People & Leadership

Why purpose matters for every small business 

Discover how purpose-driven environmental, social, and governance initiatives can help your small business attract and retain top talent.

The global job market has changed. Gone are the days where businesses could simply offer higher salaries to attract top talent. Though money is still important, today’s employees care about more. A lot more. 

In this article, we explore how small businesses face a big challenge and even bigger opportunity to attract and retain the best possible people—with purpose-driven jobs. 

We cover: 

Why people seek meaningful work 

There are 2 main factors that have shifted what employees expect from the companies they work for.  

The first was the pandemic, where furlough schemes, redundancies, and remote working all gave people the opportunity to reassess what really matters to them. 

They started to take a holistic view of their lives, and discovered there were more priorities than the money they earned. For example, instantly eliminating hours of commuting allowed them to strike a better work-life balance. 

Eloise Skinner, a psychotherapist and author whose work focuses on existential analysis, reflects on how this changed what employees value: 
“People had time during the pandemic to consider what they really wanted out of a career and working life. The big existential questions of those years and the unpredictability they brought led to an increased focus on purpose and meaningful work.” 

87% of millennials said the success of a business should be measured by more than just financial performance. 

The second factor is the rising urgency of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues, like climate change, diversity and inclusion, and ethical business practices. People are recognising the ethical responsibility for businesses to have standards in place for these challenges. 

This is reflected in a survey by Deloitte, in which 87% of millennials said the success of a business should be measured by more than just financial performance. 

These are not empty expectations either. People are willing to act and make decisions based on their expectations. A KPMG survey found that 46% of workers want the company they work for to demonstrate a commitment to ESG, and 20% have even turned down a job offer when the company’s commitments didn’t align with their values. 

20% of workers have turned down a job offer when the company’s commitments didn’t align with their values. 

Opportunities of purpose-driven jobs 

It’s easy to view the demand for purpose-driven jobs as a tough challenge. After all, the dynamic between employers and candidates has shifted, with workers becoming more selective when it comes to accepting job offers or leaving a company. 

A more positive view is to see this as an opportunity. Especially if you’re a small business. 

Think of it like this—large corporations may have the advantage of brand recognition and resources, but as a smaller business you can be faster and more flexible when it comes to delivering purpose-driven initiatives. 

By showing a strong commitment to a higher purpose, you can resonate with candidates on a deeper level. This can help you attract and retain those with high expectations and create a better culture for your employees. 

Putting purpose-driven initiatives in place and building trust with potential employees takes a lot longer for large businesses. They face more bureaucracy and people are more sceptical about their true intentions. 

Pinar Akiskalioglu founded TAKK—an ethical beauty care business which fights plastic in landfill, beauty hype, and big brands’ focus on excessive consumerism. Purpose drives the very existence of the business, and Pinar explains how this gives TAKK an essential edge: 

“Today, the most visionary, capable, and talented people aren’t interested in working for a company that doesn’t have a stance or purpose.”  

“If you work for a fossil fuel company, for example, it’s very difficult to justify your role in the future of society. As the planet faces increasingly insurmountable challenges, a business with a social impact holds far greater weight.” 

Business examples of being purpose-driven  

There are many ways you can become a more purpose-driven business. Any strategic effort to align your actions, goals, and values with a higher purpose will allow you to do this.  

Try to create initiatives that centre around making a positive impact or meaningful change in areas that are important to you. 

Some examples of this from well-known businesses include: 

  1. Patagonia’s “Worn Wear” 

Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, launched the “Worn Wear” initiative to encourage customers to repair and reuse their clothing rather than buying new items. This aims to reduce waste and promote sustainability in the fashion industry. 

  1. Toms’ “One for One” Movement 

Shoe company Toms created the “One for One” movement. For every pair of shoes purchased, Toms donates a pair of shoes to a person in need. This aims to address global poverty and improve access to footwear for underserved communities. 

  1. Microsoft’s “AI for Good”  

Through the “AI for Good” program, Microsoft partners with organizations and individuals to develop AI-powered solutions that address challenges in areas such as environmental sustainability, healthcare, and accessibility. 

Making a world of difference 

With the impacts of climate change continuing, today’s job seekers are prioritising companies that have sustainability and environmental initiatives in place.  

As individuals, it can feel as though effecting positive change is an impossible task. But as part of a collective (in this case a company), people can actively contribute to protecting the wellbeing of the planet.  

This creates a huge sense of empowerment that can transform how people view their work, how they perform, and their attitude towards the company. 

“Knowing that the work is meaningful and contributing towards a greater purpose is compelling, and gives each employee a sense of fulfilment,” Eloise said.  

“A person might also gain a greater understanding of their role—instead of thinking their work is insignificant, they see how it fits into the broader mission of the business. There might also be a sense of passion or an increased feeling of support for the company, if the mission also aligns with the employee’s personal values.” 

Heard of carbon accounting? 

Carbon accounting is the process of measuring and managing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions your business produces. This brings many benefits, including helping you find cost savings through energy efficiency measures, improving your brand reputation, and increasing both employee and customer loyalty. It also helps you stay ahead of regulatory requirements and demonstrates your commitment to sustainability. 

27% of businesses believe sustainability credentials are important for attracting and retaining talent. 

A survey by HSBC found that 27% of businesses believe sustainability credentials are important for attracting and retaining talent. 

Learn how Sage Earth can help you demonstrate your commitment to ESG and win an advantage in a competitive recruitment market. 

Where to start 

Ok, so you’re ready to refine your values and give your business a noble purpose that today’s top employees will rally behind.  

But before you start brainstorming ideas for new initiatives, there are 2 fundamental areas of your business that need thinking about: 

Create a compelling employer brand (attraction) 

Take a step back and look at your brand. More specifically, think about how it comes across to potential recruits. This is your employer brand, and it’s hugely important in helping you attract the right people. 

Ask these questions: 

  • Are your values clear? 
  • Can you demonstrate how the business makes a positive impact in the world? 
  • Could you be doing more? 
  • Is your purpose obvious across key recruitment touchpoints like your job ads, interview processes, website, and social channels? 

This should highlight if you need to work a bit more on how your brand is perceived by the job market specifically. Remember, the more you do, the more you can share, and the more you can differentiate your business against even the largest competitors. 

Build a culture of purpose (retention) 

Make your company culture more purpose-driven to help you retain your top employees that are passionate about ESG issues. 

To do this, involve employees in decision-making processes and use their input to create and evolve your initiatives. This will give people a sense of personal ownership and ensure the good work you’re doing doesn’t feel dictated. It’ll also encourage innovation and provide an environment where employees feel safe to share ideas and break new ground. 

When evolving your culture, Pinar reminds us that this shouldn’t be an empty aim, but a concrete plan that will form the future of your business. Though you’ll need to address the considerations of any change, becoming more purpose-driven will lead to amazing things:  

“When implementing an approach that is more purpose-driven, you need to have a long-term plan. This includes how you’ll retain relationships with your customers and be a viable and thriving company in years to come.” 

“Get this right and you’ll become more appealing to potential investors. Many believe that the way the world currently operates is not sustainable and are actively looking to invest in companies that are trying to solve the problem. It’s your long-term plan that will give them the confidence to put their money forward.” 

Final thoughts 

What people value from their work has changed, and there’s no going back.  

This is your opportunity to give candidates more and stand out against even the most established competitors. 

So, be bold. Commit to a higher purpose. Collaborate with your team to launch initiatives.  

Do this and you’ll transform your business into a meaningful brand and build an empowered team that truly values showing up every day. 

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