Purpose in employer branding: how can purpose help improve your employer brand?

What is ‘purpose’ in the context of employer branding?

In the context of employer branding, purpose has become the key to unlocking the way companies engage with candidates. In these changing times, recruiting new people, and attracting and retaining the ones you have is more challenging than ever. Regardless of industry, size, or shape, candidates no longer feel hyped by benefits. They want more from their employer – they want to feel that they belong, that there’s a higher purpose to their job, and ultimately that what they do at the job has meaning. 

employer branding general

In a recent article, we talked about people leaving their jobs for reasons like burnout, stress, and the need to hit the reset button. Those reasons were all part of a manifesto triggered by the pandemic – “The Great Resignation”. While some call it a trend, others say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for companies to get their heads out of their ass and better define their company culture. 

The three main factors leading to personal satisfaction and improved performance in the workplace were benefits, autonomy, and training & development opportunities. In industries like tech, people cared about financial incentives, cool office spaces, non-financial perks like gym memberships and lunch passes, and training for career improvement. But now, things are changing. Yes, money still matters! But there’s more and it has nothing to do with the physical workspace – that doesn’t exist anymore. 

It’s all about giving employees a sense of purpose; a sense of belonging in a company that cares about their opinions. A successful company culture today can only be defined once leaders understand that the three new factors leading to personal satisfaction and improved performance in the workplace are autonomy, proficiency, and purpose. 

What’s the deal with autonomy, proficiency, and purpose in employer branding?  

If you care about your people, set them free! Amid the pandemic, research points out that autonomy does increase productivity in the workplace. Employee autonomy can be better defined as an employee’s capacity to work at their own pace. Flexible schedules, work-from-home possibilities, and measuring KPIs rather than time spent online, are just some strategies that companies can use to their advantage. 

Needless to say, autonomy is not about pretending to work or working superficially. There’s a process behind it, and it starts with building trust. Smart companies combine trust with operational discipline without going too far in either direction. Blind faith in employees’ abilities to self-direct leads to confusion, uncertainty, and an inability to execute on business strategy and goals.

Rigid, hierarchical management leads to a bulky business that smothers creative talent and is unable to adapt to new business opportunities. In the current economy, where innovation is a matter of business survival and digital transformation is unavoidable, it’s essential for business leaders to embrace employee autonomy for the following reasons: 

  • Companies can use employee autonomy as one factor for understanding team performance.
  • With the right tools (e.g. performance prediction tools like fellow.app), managers can evaluate how employee autonomy impacts staff KPIs. This lets managers decide whether they should focus on employee autonomy to drive performance in their team.

Another factor leading to increased personal satisfaction and improved performance in the workplace is proficiency.  The pandemic has accelerated the modern employee’s desire to learn and improve skills. While some may want to do that to search for a new job and get paid more, others are doing it to become experts in their field. In a business context, companies willing to help their people to acquire hands-on expertise will most likely have better-engaged workers.  

Last but not least, purpose is the third factor influencing both satisfaction and performance. No matter how autonomous and resourceful your company is, if it doesn’t lead with purpose, the people will eventually leave. Why does purpose matter more than ever? 

Why does purpose in employer branding matter more than ever? 

Purpose is the key to unlocking the way companies engage with candidates. It’s a new concept that makes both passive and active candidates feel that they are part of something bigger. Having a purpose gets people interested in a company’s available positions; it differentiates your employer brand, and it can improve employee engagement and retention. When most people think of purpose, they think of saving the Amazonian rainforests or combating global warming. Yes, it can mean that, but in the context of employer branding that’s not the end goal of purpose and its potential.

In the book The Purpose Economy, by Aaron Daniels, “seeking our purpose is about finding a direction, not a destination.” The author suggests that there are 3 types of purposes: personal, social, and societal. 

  1. Personal purpose has to do with the satisfaction we get from doing something we love or getting out of our comfort zones and expressing what we feel. 
  2. Social purpose has to do with doing something that serves the best interest of others, such as working for an employer that genuinely appreciates the work being done. 
  3. Societal purpose is all about working in a company that cares about more than just profit, such as non-profits that manufacture environmentally-friendly products. 

