What are today’s candidates looking for? Meaningful work

What are today’s candidates looking for? Meaningful work

These days, it’s tempting to throw money at the war for talent. After all, isn’t everyone searching for their next great salary? It’d be nice if the answer to talent management and turnover all came down to dollars but there’s often more at play than just money. Turns out that while salary might be a large part of what motivates employees to accept a job, it’s not necessarily going to be enough to keep them in it. There is a rising trend of employees searching for meaningful work, even ahead of other tangible benefits. So if your job seekers are looking for a company with heart and soul, how does that change your approach to talent acquisition? 

What is meaningful work?

Meaningful work is often described as the extent to which people view their work as having a purpose or being significant, usually in a way that relates to finding meaning in life or contributing to the greater good in some way. It’s the sort of tasks that go beyond entering numbers in a spreadsheet day in day out and makes the employees doing the work excited about their jobs. And what started as a whispered complaint is getting louder with each passing year as new workers flood into companies and bring their new work beliefs with them.

One of the reasons meaningful work resonates more with younger generations such as Millennials and Gen Zs is, well, they’ve been promised that idea with the passion over profit discussion. We all know we need to make a certain salary for rent purposes, feeding our pets, living our lives, etc. But making that salary while doing something you hate is becoming an increasing no-go for employees. And it makes sense. We all want to feel like we are doing good and making a positive mark on the world. And at the end of the day, isn’t the desire to help others a concept that transcends age or generation, even if it’s being spearheaded by the youngest members of the workforce? 

But don’t take our word for it. Check out the numbers backing up this employment trend.

Employees in Canada would give up $9,000 in salary for a more meaningful job. And consider the idea of “total motivation,” which is what drives employees to be successful in jobs. Look at this chart, for example:

19Q2-chart-meaningful work- blog

Notice how role design (i.e. the purpose of the job), organizational identity (i.e. the mission of what you do), career ladders (opportunities for growth), community (again, more purpose), planning (how work gets done), and leadership (who you interact with) are all above compensation? Motivation and job satisfaction are not simply money driven issues. Purpose and meaning are deeply tied to how employees excel and when they are given the chance to do this sort of work, it’s not only appreciated but it drives up productivity too. 

Read more: Diversity and inclusion are more than just buzzwords. Learn how to build them into your corporate culture. 

What does this mean for recruitment?

So if today’s candidates are looking for a company that provides the type of work they’re searching for, what does that mean to recruiters needing to place them? The key takeaway for recruiters is to pay more attention to the company’s purpose, values, mission, ideology, and culture. Exciting candidates about your job posting now needs to move beyond communicating just the day-to-day tasks a job might entail. Luckily, that’s where employer branding comes in to help companies tell candidates about the benefits of working for them. When designing your employer brand, make sure to actively articulate how the job or the company makes a meaningful difference. And honestly? Not all companies do. If that’s the case, it’s important to be honest with candidates because they’ll just job hop later if they’ve been misled. But even companies who aren’t out there actively saving lives can promote meaningful work. Some organizations partner with local charities and give their workers paid volunteer days to contribute. Others give employees a set amount of “donation dollars” every year that they can allocate to the missions of their choice. There are many ways to make employees feel like they are doing good and communicating that to your next candidate might be the difference between hiring them and seeing them move on to a competitor.

What does this mean for leadership?

Simply put: leaders need to care more about their brands beyond their financials. Care about the work you do, who it benefits, how communities are impacted, and how your employees perceive your work. Many leaders already do care about these things, but every organization needs to keep the lights on. In pursuit of that, leaders can become too focused on sales and financials. A shift back to the purposeful elements of the work can filter throughout the company. Subsequently, what employees share via social media and with their networks will be more reflective of purpose, mission, meaning, and values (which also adds to the effectiveness of your employer brand). When candidates search the company, this will resonate. That’s crucial in finding the “A-Players” you seek.

Pro-tip: If you want a happy workforce, don’t forget about balance and wellness

How can you communicate that your work is meaningful?

It’s important to send this message out to candidates and employees alike. It’s not all about your next hires, but also about retaining your current workers and showing them how their work life impacts the world. But how do you tell job searchers that they can have a meaningful career with you?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Speak to the service of the business: What community projects do you do? What opportunities will employees have to volunteer?

  • Frame it in terms of broader purpose: John Deere does this during hiring and onboarding. They talk about how their products give people food and shelter, and they’ve been innovating around that for 175+ years. Now the work has more meaning other than “update this tracking document” or “We made this much money last year.”

  • Introduce candidates to those who have found great purpose in the work: This can be done with videos on the careers page, landing pages you direct candidates to, etc. Showcase people who have really gotten deep meaning out of the work — how, where, and why.

  • Live your mission statement: Too often, these are words on a wall. But if leaders and recruiters truly live them and contextualize them for candidates in terms of projects and actions, candidates will see “OK, this is a place that takes meaning seriously, and that’s appealing.”

  • Send videos (or embed videos) of team projects and how people work together: An important aspect of any job is how teams work together to get things done. Showcase that. Showcase that people take walks together, and discuss real-world issues, and work in a logical workflow to get the best for the end consumer/client. Show that the process of doing the work is also purposeful — not just the end financial outcome.

  • Work it into your benefits: Some companies provide extra funds or perks to help employees work on their passions outside of work and encourage employees to have hobbies or volunteer.

  • Work it into your culture: Partner with a local charity or volunteer organization and give your employees time off to participate. Or simply give them a few paid days off a year to work with the charity of their choice.

The quest for meaningful work isn’t going anywhere

Especially with the rise of the gig economy that allows workers more autonomy over their career paths. The increase in job hopping also indicates candidates’ willingness to move around until they find a company who allows them to work towards having a more meaningful life and contributing to their communities. It also goes hand in hand with the increased focus on well-being in the workplace and striking a good work-life balance. More and more, we’re seeing candidates demanding work that not only fits into their lives, but makes them better. What employers need to decide is what they can do to make work meaningful, and what they can stand to lose if they can’t. 


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