In the Age of Purpose-Washing, Here’s How You Can Win Purpose-Driven Employees
Many companies have adopted purpose-driven marketing as a tactic for attracting and retaining top professionals, but only a few keep up with it. When companies fail to deliver on their purpose or “purpose wash”, they risk losing the trust and loyalty of their employees. This can result in high turnover rates, difficulty attracting the right candidates and an unfavorable impact on the overall culture of the organization.
Leaders are therefore called to embrace purpose-guided leadership and decision-making—aligning their organization’s core values and purpose with its practices fosters trust and integrity within its workforce.
Discover how to connect the dots between purpose at work, employee trust, integrity, and authenticity in the workplace and how these align to attract and retain purpose-driven employees.
Don’t Just Talk the Talk.
The Great Resignation revealed that employees are looking for more than just paychecks to stay with their current employers. Several studies have been quoted saying, “they want to feel like they are making a difference and contributing to something greater than themselves.” As a result, creating a sense of purpose has become increasingly important in the workplace.
However, most forget that simply imitating the culture on the surface is not enough.
During Black History Month, different companies were seen extending campaigns to this effect, but a recent report on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) industries and diversity indicates that disparities still exist within the workforce.¹
In the same way, during Pride Month, everyone was wearing rainbows.
Months later, the fight for inclusion continues.
Lionel Kimble, vice president for programs at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), when speaking to ABC news mentioned how the organization made significant strides while promoting African American history to a wider audience during Black History Month. Unfortunately, “There are still far too many people who only recognize black history in February and ignore it the rest of the year, and this is disappointing,” Kimble said.
According to a recent survey by consultancy firm Edelman, trust in businesses has reached an all-time low. Only 38% of respondents said they trust businesses to do what is right.² This lack of trust can be attributed in part to a lack of authenticity and integrity in the workplace. Employees want to work for companies that are honest, transparent, and authentic. They want to feel like they can trust their leaders to do what is right, even when no one is looking.
Purpose-washing is a real issue in today’s business world, where companies use empty slogans and vague promises to appear socially acceptable and purpose-driven. The danger of this is that it can erode employee trust and damage a company’s reputation, leading to decreased engagement, lower job satisfaction, and even financial losses.
Simply put, it’s not enough to show support for a movement.
Employers need to walk the walk.
Identifying the lapses and dealing with them is one way to hit the ground running. To spot purpose-washing, you may need to look for vague or generic language in marketing messages, such as “we care about the environment.” Are these claims backed up by specific actions? For example, making false or exaggerated claims about their environmental practices or benefits can lead organizations being accused of greenwashing.
In a move to address purpose-washing, here are key activities that you need to be wary of:
- Vague or generalized statements that are not evident in your mission or core values.
- Short-term gains or profit at the expense of long-term sustainability and social responsibility.
- Jumping on the latest trend without aligning it with your core values and mission
- Immeasurable goals that show zero commitment towards certain initiatives
Connecting the Dots: Purpose at Work, Integrity, Employee Trust, and Authenticity
According to a survey by parcelLab, one of the biggest turnoffs for modern shoppers is the lack of authenticity.³ This also has implications for employers because a significant percentage of the workforce today is comprised of young professionals. Creating a sense of purpose alone isn’t enough. Companies must also prioritize integrity and authenticity to build trust with their employees. This involves being transparent about the company’s values and goals, even when it may be uncomfortable or unpopular.
When employees feel like they are working towards a greater purpose, they’re more likely to trust their leaders and feel a sense of pride in their work.
Patagonia’s purpose is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire, and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” This mission statement is reflected in everything the company does, from its product design to its supply chain management.
Patagonia’s commitment to its values has earned the company a great deal of trust and loyalty from its employees and customers. It’s no surprise that a survey by Great Place to Work shows that 97% of Patagonia employees say the company has a great atmosphere and 94% say the company has great pride in what it does.⁴ To avoid purpose-washing and attract competent and purpose-driven candidates, here’s what you can do:
Let others see through your mission statement.
Don’t just use broad terms like “sustainability” or “social responsibility” without any real substance behind them. Instead, be specific about your goals and the actions you are taking to achieve them. Transparency is key here—show your employees the steps you are taking and the progress you are making towards your purpose-driven goals. Most importantly, create a genuine purpose that aligns with the organization’s values and business practices.
Footwear company TOMS’ mission to improve lives through business is evident across several initiatives to increase the underprivileged communities’ access to shoes. One of its key initiatives, the “TOMS Shoe Giving” program, has given millions of pairs of shoes to children in need around the world.
Don’t just collaborate–seek partnership with brands that share similar values.
Imagine trying to push a narrative of being inclusive, but going ahead to collaborate with brands that have no track record of tolerating inclusivity. Outsiders will likely read a different meaning. This is why collaborating with brands that share similar values goes a long way in avoiding purpose-washing—it helps demonstrate a genuine commitment to certain causes.
Keep the impact measurable.
By regularly tracking and reporting on your progress, you can show your employees that you are taking meaningful steps toward the organization’s goals. Moreover, make the results of the measurements easily available to employees, stakeholders, and customers.
Hold yourself accountable for the promises made.
If you make a mistake or fall short of your goals, own up to it, learn from it, and take action to do better. Employees are more likely to trust companies that are honest and transparent, even in the face of challenges.
Purpose, integrity, authenticity, and employee trust are all interconnected in the workplace. Companies that prioritize purpose and live up to their values will earn the trust and loyalty of their employees, leading to greater engagement, job satisfaction, and business success. However, this requires a commitment to transparency, accountability, and authenticity, even when it may be difficult or unpopular. By prioritizing purpose, integrity, and authenticity, companies can create a workplace culture that is both fulfilling and successful.
MAKE PURPOSE A PART OF YOUR COMPANY CULTURE WITH STRATEGIC SYSTEMS INC.
Purpose-driven employees are constantly looking to work for companies that prioritize their values and mission. In a move to attracting this set of candidates, making a purpose-driven culture a part of your recruitment and hiring process is a great start. At Strategic System Inc, we don’t just hire, we make it an experience. As a full-service solutions provider, we handle all your recruitment processes from start to finish to meet your business needs.
Our dedication to providing responsive, high-quality services is aimed at ensuring that you get the right people for the job. Join a long list of happy clients by contacting us now!
- NSF. “Featured Report | 2023—Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities”. https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf23315/. Published January 30, 2023. Accessed March 2, 2023.
- Edelman. “2023 Edelman Trust Barometer”. https://www.edelman.com/news-awards/2023-edelman-trust-barometer. Published January 15, 2023. Accessed March 2, 2023.
- ParcelLab. “Gen Z and Millennial Shopping Insights Study”. https://parcellab.com/en/research/gen-z-and-millennial-shopping-insights. Accessed March 2, 2023.
- Great Place to Work. “2023 Best Workplaces Award”. https://www.greatplacetowork.com/certified-company/1000745. Accessed March 2, 2023.