As an employer, articulating your company’s purpose will bring in the most qualified candidates. Although still in infancy, the concept of purpose in employer branding is morphing from a trend into a company value proposition. Google, Apple, and AirBnB have been leading with purpose for decades. And over the years, they’ve managed to attract and retain people that resonated with their mission and vision. Companies that are purpose-driven have experienced higher growth rates and productivity levels, along with happier employees that stay longer. 

Now more than ever, employees want to work in companies that share their values in life, too, not just in the office. The Harvard Business Review points out that purpose can help organizations “redefine the playing field”, opening new territories for growth, and ultimately creating a holistic value proposition that aligns leadership with customers and employees.  

Purpose-driven marketing, the new era of employer branding 

Purpose-driven marketing aims to revolutionize employer branding in the years to come. The concept of purpose is anticipated to become a core company value as increasingly more candidates are looking to get hired in companies with a meaningful company culture; a culture they can resonate with on a deeper, meaningful level. In a recent survey by Harvard EY Beacon Institute,  “companies with a strong sense of purpose are able to transform and innovate better.” 

Executives from companies that treat purpose as a core driver of strategy and decision-making reported “greater ability to drive successful innovation and transformational change.” The survey mentions that half 53% of executives with a strong sense of purpose said their organization is successful with innovation and transformation efforts, while less than 19% report success at companies who have not thought about purpose.

To get started and reap the benefit of this new form of employer branding, focus on:

  1. Purpose-oriented job ads that tell a genuine story. Leading with purpose is easier said than done. The more transparent you are, the better chances you have to attract candidates that fit your mission and vision. Rather than use “we, us, or our”, focus more on “you, your, and yours”. This way you’re making candidates feel more included. 
  2. Purpose-oriented messages: Reaching out to passive candidates – regardless of the nature of your content – it is important to make it impactful. This is where a purpose pitch comes in. Rather than market exceptional benefits and a cool workspace, keep your focus on the purpose (e.g. donating X percentage of your annual profit to Y cause). 
  3.  Purpose-oriented career website: Reframe your career website and make it purpose-driven with employee stories, testimonials, and videos that bring out the cause you’re fighting for. Keep in mind that the story you’re telling is not about your company, nor about the people. It should be about the WHY. Why are your employees doing what they’re doing? 

IKEA is a great example of purpose-driven marketing. The company’s motto – “To create a better everyday life for the many people” – goes beyond selling furniture. It’s about making a positive impact on the world. Needless to say, IKEA’s purpose-oriented messages appeal to both customers and candidates. People who wish to work at IKEA are drawn by the cause behind the business model. 

Google’s approach is slightly different. The company motto – “Organizing the world’s information” – is rather general, but the way the business model works has an impact. Google uses the 70/20/10 approach, where 10% is dedicated to training its employees, 20% to encouraging employees to express their ideas, and 70% to the actual tasks assigned. Diversity, inclusion, and the company’s commitment to hiring people with disabilities are just some of the core values that Google managed to strengthen throughout 2020

How can purpose improve your employer brand? 

Integrating the concept of purpose in employer branding goes beyond choosing a cause and fighting for it. It should be an integral part of your company culture and it all begins with a purpose statement. According to Inc.com, by 2025, millennial employees will amass 75% of the workforce; employees that will be searching for socially responsible employers. In the near future, Gen-Zs will prioritize purpose over financial benefits. They’re the most willing to learn more about a company’s mission and vision prior to even considering applying for a job. 

To get it done right, in the context of employer branding purpose must:

  • Make candidates believe (e.g. your company values or does something that matters to them) 
  • Have an ambitious vision/mission (but also a plan to make it happen) 
  • Make candidates feel that they can contribute to making an impact or contribute to creating something bigger. 

Before doing anything in this direction, make sure you’re not making your “purpose” too tangible. Leading with purpose is not about what you do but why you do it. That should be your focus when recruiting new people. Times are changing, and as the Big Quit manifesto continues to expand across Europe, it pays to think ahead and act accordingly. Leadership and strategy are no longer enough to hire and retain the best. Amid the pandemic, employees are realizing that they have better opinions out there. In tech, for example, the thirst for knowledge is surpassing the thirst for money; and we’re also looking at a rising thirst for flexibility, autonomy, and peace of mind. Purpose can make a huge difference, and while it can be a great addition to your EVP and values, it needs to be honest for it to work.