With less than a year to go until Brexit, what comes next is anyone’s guess. This ongoing uncertainty is taking its toll on business. Employees are worried and disengaged. Here’s why having a clear sense of purpose is your best employee engagement tool.

“It is hard to overstate what a dramatic impact the current political uncertainty has on business leaders”, said Stephen Martin, of the Institute of Directors. And he’s right. Sustained periods of change are bad news for business. With less than a year to go until the official date for Brexit, studies show that companies are holding back on planned investment, projects have been disrupted, jobs have been lost. And if we head into another recession, customers might stop spending altogether.

This is unsettling for employees. A recent survey conducted by Populus on behalf of Kin&Co in January 2017 of over 1,000 UK workers found that just 32% of employees remain confident in the future of their career following the political events of 2016. And there is evidence to show that job insecurity leads to disengagement, absenteeism and high staff turnover. This is bad news.

Any good leader should be looking for ways to engage their employees and keep them motivated during these turbulent times. There’s good reason for this. Loyal and engaged workers are not only more pleasant to spend your working days with, they’re also more productive. The UK Government’s 2009 MacLeod Report found that organisations with highly engaged employees achieved 43% more revenue, 12% higher customer advocacy, 18% higher productivity and up to four times greater financial performance, even through a recession.

An engaged workforce should be a priority for leaders in the best of times. And as you try to survive through this ‘Brexit-limbo’, it’s more important than ever to feel like your team are fully behind you.

 

So how can I engage my workforce?

Back in 2014, Richard Branson said: “The brands that will thrive in the coming years are the ones that have a purpose beyond profit.”

And he wasn’t kidding. Even in these uncertain times, purpose-driven businesses are not just surviving, they’re thriving. Recent figures show that companies registered as B-Corps (a certification for companies that put purpose on parallel with profit) are growing 28 times faster than UK GDP.

Why is this?

Firstly, because the financial sector is waking up to the fact that businesses must earn their license to operate in society. Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock, one of the world’s biggest asset managers, said in January, “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose.” When the leader of a firm that manages $6.3 trillion of assets says that, you pay attention.

Secondly, because consumers want it. There are reams of evidence to show that consumers, especially younger ones, increasingly want to spend their money on products that have a positive impact.

And thirdly, and importantly, because employees want it. People love working for purpose-driven companies. In a recent survey 78% of millennials said they ONLY want to work for an organisation with purpose beyond profit.

And in another study conducted by Populus on behalf of Kin&Co in January 2018 with a poll of 1,000 UK workers, over two-thirds of workers said having a purpose that was properly embedded into their culture would have a positive impact on their work; including being more productive, more efficient and more likely to contribute to the company culture.

In other words, purpose is the best employee engagement tool you could hope for.

 

So what IS purpose?

Your purpose is the reason your organisation exists in the world, beyond just making profit. It is the north star that guides you in everything you do.  

There is a famous story that President John F. Kennedy was visiting the NASA headquarters in 1961. During his tour of the facility, he saw a janitor mopping the floor. The president introduced himself and asked the man what he did at NASA. The janitor replied, ‘I’m helping put a man on the moon!’

Here’s a worker who is fully engaged with his employer’s purpose, and knew that he was valued for playing a crucial part in delivering it through his own work.

Why does your organisation exist beyond just making profit, and what important impact does it bring to the world? If you asked employees at all levels of your business, your own ‘janitors’ and ‘astronauts’, what would they say they are working towards together? Would they all answer the same? Are your ‘janitors’ as engaged as that one?

 

Weathering the storm

One thing seems likely, these uncertain times won’t end soon. Combine the UK’s situation with ever-moving international politics, a changing climate, environmental crises and the steady onward march of technology – it looks like the VUCA world – one that is Volatile, Unstable, Complex and Ambiguous – is here to stay.

As you weather this storm of uncertainty, it’s time to make sure that your employees are fully on board with what positive impact you’re making in the world. If you get clear on your purpose, live it truly and genuinely, you’ll see tangible differences. And by doing this, you can rest assured that you are giving yourself the best chance of emerging from this storm even stronger.

 

Kin&Co are running a special panel discussion on this topic in London on 13th June with special guest speakers from Innocent, TalkTalk, Grant Thornton and Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Find out more and register here.

Want to know more about how to find, live and communicate your purpose and values? Check out our recent report which explains how to get purpose right.