The search for purpose in careers may seem a uniquely 21st Century obsession, with numerous media articles carrying anecdotes about ‘millennials’ – the generation born between the early 1980s and mid 1990s – choosing purpose over pay when making job searches.
But businesses should pay attention to the importance of purpose, as it has a role beyond attracting a younger generation.
A global survey of 26,000 LinkedIn members debunked the myth that millennials are the generation pushing purpose up the business agenda. In fact, it is the over 50s who are most likely to prioritise purpose over pay (48%), followed by 38% of those aged 36-50. Only 30% of millennials made this distinction.
Significantly, 74% of all respondents wanted a job where they felt like their work matters – to them, their company, or the wider world. Given the percentage of our lives spent at work (according to the United States Bureau of Labor, the average American spends the majority of their waking hours working) it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that the majority of people want this time meaningfully filled.
In fact, psychologists have found that having a sense of purpose can help people to live longer. In a 14 year study, researchers demonstrated that participants who had a sense of purpose within their lives have a 15% risk of death. Whether this fulfilment is being provided by careers is debatable – only 30% of respondents to LinkedIn’s survey said that they were in fulfilling jobs.
The challenge for businesses is how to listen to their workforces and provide their people with a sense of purpose, especially in a changing world where increasing numbers of roles are temporary. Future focussed companies are seizing this as an opportunity, however, with a Harvard Business Review and EY study finding that CEOs recognised many business benefits to providing individual and shared purpose, from customer loyalty, to higher quality services and products, to a better ability to adapt. Surely a positive sign that fulfilling work is rising up the business agenda, for all generations.