Why 2020 Will Be the Year of the “Purpose-Driven Workplace”

Chances are you’ve heard it before: The consumer preferences of millennials are killing the market for everything from fabric softener to American cheese. They’re entitled, lazy, and more concerned with their Instagram personas and pictures of avocado toast than hard work. Yet, as the leader of a predominantly millennial team, at a company with a huge number of employees under the age of 35, I can tell you that they are neither entitled nor lazy.

In fact, millennials, projected to comprise half of the nation’s workforce in 2020, are driving a massive shift in how employers approach values and purpose in the workplace. Fair compensation is important to them, but it's not their only priority. A study from Cone Communications revealed 64% of millennials won’t accept a job from a company that doesn’t have strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) values, while 75% are willing to take a pay cut to work for a values-driven company. The point is not to cut their pay – after all, this group is known to have serious student loan debt – but to recognize the value they put on factors beyond profit.

In a recent blog, 20 Predictions for 2020 from SAP Concur, I said that 2020 will be the year of the “purpose-driven workplace” as more employers recognize the urgency to connect their teams to a purpose beyond profit. To better understand this trend, I sat down with two SAP Concur employees to get their takes: Jess Russell, a fellow Gen X-er, and Shivani Patel, a proud millennial.

At the age of six, Jess Russell was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a life-threatening bone marrow cancer. It was 1978, and Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center was one of the only hospitals performing the procedure Jess needed. Four years later, thanks to a perfect match in his younger sister, Jess received a bone marrow transplant, along with other revolutionary treatments, chemotherapy, and multiple rounds of radiation. Today, this SAP Concur software design engineer helps fix software bugs, among other duties. He loves that Fred Hutch is an SAP Concur customer. “Knowing that the solutions I work on play a part in helping companies and organizations like Fred Hutch make the world a better place, fills me with a sense of purpose and pride,” he explained. For Jess, understanding how his job makes an impact helps him be an engaged and productive employee.

When SAP Concur data scientist Shivani Patel and her husband were buying a home, their agent said that if they chose a house in their preferred neighborhood, any kids they might have in the future would need to attend a private school. “For me, moving to that neighborhood meant becoming a member of the community,” explained Shivani. “That means pitching in to improve things for everyone in my neighborhood in any small way that I can.” Cue Shivani’s passion for teaching after-school STEM programs to children in her local school district. “The opportunity to integrate my volunteer work into my day job through the SAP Concur Volunteer Ambassador program means I get more done overall. I highly value being a part of a company that encourages community engagement.”

Building purpose-driven workplaces is simply the right thing to do, as businesses should contribute as much as they can to the communities in which they operate. But there are other benefits, too. As labor markets grow tighter in North America and elsewhere, our purpose-driven culture helps us attract and retain top talent. We see higher engagement and productivity, which leads to better financial performance for our business. For example, we encourage employees to spend one paid day per quarter volunteering. We make an effort to provide transformational volunteer opportunities, such as skills-based volunteerism like teaching kids to code, that utilizes business skills. We offer opportunities for hands-on volunteerism, such as packing lunches or filling backpacks with school supplies. This generates a deeper connection and sense of purpose for employees while creating value for schools and nonprofit organizations. We also showcase how the work each of us does improves lives and makes the world a better place. We’re proud that more than 750 of our customers are nonprofits doing incredible work around the world and that other customers are creating jobs, growing economies and inventing things that make peoples’ lives better. It’s important to us as a business that we highlight to our employees how the work each of us does is improving lives and making the world a better place, because even though we aren’t curing cancer, some of our customers are.

Connecting with your ‘why’ – albeit different for each of us – is integral to living a fulfilled and happy life. Given we spend the majority of our adult lives working, it is reasonable to believe we see more value in our work than a paycheck. I’d like to express my gratitude to the millennial generation for inspiring us all to reconsider our purpose beyond profit in 2020 and beyond.

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