From being an insipid line in the ‘About Us’ section of a company’s website that no one paid attention to, “purpose”, with all its moral implications, is now being evaluated seriously by corporate India. All this, thanks to millennial employees seeking a sense of direction from their companies.
At Hindustan Unilever, senior management take a ‘discover your purpose’ workshop and then guide their teams to “discover their individual purposes”, said a company spokesperson. The person said although not new to Unilever, the spike in conversations around ‘purpose’ and ‘meaningful work’ of late was “probably led by an increasing number of millennials joining the workforce”.
What does purpose mean? “Millennials care about making an impact that matters,” said SV Nathan, the chief talent officer at Deloitte India.
Nathan narrated how Deloitte, during a consultation with a publicly owned gas company, found a way to motivate young field officers working in remote villages — the officers were told they were saving lives (more people die of ailments related to household pollution every year than road accidents in India). The officers were now enthused.
Nathan said apart from making a tangible impact, millennials care about other ‘meaningful’ things like spending time with family and “connecting with people”. Deloitte, 80% of whose employees are millennials, this year turned an entire wing in its Mumbai office into a “collaborative zone” with no meeting rooms and minimum chairs.
Nathan said unlike the earlier generation, which valued security, millennials can’t or don’t want that — for example, cars are becoming unnecessary thanks to on-demand cab services, but buying a house is more difficult than it used to be because of rising prices. Hence, different priorities.
A 2019 survey of more than 2,800 professionals by LinkedIn showed that a ‘sense of purpose/direction’ was among the top three causes of stress among workers.
“As the economy evolves, purpose and recruiting purpose-oriented talent will be a competitive differentiator,” said Dinesh Ramamurthi, the chief human resource officer at Oyo. Companies now find purpose-oriented employees more productive and successful, he said. To give millennials purpose, Oyo’s employees are given high level of ownership and accountability.
Networking opportunities come in the form of “hot desks” — a system where people don’t have fixed workstations and instead can sit at any desk, Ramamurthi added.
Deloitte’s 2018 Global Millennial Survey showed that ‘improving society…’ was one of the top purposes that millennials thought their companies should have, while Accenture‘s 2019 Global Consumer Pulse Research found that four in five consumers prefer buying from “purpose-led” brands.
Professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers now asks its employees how the company, and its leadership, is doing on the “purpose” aspect during employee survey, said Padmaja Alaganandan, the chief people officer at PwC India. With rising incomes and greater opportunities, millennials have started to think about “what matters”, Alaganandan said.
Some companies even have “purpose officers”. Deloitte’s global office has a “chief people and purpose officer”, Michele Parmelee.