Of all the advice Mark Zuckerberg gave at Harvard University's 2017 commencement speech, his simple plea for global engagement might be the most compelling. Speaking frankly, he said, "The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose."

Today's business leaders need to take a page from Zuckerberg's book. When they fail to foster their employees' sense of purpose, companies end up becoming career stepping-stones rather than places where talented players plant roots for everyone's benefit.

The Growing Disconnect Between Work and Meaning

Today's corporations are rife with employees who feel disconnected from their jobs. Gallup notes that, as of August 2017, a mere 32 percent of workers are engaged; the other two-thirds are actively disengaged or even hostile toward their roles and employers. Even a 10 percent uptick in personnel engagement would create a significant ripple effect, boosting profits by 4.4 percent and cutting turnover by 8.1 percent.

Workers deserve to enjoy a rich sense of purpose in their day-to-day lives. Business leaders can promote this sense of belonging by establishing practices aimed at keeping modern team members excited about contributing to their organizations.

1. Hire like you mean it.

It's time to rethink your staffing practices, starting with hiring people to do more than just fill seats. As Working Not Working co-founder Adam Tompkins has learned from bringing together top full-time creatives and eager freelancers, companies that treat new hires like valuable contributors always win.

"Today's creatives aren't just arts-and-crafts specialists who want to make your marketing materials look pretty," he says. "Top-tier candidates will be eager to partner with your brand if they know you are on the verge of solving a big problem and becoming a major disruptor. They are driven by innovation; they aren't motivated by arts and crafts projects."

Your top performers aren't mindless automatons, interested in nothing beyond the 9-to-5 -- so don't treat them that way. From day one and beyond, the more you involve team members in future forecasting and big-picture conversations, the more your employees will feel as though they're part of a greater story, making them more likely to see their own future within the company.

2. Train for long-term success.

Chances are good that your onboarding could use some tweaks, if not a total overhaul. If you aren't comprehensively educating new people, you can't expect them to do more than play a frustrating game of catch-up for months. Perhaps that's why a 2014 BambooHR survey showed that a third of respondents had left a job within the first six months of being hired -- and 21 percent of those said that "more effective training" would have encouraged them to stay.

Examine your current training protocols, keeping an eye out for process gaps. Then, bridge those chasms with a variety of on-the-job education methods. You might want to partner people with mentors. Or you could engage in a series of online training programs, which allow individuals to learn in a virtual setting. Regardless of the kind of training you provide, be sure it offers learners spot-on information that will make it easier for them to be effective in their roles.

3. Say "thank you" frequently and sincerely.

Survey after survey shows that employees become jaded when they're constantly berated but never praised. Worse still are those employers who ignore their team members completely. One Gallup poll indicated that when employers focus on their workers' strengths, the chance of those employees becoming disengaged is a microscopic 1 percent; even calling out their weaknesses can cut disengagement in half compared to ignoring them altogether.

Of course, you'll want to do better than that, so why not honor your team members with the most appreciated form of employee recognition, a simple but genuine thank-you note? At the same time, be sure to remember the little things like birthdays, work-anniversaries, and other individual occasions. The more humanizing the workplace environment and culture, the greater the likelihood that employees will feel engaged. If you're not sure how to make this happen, send out surveys to your people. They'll help you discover the missing links so you can rectify your internal lapses.

Living without a purpose might as well be seen as simply existing; the same holds true for working. As a leader, you have the opportunity to create a thriving workplace where the whole team is working in concert toward known goals. And you don't have to be a Harvard graduate to make that happen.

Published on: Jun 12, 2018
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