Young workers demand purposeful experiences at work: Are leaders ready to deliver?

In January 2022, the NextGen Project1) in collaboration with Cognizant’s Centre for the future of work2) sought out to understand how the next generation of talent defines purpose at work. It was clear from the research findings that younger workers consider it crucial that their organizations share their essential personal values. The caveat here being that it’s not only essential that their place of work shares their values but also acts upon the said values. And that is where the first cracks of employee-employer misalignment begin to appear.

What is purpose and how does it relate to organizational leadership?

Purpose has been a rather loosely defined term in management, so we thought it best to ask the subject matter experts themselves: the employees, in this case, employees aged between 20-35.

Unsurprisingly, we found out that purpose has a different meaning for different people. It may vary from being something tangible such as fulfilling daily work-related goals to something as amorphous as being a part of something bigger than themselves within their organization. The key here is to provide employees an environment that enables them to find the meaningfulness that they crave in their work life. The question of being able to provide personalised purposeful experiences at work baffles us all. How do leaders take on this monumental enterprise?

The answer is simple. The changes required in the leadership approach are in no way revolutionary, in fact, they require us to go back to the basics. To be able to cater to our employees, we need to get to know them and at the same time enable them to get to know us. Once that is considered a priority, the leadership puzzle starts solving itself, gradually.

It is important that everyone comes to a consensus about this one fact: at the end of the day everyone is human. Everyone is allowed to make mistakes. What’s important is to acknowledge those mistakes and learn from them. Perfectionism is no longer in vogue. Leaders are free to share their vulnerabilities. As one of our NextGen community member put it,

Nobody needs a superhero that they can never hope to become”.

People want leaders who are empathetic and nurturing, leaders who show up both in physical and digital space. Leaders who put in the work and establish meaningful touchpoints to enable exchange of ideas, what works and what doesn’t.

Leaders need to step away from ‘managing’ their employees and instead move towards the roles of ‘enabling’ and ‘supporting’. Young people have already recognised what purposeful experiences are to them. They are also confident enough to know how to achieve them. What they need from their leaders is trust, guidance and continuous dialogue.

So how do you align your organizational purpose to your employees’ individual purpose? Find out more on 4.5.2022 with The NextGen Project’s Ira Sood. Register here for the HENRY webinar!

Ira Sood, Research Consultant, The NextGen Project Oy


1) https://www.thenextgenproject.io/
2) https://www.cognizant.com/us/en/latest-thinking/future-of-work