of. They are more likely to seek work at your organization if you provide ongoing training, development and career-building opportunities, including regular feedback and job rotations or promotions. A major component of this career track should also include a clear path to eventual retirement. While older workers traditionally view retirement as a time period, millennials view it more as an accomplishment. Research from Bank of America indicates that millennials are more likely to plan to retire when they reach a certain financial goal, as opposed to their older counterparts, who are more likely to plan to retire based on reaching a certain age.

Employees and prospective candidates are interested in finding work that matters—both personally and in the world around them—so HR leaders should work to provide jobs that are meaningful and chances for employees to make a difference in their community. It can be as simple as focusing on the meaningful work your organization already does or providing time for workers to develop their own meaningful projects. Either way, a focus on meaning can increase employee satisfaction and employee retention, improve recruitment and help everyone feel proud of the work they're doing.

To learn more about the partnership between ADP and Cornerstone, join our Learning Management webinar on August 9th or visit our partner page.

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