“I was looking for a job and then I found a job /
And heaven knows I’m miserable now” — THE SMITHS

The labour market of 1984, when The Smiths first sang those words, looked very different to today. Baby boomers were dominating the workplace in their power suits, while the first millennials were only just learning to walk and talk. The Smiths couldn’t have known at the time how aptly those lyrics would describe today’s workplace, where the millennial babies of 1984 are now the dominant demographic.

Today, the majority of employees aren’t engaged at work and organisations are failing to tap into what really excites their people. And while millennials in particular are known for seeking purpose in their work, they’re not alone. Our research shows that employees rank ‘interesting job’ as the most important job characteristic, defined as the ability to work independently in a ‘job that can help other people’ and in a ‘job that is useful to society’. In other words, to be ‘interesting’ a job has to have a greater purpose beyond profit.

While millennials in particular are known for seeking purpose in their work, they’re not alone. Click To Tweet

Even if you’re clear about the organisation’s purpose, today’s complex and demanding work environment can break the nexus between that wider purpose and the individual. And if employees can’t connect with their purpose in your organisation, they can and will look elsewhere.

The impact of constant disruption and rising stress levels of employees’ morale means organisations can’t sit back and hope that employees will naturally find fulfillment at work. Instead, leaders must actively create the conditions that enable their people to connect with the organisation’s purpose.

The secret to doing this is to get back to basics by re-examining whether your organisation is fit for purpose (not only profit).

  1. Do you have the right people in the right roles?

This might sound simple in practice, but the continual churn of employees through organisations suggests many aren’t getting it right. You create a tight role/person fit when you understand what success looks like in the role and then find a person who has the necessary competencies, traits and drivers for that specific role profile.

Organisations need to take a sophisticated approach to getting this match right, both in terms of understanding the role requirements and in assessing role candidates. If people fit well in their jobs, they’re more likely to find a sense of meaning and purpose, leading to engagement and higher performance.

  1. Are your teams real teams?

Teams should be more than just groups of individuals, creating value as a cohesive unit. Despite this, we consistently see organisations struggle with this: employee opinion data shows teamwork is one of the most challenging areas in people management, dragging on individual’s motivation.

While today’s workplace requires greater collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas than ever before, team structures often work against this, reinforced by reward structures that prioritise individual performance. Creating job/team fit requires a supportive team culture and having the right people processes will help establish these norms.

  1. Do team goals support the organisation’s mission and goals?

Ultimately, for individuals to find meaning in their work, they need to be able to see how their role contributes first to the team and then to the wider organisation. Tying everyday work to the organisation’s mission, vision and values helps to give people a sense of a larger purpose in what they do at work, providing meaning and driving intrinsic motivation.

To cement the link between individual contribution, teamwork and the organisation’s purpose, leaders need to go out of their way to thank people for their efforts, couching their successes not only as wins for the organisation, but for wider society.

To learn more, download The Case for Motivation.

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About Contributor

Brent is an expert in measurement-driven organisational change, employee engagement, and human capital strategy. He has worked with senior teams in 20 countries and 5 continents to design customised measurement systems, diagnose issues, and develop strategies for improving organisational performance.