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For nearly two years, quit rates have been setting records. Rather than leaving the workforce, however, economists say most workers who quit their jobs leave them for other opportunities. Of course, salary and benefits can help attract talent, but incentives alone are not enough to retain them.
People today want to provide value through meaningful, purpose-driven work. In a 2020 McKinsey report, 82% of employees felt it essential that their company has a purpose. In 2022, the research firm found 70% defined their sense of purpose through work. Yet as recently as December 2022, Gallup reported that only 40% of surveyed employees agreed with the statement, “The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.”
Workers today have higher expectations, and at the heart of drawing and keeping them are values — those of the organization and workers seeking employment there. When both sides work to ensure alignment of these values, it drives engagement and productivity, bringing greater employee fulfillment through work and better results for the company.
Related: Are You a Leader Loyal to Your Values? Here’s How to Align Your Leadership Style With Your Values
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Aligning values creates meaning
The pandemic catalyzed a change in personal priorities, elevating purpose and values. A 2021 Gartner survey on the changing workplace found that among over 3,500 employees worldwide, 65% said the pandemic made them rethink the place of work in their lives; for 52%, it made them question the purpose of their daily workplace contribution. Half emerged post-pandemic with different expectations from their employers.
Making people feel the value of their work is more critical to employee retention than ever. When values are aligned, employees are more likely to recommend their company as a great work environment and describe their work as giving them a sense of personal accomplishment. Of course, this can come from meaningful work activities, like volunteering. Still, many would feel greater fulfillment simply by having the chance to use more of their skills and creativity at work, especially for a company with similar values.
Before an interview, workers should consider their values, what drives them and why and how they want to make an impact. They should imagine the kinds of projects or learning opportunities that excite them and explore ways their strengths, skills and passions could meaningfully contribute to the company. On the other hand, companies should make their values clear from the beginning to attract the right candidates and use the interview to demonstrate a commitment to training and nurturing new recruits into their culture of lived values.
Related: Want Success? Define Your Company Values
Develop, integrate, and model
Done effectively, aligned core values create a workplace culture of principles that employees believe in. In an organization where values are a lived part of its culture, any employee in the office (or over a Zoom call) has a story to tell of how they live their company’s values in their day-to-day work. Otherwise, leaders must be more proactive in establishing their culture of lived values to ensure they continue to provide meaning to employees.
Once they set organizational values, company leadership must integrate them into its strategic plan. Then, they must lead by example with consistent and genuine examples of living those values in and out of the workplace. They need to engage employees so they understand how their work meaningfully impacts the rest of their team or the company’s goals. Demonstrate specific ways team members can live those values out in their everyday work and implement ways to keep values as a top consideration in everything they do.
At Clearfield, many people keep our values listed on the wall so that, when handling a long list of tasks, they can assess which will most support the company’s strategic plan and values to make independent decisions. The more we hear stories of how they integrate our values into their work, the better of a job we as leaders are doing of nurturing the kind of culture that boosts employee purpose and meaning. Leaders should continuously assess how often they hear their company’s values in team member conversations, and employees should speak up when they feel themselves falling out of alignment.
Related: Why a Purpose-Driven Business Is the Real Key to Success
Transparency as values evolve
Values should establish clear expectations around the ways team members are expected to work together, and leaders need to ensure these values are known, spread and written down. When we started Clearfield, we first wrote our values down on a napkin while on an airplane: listening, recognizing, understanding, collaborating, delivering and celebrating. Since then, we’ve told that story many times. We even put it up on the wall for everyone to see.
But as we grew from a company of 93 employees to one with revenues over a quarter of a billion, the ways we expected to work together changed. We shifted to remote and hybrid teams, and it changed again. Values should stand the test of time, anchoring a company to what matters, but as it grows, those values often have to evolve. In their newest iteration, our values have remained the same, but with the addition of two new lenses to consider the changing context of our work environment and its critical stakeholders: how we impact our customers and other team members.
Leaders should communicate the “why” behind any changes or additions to company values, keep the floor open for feedback and ensure continued engagement and alignment. Employees should speak up when they feel themselves starting to fall out of line. We model our evolving values by opening up space to listen to team members, take their feedback and renew our call upon them to live out our values through weekly snapshot meetings. We block off a half hour for everyone to sit face-to-face with their CEO, but those meetings can be as quick as five-minute check-ins depending on our needs. Recent recruits have expressed surprise at the intimate connection we seek to build with our team. But living our values ensures everyone stays connected to the heart of who we are as a company.