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Do employees think purpose is that important when it comes to an employer brand?

Do employees think purpose is that important when it comes to an employer brand? We look at purpose vs social purpose and what employees see as important in a role.

The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey says it clearly: “Millennials feel that most businesses have no ambition beyond profit.” The report also says that Millennials consider businesses to be underperforming by 10 percentage points at improving livelihoods and underperforming by 12 percentage points on social/environmental benefit.

In Deloitte’s report, which saw repeating trends from previous years, millennials listed 5 preference areas when it came to considering a new employer: fair salaries; being a great place to work; skills development; work that makes a difference and sustainable job creation. The word ‘purpose’ is not explicitly called out here, although it is intimated. So, what is meant by purpose? More importantly, what do employees think it means?

Take a look at Universum’s report into the World’s Most Attractive Employers for 2017 and what they see as being important to employees: work/life balance; security; working globally; being challenged; and doing something for the greater good – with circa 30% of employees citing the latter as something they are looking for in an employer. But note that figure. It’s just 1 in 3.

And who comes top as the company that employees tell Universum they’d like to work for? Google. A brand that has – alongside Facebook – faced intense media scrutiny for its ability to manage the data of its customers online and the content which it shares. Criticisms which are not just recent, they have been in public view for a good few years. The brand that said ‘do no evil’, has now shifted its position to being the world’s repository for knowledge. Perhaps because ‘do no evil’ read in too many minds as ‘do good’.

And this brings us to the LinkedIn Global Talent survey, which records just 24% of candidates seeing a brand’s purpose as an important factor when considering a new role. At the top of the list sits the culture and values of a business and the job role. And here we get to the nub of the issue. Fulfilment comes from doing a good job.

At the top of the list sits the culture and values of a business and the job role. And here we get to the nub of the issue. Fulfilment comes from doing a good job.

In conversation with a client recently, they cited their own research into purpose with customers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, just a third of their customers – people like you and I – saw social purpose as an important factor. Instead, they just wanted products and services that worked; that surprised and delighted them because they worked well.

Purpose or social purpose? I think we too often let the latter – the altruistic purpose – cloud our judgment. It results in what my colleague Dan Dufour would refer to as purpose washing. Yes, it is important for brands to ‘do no evil’, but ultimately for organisations, giving employees purpose is about giving them meaningful goals. This in turn improves what the psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi refers to as ‘flow’, that state of intense absorption where we focus fully upon what we are doing.

Purpose is important to your employer brand, but that purpose can be simple, self-contained. Think carefully about how you bring purpose to life in your brand.

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