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Higher Sense of Purpose, Key to Attracting Knowledge Workers

Mar 19, 2015

There’s a paradigm shift underway at American workplaces… away from routine and process oriented tasks towards knowledge workers and a knowledge-based economy that feeds off of employee engagement and innovation for corporate success. With routine tasks relegated to computers, factory floor robotics and outsourcing, companies now depend on their employees for competitive advantages. So it’s less about a company saying “I have the computers or the machines, come work em”; it’s more about “I have a platform that needs your expertise to take it to the next level!” So where, earlier, employees would compete for jobs, now, employers are competing for qualified employees and offering them all sorts of incentives to join the company.

The paradigm shift mentioned above also has to contend with something more subtle – the deeper psychological need of independent-thinking knowledge workers for workplace meaning and broader social impact. As a recent article in The Wall Street Journal – titled “I Don’t Have a Job. I Have a Higher Calling.” – pointed out, in addition to a paycheck, knowledge workers want the time they spend at work to be meaningful, to themselves and to society. This need reflects modern-day realities where employees have public personas that need constant updating and validation (through social media apps such as Facebook and Twitter), where competitive pressure is high and where work is no longer 9-to-5 but “always on” through technology tethers such as smartphones and Internet connections.

As a result, employers are trying to connect profit-driven endeavors with deeper altruistic and intellectual motives to engage and appeal to this “thinking” workforce. Increasingly, corporations are re-positioning their marketing messages, with varying degrees of success and cynicism, to imply a higher calling… through statements such as “Cathedral Builders, NOT Bricklayers”, “Making the Planet a Better Place” and “Changing the World”… to appeal to their employees’ deeper sense of purpose.

But it’s not just marketing hype. Research from the Yale School of Management shows that employees who truly relate their work to some higher purpose are more engaged, have greater job satisfaction, put in longer hours, rack-up fewer absences, stay longer at their jobs and are more productive – to the point where they significantly boost sales, corporate reputation and profits. In addition, an October 2014 survey found that employees were 42% more likely to describe their firm as ‘a great place to work at’ and 68% less inclined to look for a new job when managers talked about the firm’s impact on society and the job’s greater meaning.

So changing employee attitudes are a good thing because they are getting corporations to re-think how they do business, and are effecting greater societal good through improved corporate philanthropy and successful long-term giving initiatives.

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