• Expert Tips

Employer Branding 13:
Purpose — the Natural Desire for Meaning at Work

  • Expert Tips

An over­ar­ch­ing purpose is becom­ing increas­ing­ly impor­tant for compa­nies in order to both retain employ­ees whilst at the same time attract­ing new talent. This factor, often referred to as “purpose”, should there­fore also be a vital compo­nent of every employ­er brand. It answers the ques­tion as to why a compa­ny exists in the first place: What makes it useful to the commu­ni­ty and soci­ety as a whole? In today’s feature  of our news­room series Valdivia Expert Tip: Employ­er Brand­ing, we shed light on the back­ground and imple­men­ta­tion of this concept, follow­ing on from our arti­cle on employ­ee reten­tion  published in January.

“Start with Why”: How purpose motivates

Today, the work­ing atmos­phere and corpo­rate culture are crucial for employ­ee reten­tion1 . This includes employ­ees being able to see the purpose of the compa­ny in a wider context — and there­fore also the mean­ing of their own work. The renowned author and manage­ment consul­tant Simon Sinek analysed this sense of purpose in his best­seller “Start with Why”. In it, he shows that success­ful person­al­i­ties from Martin Luther King Jr. to Steve Jobs thought, acted and commu­ni­cat­ed accord­ing to the same pattern: they focussed on the why. With this approach, they inspired their fellow campaign­ers and achieved signif­i­cant success. Accord­ing to Sinek, the best way to moti­vate employ­ees is for the compa­ny to cred­i­bly answer the ques­tion of why.

A clear corpo­rate purpose is there­fore a real added value that all stake­hold­ers can capi­talise on — not only employ­ees, but also customers and even service providers and suppli­ers. Mean­ing­ful­ness thus becomes the foun­da­tion for every deci­sion and the basis for every action. The pure pursuit of prof­it recedes into the back­ground; social action and respon­si­ble busi­ness prac­tices become part of the corpo­rate and employ­er image.

Find­ing the answer to the why 

A high-profile corpo­rate purpose acts as an anchor of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion for employ­ees. It strength­ens the sense of belong­ing and self-worth. You can be proud of the company’s achieve­ments with a clear conscience … provid­ed that the purpose is not mere­ly cosmet­ic, but is lived in a tangi­ble and last­ing way. Three steps help to answer the ques­tion of why or for what purpose a compa­ny exists:

  1. The solid foundation
    Possi­ble sources include the company’s histo­ry, suit­able projects and initia­tives from the past, build­ing blocks that have already been intro­duced such as diver­si­ty, social activ­i­ties or process­es that ensure trans­paren­cy, reli­a­bil­i­ty, etc. in the imple­men­ta­tion of projects. It is very impor­tant to involve all depart­ments and as many employ­ees as possi­ble; depend­ing on the situ­a­tion, former employ­ees can also provide valu­able input.
  2. The cred­i­ble description
    From this collec­tion, it is then impor­tant to form a quin­tes­sence that fits your compa­ny in a compre­hen­si­ble way and is ideal­ly unique. Compre­hen­si­ble means using the simplest possi­ble words to make cred­i­ble, real­is­tic state­ments. For exam­ple, if you stand for afford­able hous­ing, the prices or rents should match this state­ment. If diver­si­ty is one of your prior­i­ties, this should be reflect­ed in the compo­si­tion of the teams.
  3. The tangi­ble realisation
    A purpose must be lived and expe­ri­enced by every­one involved. To this end, it is also impor­tant to create func­tions or posi­tions that accom­pa­ny the imple­men­ta­tion, e.g. with train­ing, and can help with advice and solu­tions in the event of obsta­cles. Above all, all managers from team leader to C‑level must commit to the purpose and express this in their actions.

Purpose in practice

One thing is clear: mere lip service does not convince anyone and, in the worst case, even has the oppo­site effect. Where a compa­ny is commit­ted to a mean­ing­ful purpose, its employ­ees should also expe­ri­ence that they “belong”, that they have oppor­tu­ni­ties to have a say, that feed­back is welcome and that they can devel­op professionally.

But how do you know whether your corpo­rate purpose is reach­ing your employ­ees? A recent Deloitte study2 recom­mends regu­lar­ly collect­ing key figures that measure the success of your purpose, espe­cial­ly when compared over sever­al years. These could be, for example

  • Surveys on self-percep­tion of purpose and mean­ing­ful­ness as well as the distri­b­u­tion of valu­able and mean­ing­ful work vs. mean­ing­less routine,
  • a points-based cate­gori­sa­tion of volun­tary or social commit­ment with­in the compa­ny or among colleagues, based on the level of partic­i­pa­tion and time spent,
  • Factors that are linked to satis­fac­tion with mean­ing­ful fulfil­ment, such as days absent, earn­ings values or other benefits.

Such key figures also have a further bene­fit: They show that defin­ing mean­ing is not just a mental exer­cise, but can make a very real contri­bu­tion to the company’s success.


1 Hays HR Report 2023 EMPLOYEE RETENTION, Febru­ary 2023

2 Deloitte 2024 Human Capi­tal Trends, Febru­ary 2024


(Image source: istockphoto)