Employees want to feel personally connected to the work they do. Yet only 15% of frontline workers believe that their job gives them a sense of purpose. Businesses need to reset the balance. If they want to create a valuable employee experience, they must ensure all employees can pursue their own goals at work and lead a self-determined life.

Over the past year, lots of employees have taken the opportunity to reflect on what they want most out of work and life. Nearly half of respondents to a McKinsey survey said they were considering changing their career as a result of the pandemic.

For some, more time spent at home has brought achieving a better work life balance higher up in the priority list. For others, the way in which their company has helped them during the crisis, or perhaps not helped them, has led them to consider the kind of support they want to receive. And for some employees, the question of whether they feel valued, or that the work they do has value, has been brought into sharper focus – particularly those who spent time on furlough schemes or had reduced hours.

Now is an opportune time for employers to focus on what their employees want out of their careers. Answering calls for more support and flexible working conditions is a relatively straightforward task. However, ensuring employees feel valued and have a sense of purpose in the work they do is more difficult to achieve.

Employers that find a way to connect and infuse a purpose-driven experience into their company and their employees’ work will be in a stronger position to retain the best talent through these rapidly changing times.

Ensuring employees feel valued

Employees who feel their role gives them a sense of value are more productive. In a Global Human Capital Trends survey, 93% said that a sense of belonging drives performance throughout their organisation. And according to McKinsey, “people who live their purpose at work are more productive than people who don’t. They are also healthier, more resilient, and more likely to stay at the company.”

Businesses that manage to align work with their employees’ personal goals stand to benefit from a more engaged, productive and driven workforce.

For lots of businesses, bringing company purpose in line with their employees’ values is an almost impossible undertaking, especially for those with a varied workforce. But they can address individual roles to ensure people feel the work they do has wider significance. This is an area of the employee experience that needs to be further explored.

Currently, there is a gap between how executives and frontline workers feel about the value of their role. Only 15% of frontline workers agreed that they are living their purpose at work, compared to 85% of executive-level staff who thought the same. This gap needs to shrink to ensure frontline workers, too, feel connected to their jobs and motivated, which is crucial for overall productivity.

Creating solidarity through inclusivity

Workplaces need to bring people together to work towards a shared purpose. When employees have a sense of solidarity, they feel they belong to the team and are more connected to the role they play in it.

But there is still some work to do to ensure employees are aligned with a shared purpose. Frontline workers are nine times less likely than those at manager level to think their leaders help them work on meaningful projects. When employees feel this way, it is a sign that their organisation is not inclusive. Employees need to know that they play an equally important role in the shared purpose if they are to feel valued.

We believe that inclusivity itself also needs to broaden to include different types of workers. Whether employees work part-time, full-time, from home or in the office, everyone should feel that they make a valuable contribution to the shared purpose.

Businesses that foster a fully inclusive environment stand to perform better. Studies show that companies with an inclusive culture are three times more likely to be high achieving, six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes. The reason for this success is having an engaged workforce that works together to achieve mutual goals.

Connecting employees on a personal level

Creating an inclusive culture is only one aspect of instilling a shared purpose. Individuals also need to feel connected with their colleagues to believe they are valued as part of the team.

A supportive culture is one that encourages diverse perspectives and experiences to help solve problems and develop innovative ideas.

We expect it to become increasingly difficult for businesses to foster a supportive employee environment as flexible styles of working become the norm. In a survey on remote working, 84% of employees said they are finding that challenges or concerns were taking a number of days to solve, and 80% of employees think that having more contact would improve their working relationships. Remote working can damage connections, but a supportive culture that connects people on a personal level would overcome this challenge.

There are lots of tools that will help teams to reconnect, but leaders should also ensure they carve out dedicated team time – so that people’s time, ideas and contributions are valued. With lots of employees asking for flexible working to achieve their goals outside of work, employers need to find the balance between enabling remote working while still keeping colleagues connected.

Demonstrating value through employee benefits

Employee benefits are an important way to show that all team members are equally valued. By giving everyone access to helpful benefits and wellbeing support, employees feel fairly treated at work and supported outside of work, too.

But to ensure that all employees feel connected to their employee benefits, the package must be flexible. Employees need to be able to choose which benefits best support their own values and goals, whether they’re in senior management or in an entry-level position, to lead a self-determined life.