Why meaning matters when you’re building a resilient workforce

Ekaterina (Katya) Gorokhova Ekaterina (Katya) Gorokhova Vice President and Practice Lead, RPO KellyOCG

The 2023 Kelly Global Re:work Report found that talent everywhere feels “unloved, overworked, and overlooked”, with 28% very likely to leave their employer in the next 12 months. While executives recognise that they face serious obstacles; 42% admit they are failing to unlock the full potential of their workforce.

But why do workers feel disconnected, and what can leaders do to change this picture? I was talking with the head of a major global shared services centre recently, and he offered an interesting perspective – people want more than money and benefits (although these matter); they increasingly want to find meaning, in work and in life. This means unlocking ways to contribute positively to the environment, communities, and wider world – he observes this is particularly true for younger workers. This leader was unsurprised that we uncovered such high levels of ‘quiet quitting’ in our Re:work survey – 45% of workers said they were doing the bare minimum their role required – as meaning is missing from so many roles.

Hiring freezes. Intense competition for skills. Commercial pressures. Organisations are facing increasingly complex hiring and retention challenges. I believe an increased focus on meaning could help to overcome these obstacles and shape resilient workforces.

Why does meaning matter?

A growing need for meaning is unsurprising, considering the lasting impact of the Covid-19 pandemic alongside ongoing political, social, and economic uncertainty around the globe. The search for meaning is also reflected in research; a McKinsey & Company survey found that 70% of employees said their sense of purpose is largely defined by work. While a study by UK firm YuLife found that 42% of workers aged 18 to 24 would avoid working for a company with poor green credentials. Our own Re:work report revealed that people planning to stay with their current company for more than 12 months were over 30% more likely to report a sense of meaning at work.

What about pay?

As I’ve shared the results of the Re:work report with clients and industry colleagues, some of the biggest conversations have been around pay and benefits. Many organisations are worried they cannot compete for or keep hold of sought-after talent with limited budgets. Our research suggests this might not be true. Pay and benefits came fourth (25%) in the top five reasons workers choose to stay with their current employer for more than 12 months; skills development (33%) and career progression (32%) opportunities alongside good work-life balance (27%) made up the top three. Pay is clearly a meaningful influence for workers, but they are looking for more – opportunities to grow and improve while balancing work and home life.

Doing good is good for talent attraction and retention

Workers want to work for companies that share their values and do good. A recent LinkedIn survey, reported on by the World Economic Forum, found that 68% of workers in Europe believe it’s important to work for businesses that align with their values. The research also found that this shift is being reflected in job ads; there has been a 154% increase in entry-level job listings referencing culture and values over the last two years. Meanwhile, a KPMG study found that one in two employees want their organisations to demonstrate a commitment to ESG (environmental social, and governance) factors, while Gen Z (18 to 24 year olds) are most likely to seek a job directly linked to ESG.

The impact of DEI on meaning

A strong DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) commitment is crucial to building a workforce where meaning matters. If workers don’t feel respected, valued, and supported, it’s impossible to create a culture where people can find purpose. The Kelly Re:work report discovered that 38% of workers believe their organisation only pays lip service to diversity, and just 35% say their leaders model inclusive behaviours at all times. However, Workforce Resilience Leaders – a group of organisations demonstrating greater profitability, productivity, and worker engagement than their peers – go further on DEI. They are much more likely than underperforming companies to be good at progressing workers from underrepresented groups (63% vs 31%) and to have reviewed hiring processes to make them more inclusive (67% vs 37%). The impressive performance of businesses that show a sustained commitment to DEI is something no leader can afford to overlook.
As RPO practice lead in EMEA, I believe my role – and that of my talented colleagues – goes beyond solving hiring challenges. Of course, that’s a key part of our what we do, but I also see us as expert advisors, empowering leaders to improve workforce resilience, turn up agility, unlock continuous improvement, and leverage the latest industry trends. It’s a tough talent market in many industries and countries right now, and simply pushing forward with the status quo isn’t enough. Workers are increasingly looking for more – more meaning, more purpose, more value – and those organisations that offer it will win out in the battle for sought-after talent.


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