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The One Character Trait That Employers Are Now Desperate For

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 3/11/2015 Alexander C. Kaufman
ATHENA IMAGE © skynesher via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

American companies are at a crossroads.

One path favors, above all else, profitability for shareholders, often at the expense of the environment, workers' rights or executives' wellness. The other, which a growing number of companies are choosing, elevates all stakeholders whose lives are affected by a firm's operations -- not just those with a financial interest.

In short, companies are increasingly becoming motivated by a social mission, and they should seek out workers driven by similar goals. 

That can be a challenge. Only 28 percent of U.S. workers -- about 42 million out of 150 million people -- feel they find meaning in their lives through work, according to a report released Monday. The study resulted from a 36-question online survey of 6,332 adults this past August. 

That's a relatively small pond in which to fish. 

"The most important objective of any employer is to bring in people who have that purposeful gene, that purposeful orientation," co-author Anna Tavis, an adjunct professor at New York University’s School of Professional Studies, told The Huffington Post by phone. "They need to be identifying and looking for those people." 

Purpose-oriented workers tend to be better employees because they are motivated by the meaning they find in or bring to their work, not the paychecks or fancy titles their jobs yield, according to co-author Aaron Hurst, chief executive of the firm Imperative, which helps companies identify purpose-driven candidates. 

Of the industries examined in the study, education and nonprofit work polled as the top two most purpose-driven, though neither of them had a majority of workers finding meaning in their jobs. Every industry had at least 16 percent of its workers feel purpose driven.

Among individual workers, artists and entertainers topped the list, with 55 percent of those surveyed saying they felt driven by purpose. At the bottom of that list were operators and laborers.

Hurst said his company offers assessments to help hiring managers test for behaviors that demonstrate purpose orientation. But, in the absence of such tests, he suggested probing at three different areas of interviewees' future and past career plans:

1. Retirement: "Purpose-oriented people don't think of retirement as a desirable outcome," he said. "They see life as doing always some kind of work and providing value to the world."

That isn't to say companies should only hire workers who never want to stop working. But if a potential employee's main motivator for going to work every day seems to be keeping warm the nest egg he or she hopes to retire on, that person may not value the meaningfulness of work in the moment.

2. Work history: "What changes did they make, and why?" Hurst said. "Were they trying to make more money and get a bigger title? Or were they looking to maximize their impact?"

3. Friendships in the office: "A lot of purpose-oriented people tend to make a lot of friends at work," he said. "If you're interviewing someone who is still in touch with people from previous jobs, you'll start to see some people driven by purpose." 

But there's more at play here than an employer being highly selective during the hiring process. Purpose-driven people gravitate toward companies and organizations with a social mission, so if a company wants to attract purpose-driven workers, it must find its own purpose. 

Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter reincorporated last month as a public benefit corporation, a relatively new corporate structure that prioritizes a social mission -- in this case, funding creative projects -- over profit. Since then, visits to Kickstarter's jobs page are up 33 percent

In April, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, known for his strong sense of corporate responsibility, took on Indiana's controversial "religious freedom" law, the original version of which critics said would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people. Employees at the cloud-computing giant rallied behind Benioff, who lobbied legislators to can the legislation and vowed to move out of the state any workers who opposed the law. 

At Kind Snacks, the maker of high-end fruit and nut bars, the workplace culture is so built on "unremitting loyalty and trust" that some employees give two years' notice before leaving.

"There's an obligation on the part of the employer to be a purposeful company," Tavis said. "That way, you're connecting into an ecosystem of job seekers looking for purpose and purposeful companies looking for workers with purposeful orientation." 

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