Finding and Keeping the Employees You Need in the Age of Purpose

October 3, 2017 Mark Schaefer

Everywhere I travel in the world today, I hear similar complaints from business leaders: “We are having trouble finding and retaining enough qualified employees.” In fact, for many companies this is a significant obstacle to growth and progress.

I’ve marveled at the employer response to what has become a feeding frenzy for qualified talent. Many companies are surrounding their employees with a spa-like environment that includes free yoga, meditation rooms, nutrition classes, and on-site personal trainers.

For more tips on retaining the best talent, see "Please Don't Go: 5 Ways to Reduce Employee Turnover."

A buffet of artisanal food is available around the clock in a beautiful company restaurant, or delivered to you, wherever you may be in the park-like campus.

And this isn’t just happening in Silicon Valley (where I have even observed workplace karaoke!). The generous perks, unlimited vacation time, and opportunities for cubicle karma are even starting to show up in the nation’s heartland.

In essence, we are observing a human resources arms race based on fitness perks, gourmet food, and personal grooming opportunities. And karaoke, of course.

Perhaps amid this high-stakes escalation of perks it’s time to refresh our view of what it truly takes to attract and retain employees based on some new data. I’d like to suggest that the employees of today care about something more than free range burgers and breakroom ping-pong.

I believe we are entering an Age of Workplace Purpose.

The Age of Purpose

When I was a young man, there was a career emphasis on stability—get a job with a solid company and stay there. But many studies show that is not the case today. The emphasis is on having enough flexibility in your workplace to allow you to pursue your true life goals.

Time is more important than money. And “purpose”—what you stand for, what you live for, and why—is most important of all.

This trend is also showing up strongly in the fourth annual State of Enterprise Work report released by Workfront, a survey of more than 2,000 knowledge workers in the US. This report contains several important findings that reveal clues to post-karma employee needs.

Workplace Flexibility is Paramount

The first trend can be summed up tidily in the word “flexibility.”

Knowledge workers see a day in the near future when the work-life balance is no longer an issue. The idea is simply blurred. Work is life and life is work, all organized by your purpose.

More than 60 percent of respondents think that within five years traditional work hours will be eliminated altogether.

Workfront reports that US knowledge workers want to work remotely but that is not a reality for most of them today. The average respondent works from home just one day a week, although the respondents also predict that almost all work will be remote in the next five years.

But will this happen?

This desire for flexibility represents a culture clash for many companies.

In fact, there have been several high-profile news stories about companies moving the other direction, insisting that employees become much less flexible and report to the office each day to spur collaborative creativity, improve communications, and monitor accountability.

How can these goals of corporate collaboration and employee flexibility co-exist?

That brings us to the second key finding of the report. The Age of Purpose will have to be enabled by new software tools and the skills to use them.

Technology is Embraced, Not Feared

Despite the projections of technology-driven job loss, knowledge workers are embracing technology and its promise to provide opportunity and enable purpose, according to the Workfront report.

In fact, four in five workers believe the rise of automation in the workplace will allow them to work in new and exciting ways.

For the digital natives, having the best workplace technology is an expectation, perhaps even a status symbol. In fact, studies by Dell and others show that if a company is behind in its software and hardware capabilities it will deter the best employees from ever joining the company in the first place.

Workfront’s report also validates this view. Technology doesn’t just belong to the IT department. It must also be seen as a strategic asset for human resources success.

Perhaps this is a new way to view technology but employees are not going to be impressed if the personal software and devices they use are better than what’s offered by your company.

The other emerging issue is that even when companies are enabling productivity through the best technologies, employees may not have the skills to use them correctly, causing frustration all around by a lack of adoption.

Don’t overlook the fact that an emphasis on training and adoption goes hand-in-hand with the workplace digital transformation.

Knowledge workers also know that better technology will have a direct effect on productivity, with 69 percent believing that work automation will give them more time to do their primary job duties.

And this fact brings us to the third part of The Age of Purpose. Your employees believe in what they do, and they hate it when waste gets in the way.

Waste Not, Want Not

Wasteful practices—namely email and meetings—continue to thwart worker productivity. And respondents to the Workfront survey simply hate that.

The waste that continues to bog down employee productivity, even in this world of tech advancement, is depressing. A few of the figures:

  • Just 44 percent of a knowledge worker’s day is devoted to actually doing their job.
  • When asked what gets in the way of their productivity, the majority of workers placed wasteful meetings (57 percent) and excessive email (53 percent) at the top.
  • One-third of workers think email is a barrier to productivity and a problem in general. The average knowledge worker has a whopping 200 unread/unopened emails in his or her inbox at any given time!

These statistics should be a call to action to any employer. Would you want to work in an environment like that?


An urgency to attract and retain the best employees must be elevated above the workplace karma trend.

The Workfront research shows that employees are eager to do their jobs if the workplace is organized in a way to support their purpose through a flexible and hassle-free work environment.

How would employee turnover be reduced in your company if you approached the workplace in terms of supporting employee purpose by:

  • Providing them with the time to tend to a personal life purpose through a flexible schedule enabled by technology and the skills to be a high-functioning remote employee?
  • Providing technological support in terms of automation to free employees for more meaningful tasks?
  • Eliminating waste—especially when it comes to meetings and emails—that drags down productivity and morale?

That sounds like a place where I’d love to work. As long as you keep the karaoke.

Mark Schaefer is a college educator, speaker, marketing consultant, and the author of six best-selling books including KNOWN: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age.

Download the free State of Enterprise Work report for more fascinating findings and what they mean for the future of work.

About the Author

Mark Schaefer

Mark is a globally-recognized blogger, speaker, educator, business consultant, and author who blogs at {grow} — one of the top marketing blogs of the world. Mark has worked in global sales, PR, and marketing positions for nearly 30 years and now provides consulting services as Executive Director of U.S.-based Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He specializes in social media training and clients include both start-ups and global brands such as IBM, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, adidas, and the UK government.

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