Connecting Work Ethic to Company Mission

In last month’s blog post I explained why it’s important for managers to clearly define work ethic before discussing expectations with their direct reports. Today I’m building on that theme to discuss the importance of connecting work ethic to company mission.

Connect the dots between individual roles and the goals of the organization. When people see that connection, they get a lot of energy out of work. They feel the importance, dignity, and meaning in their job. 

— Ken Blanchard

By the Numbers: The Value of This Connection

An employee’s work ethic can be strongly influenced by several factors, including how linked he or she feels to the company mission. This connection is particularly important among Millennials, with one recent survey indicating that 59% of Millennials have the “desire for a job that can make a difference” and a report from the Council of Economic Advisors pointing out that they value “making a contribution to society” and “want to be leaders in their communities.” And all signs indicate that the next group that’s just starting to enter the workplace, Generation Z, will share its predecessors’ interest in having a positive impact on society.

With these trends in mind, senior leaders should expect the concepts of environmental sustainability and corporate responsibility to creep into conversations about company mission. As companies increasingly institute sustainable sourcing and production practices, those efforts are recognized–and valued–by both their customers and their employees, particularly those of younger generations. Nearly three-quarters of the Millennial and Generation Z respondents to one recent Nielsen global online study were “willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings,” for example.

In that Nielsen study, , Grace Farraj, senior vice president of public development and sustainability at Nielsen, points out, “Brands that establish a reputation for environmental stewardship among today’s youngest consumers have an opportunity to not only grow market share but build loyalty among the power-spending Millennials of tomorrow, too.” With that loyalty expressed not just in customers’ spending but also in employees’ increased commitment to joining (and staying with) a company, organizations have a strong motivation for incorporating sustainability efforts into their corporate mission. Even organizations that aren’t as overtly “mission driven” as some (such as community-based groups, nonprofits, or charities) can benefit from having a strong mission.

Research by Hewitt Associates indicates that a company’s active pursuit of pro-environment practices has a direct impact on its employees’ positive attitudes about those efforts-and that those attitudes can influence employee engagement and loyalty. Similarly, a survey by the Society for Human Resources Management found in companies a strong correlation between strong sustainability programs and “positive outcomes.” When surveyed about the effects of such initiatives at their organizations, 55% of employers reported “improved employee morale,” 43% pointed to “more efficient business processes,” 43% said that their companies had “strong public image,” and 38% said there was “increased employee loyalty.”

Success Stories of Connecting Work Ethic to Company Mission

The benefits of prioritizing environmental sustainability and corporate responsibility are clear. If you want to attract and retain top employees at your organization, you need to appeal to the aspects of their work ethic that values social engagement and demonstrate how your company mission ties into expected employee behavior.

For example, consider Starbucks, a company that has publicly declared its commitment to having a positive impact on the communities it serves. On its website, Starbucks lists its four strategies for achieving that goal:

  • “Source ethically and sustainably”
  • “Create opportunities” by offering “education, training, and employment”
  • “Lead in green retail” by “minimizing our environmental footprint and inspiring others to do the same”
  • “Strengthen communities” by promoting “public conversation and elevating civic engagement through service and promoting voter registration”

The website for Whole Foods similarly details its mission in descriptions of its eight core values (rather than in one specific mission statement). Through supporting local and global communities and practicing and advancing environmental stewardship, the company marries its ethics to its pursuit of profits and growth.

Smart companies link their business goals to a social- and environmental-focused company mission. Smart managers then ensure that each and every one of their employees understands the ethical elements of the company’s mission, then tie that mission to each employee’s work ethic. Making this connection enables companies to secure better employee buy-in for these effort–and even increase employee loyalty (especially among the Millennials and Generation Z employees who value those goals).

Making the Connections at Your Organization

If your company already promotes corporate responsibility in its mission statement, make sure that your managers and your employees are on the same page in their understanding of how the organization’s goals tie in to employee goals and work ethic and to broader, society-wide goals. If your company doesn’t have a mission statement with clear links to corporate responsibility (and isn’t interested in developing one at this time), you can still build employee loyalty by tying individual goals into company goals.

This connection can help motivate and engage employees of all ages by making them feel that they’re part of the organization’s “bigger picture” and not merely cogs in the corporate wheel. Savvy managers will thoroughly explain the organization’s mission, vision, and goals, then connect the dots to show how, by accomplishing his or her own tasks and projects, each individual employee helps the company meet those goals. These connections are especially important for younger generations: if managers want to elicit a positive work ethic (meaning getting the job done on time per the quality standards you’ve laid out) among those groups, they need to make sure that those employees understand why their work matters and its importance in the grand scheme of running the company. If that connection isn’t clear to them, don’t be surprised if your Millennial employees push back on the need to do the work (or halfheartedly turns in subpar work).

Even though younger generations have a reputation for prioritizing “the greater good” in their work, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the needs of older employees. The company mission matters to Baby Boomers and the members of Generation X, too. (The good news is that Baby Boomers usually need less of an overt tie-in to the company mission, because they don’t spend a lot of time asking why something needs to be accomplished and just focus on getting it done.) Regardless of what generation employees (and their managers) come from, though, employee engagement and loyalty can be strengthened by connecting the company mission to work ethic.

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