Want to Keep Employees? Show Them Respect and Give Them Purpose at Work


While the saying that “people don’t work for money” was probably written by someone rich, it has a grain of truth in it. People are more likely to work for a company long-term that treats them with respect and gives them a sense of purpose than one that simply pays them for hours worked. 

The pandemic caused many to reevaluate their sense of purpose in their personal lives and at work. All that time at home led to a ton of introspection, exploration, and reevaluation for massive numbers of people. Late Gen-Xers and early Baby Boomers may have opted for an early retirement, those in hard-hit industries retrained and got higher-paying jobs, and others just decided they wanted to get off the treadmill they were on during the Great Resignation. It is telling that The Great Resignation did not happen, for the most part, during the darkest days of the pandemic, but only as things started to “return to normal” in Spring of 2021. 

One thing that is clear for companies following this shift is that they had better give employees meaningful jobs if they want to hire or retain top talent, and that meaning is not just the amount of dollars paid - although that figures into the equation too. 

What is a “Sense of Purpose” at Work for an Employee? 

It’s important not to confuse a sense of purpose for an individual with a sense of purpose for a company. A corporate sense of purpose is dictated by the shareholders, its corporate social responsibility policies, and the general goals and values of the organization. This is a larger “sense of purpose” in how the company wants to be viewed as a brand and, in some cases, how it wants to make a difference in the world. 

An individual’s general sense of purpose is formed by a complex set of experiences and ideals, and is continuously formed and reformed throughout their life. A job seeker will look to align themselves with a company that shares their values as much as they possibly can, but will settle for a job with just any company if there are no other choices - as long as they are treated with respect. 

Having a sense of purpose at work is a feeling that comes from being assigned tasks you consider meaningful, that you receive positive feedback on, and that you feel is truly helping the company fulfill its goals. If, for example, your role is in marketing and your sense of purpose comes from creating successful campaigns, you will be fulfilled if you feel supported in your role by management and are rewarded along the way when your campaigns are successful with compliments and promotions. If there are bumps, you aren’t derided for them and are instead presented with opportunities for improvement. 

Research by McKinsey showed that a full 70 percent of employees tied their personal sense of purpose to their work. Further questions showed that while executives mostly felt like they were living their purpose at work, only 15 percent of frontline employees and managers were. And that’s a “purpose gap” worth addressing. 

How to help your employees live their purpose at work 

There are a few steps on the road to making employees feel like the work they are doing is meaningful. 

1. Define the company’s purpose, values, and short-term goals 

If there is no well thought-out vision for the company, now is the time to create one. Every business, no matter how small, should have a defining purpose, a set of values, and short-term goals that are transparently available to all staff so they know what they are collectively working towards. Then, that purpose has to be communicated properly to the team and refined based on their feedback where necessary. 

2. Give managers more of a coaching role 

Instead of prodding employees to produce deliverables, managers should instead be coaching them to do their best work. Focusing only on completing tasks represents old-school style management and can be demoralizing; coaching suggests that employees are people worthy of respect.

It also makes them more accountable for their actions and gives them an opportunity to improve where they are lagging. Let’s use a real-world example - an employee is behind on a project. Instead of demanding results by a certain time, ask them what tools they need to successfully complete the project or if they are lacking tools to get their job done in general. People don’t tend to fall behind on things unless they are overworked or lack the necessary tools. Managers can help - as coaches - with both. 

3. Make sure your team’s tasks are clearly tied in with the company’s purpose

Once you’ve defined your company’s purpose, managers should realign job descriptions with how assigned tasks contribute overall to company goals. This also has the benefit of tying roles directly into organizational KPIs, and it is an excellent time to ensure that job descriptions truly do feed into those KPIs. Then, once roles are redefined, individual one-on-ones with each employee, in which their role in the bigger picture is defined, are necessary. 

4. Have regular meetings to discuss how the company is meeting its goals - or not 

While you don’t want to have too many meetings, one quarterly meeting to explain where the company is in terms of meeting its goals is enough to keep things on track. If the company is falling short, employees will have excellent feedback for management to get it back to where it needs to be. If it is crushing goals, this is a great time to celebrate that. 

Nothing shows an employee their progress like metrics. Prodoscore can be used as a tool to assign employees a productivity score that highlights how they are doing, improving employee retention and giving them a clear path to improvement if they need it. Contact us to arrange for a demonstration of how Prodoscore can become a key lynchpin in your employee retention program.