Study: Sense of Purpose Matters Most to Employees

A new survey finds that in addition to purpose, fair pay and flexibility are highly important to employees.
By: | April 26, 2018 • 3 min read
Seeking sense of purpose

These are boom times for the nation’s middle-market companies (organizations with between $10 million and $1 billion in annual revenue): The latest Middle Market Indicator report finds that 72 percent report year-over-year growth compared to last year, two thirds anticipate revenue increases during the next 12 months, and 46 percent plan to add more workers. That last part is proving to be a bit of a headache for these companies, however, with more than half the companies (54 percent) reporting that finding and retaining workers with the right skills and developing their current workforce will potentially present problems for their businesses in the years ahead.


Mercer’s latest Global Talent Trends Studymay provide some insights as to how to attract and retain skilled employees. The study, based on surveys of 7,600 business executives, HR leaders and employees from around the world, finds that employees crave a sense of purpose. More specifically, three quarters (76 percent) of employees who feel personally and professionally fulfilled report that their company has a strong sense of purpose, in which they’re given opportunities for movement, learning and experimentation.

Employees are also looking for organizations that value their health and financial well-being. The study finds that workers spend, on average, nine hours a week worrying about financial matters, yet only 27 percent of companies have policies in place to address financial health. Fair pay and opportunities for promotion are also a concern, with only 54 percent saying their company ensures equity in pay and promotion decisions.

“Organizations that help employees worry less about basic security needs and invest more energy on their career aspirations will be rewarded with a workforce that has more pride, passion and purpose,” says Ilya Bonic, president of Mercer’s Career business.


Flexibility is also a key concern for employees today, and executives seem to get it: 79 percent of executives say flexible work arrangements are a core part of their organization’s value proposition, the study finds. Nevertheless, only 3 percent of the HR respondents consider themselves industry leaders when it comes to enabling flexibility, while 41 percent of employees fear that choosing flexible work arrangements will negatively impact their chances of promotion.

“The lack of flexible work arrangements hurts women and older workers disproportionately, leading to absenteeism, lower energy levels and burnout,” says Bonic. “As the skills gap widens and human competencies become more important, making sure that a diverse pool of talent can participate in the workforce at all life stages is both a business and a societal imperative.”

Andrew R. McIlvaine is former senior editor with Human Resource Executive®.

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