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Employees Want Work That Matters -- Managers Can Help

Employees Want Work That Matters -- Managers Can Help

by Rob DeSimone

Story Highlights

  • Young adults in the U.S. are searching for purpose in the workplace
  • Aligning purpose is foundational for employee engagement
  • The biggest influencer in helping an employee find purpose is a manager

Did you know that young adults ages 18 to 29 in the U.S. view socialism more positively than capitalism? It is the only age group in the country to demonstrate such a preference.

Yet, this interpretation of the data is overly simplistic.


Young adults are not so much interested in socialism as they are disenchanted with capitalism. The reason younger generations expect more from capitalism is as much about their desire to have an impact on the world as it is about their social influences.

Finding Purpose in Work and Life

Church, families and local communities are how many older Americans have derived purpose and meaning from life, but younger adults view these institutions differently. Whereas 64% of Americans aged 65 and older belong to a church, only 42% of millennials do. Millennials are also waiting longer to get married and are less likely to feel pride in their communities. They are much more likely to look to their daily work to find purpose.

Younger generations of employees want more than a paycheck. They want a job that will make an impact, and there is one person in the workplace who can help connect their purpose in life to their purpose at work. That person is the manager.

Managers Who Align Employee Purpose Improve Engagement


Gallup has interviewed tens of millions of employers and managers across 160 countries and found that 70% of the variance in an employee's engagement -- the level of psychological commitment to work -- ties back to the immediate supervisor. When it comes to fundamental employee needs that, when met, drive performance at work, managers can influence all 12. From setting expectations and providing supplies and materials to challenging employees to learn and grow, a good manager guides their employees to tap into their talents in pursuit of higher performance. A great manager leverages these opportunities to win employee buy-in and align an individual's purpose in life with their role in the workplace.

The manager is uniquely positioned to be the one person in the organization who unlocks purpose, especially for younger generations. The best managers help employees understand their worth -- not just in their organization and workgroups, but also in society -- through the lens of their strengths.

Younger generations of employees want more than a paycheck.

When managers practice strengths-based leadership, it helps them understand the unique talents of the people they manage and provides a common language to discuss what people do best. When employees feel recognized and appreciated for what they bring to the table, they are more likely to open up about what they want from their work. Then, their managers can help employees apply the best of who they are to their purpose and see how it connects to the purpose of the organization.

Uncovering this purpose for the employee is like the hinge of a door for a manager. A personal connection to work opens a person's focus from their individual needs to the team's needs. As human beings, we have a natural desire to belong to a larger group and derive meaning from being a part of that group.

When a person feels that they belong and that fellowship means something to them, they begin to focus on the group's needs and not their own. The employee is able to work with broader horizons in mind once that personal dimension is activated.

The manager is uniquely positioned to be the one person in the organization who unlocks purpose.

When managers engage teams purposefully, they outperform their peers who don't on a number of substantial metrics including lower absenteeism, less turnover, higher productivity and increased impact. It feels like magic, but it's not -- it's what the younger generation expects from the workplace.

Make purpose a priority:


Rob DeSimone is a Gallup Consultant based in Washington, D.C.

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