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How to cultivate employee fulfillment on your team

Driving more organization-wide support for sustainability starts with building self-awareness about your team's purpose and the impact of the work they do.

Since launching the B Corp career-development platform Imperative in 2015, Aaron Hurst and his team have been working with leading companies to "empower everyone to make their work fulfilling."

According to Imperative research, about two-thirds of today’s workforce is unfulfilled, meaning they are less likely to perform well, less likely to stay at their organization long term and importantly, less likely to be happy in life.

Imperative’s 2019 Workforce Purpose Index takes a deep dive into how employers can help employees become more fulfilled at work. Imperative makes a good business case for why this matters: Fulfilled employees are better performers, they stay longer and they are better company ambassadors.

I found this research intriguing from the standpoint of sustainability teams: Aren’t sustainability people, by the purposeful nature of their work, more likely to be fulfilled employees? And if so, could sustainability teams cultivate employee fulfillment across their organization by engaging more people in the company’s sustainability mission and work?

The Imperative report notes that people with a "purpose mindset" — people who believe their work provides meaning in their lives and creates positive change in the world — are 52 percent more likely to report feeling fulfilled at work. Hurst told me that sustainability professionals are more likely to have a purpose mindset, which is good news. But he also noted that "employees working in high-impact roles often under-invest in themselves and their relationships."

This means that by being ambassadors for sustainability within their company, sustainability teams may be able to cultivate employee fulfillment — and drive more organization-wide support for sustainability in the process. But first, sustainability teams need to cultivate fulfillment themselves. Imperative offers four steps to do this.

  1. Increase employee self-awareness: According to Imperative, most people want to be fulfilled at work, and 74 percent of people believe fulfillment is possible. Most employees also believe that individuals have responsibility for their own fulfillment. This makes the first step — increasing employee self-awareness — important. Help your team understand their purpose and the impact of the work they do. This helps employees develop a purpose mindset. Also encourage them to think about the quality of their relationships and the impact they contribute, and help them think through opportunities for growth.
  2. Empower your people to coach and mentor each other: Peer learning strengthens relationships, which is a critical part of fulfillment. It also helps all employees develop and grow. Moreover, people want to do it: The survey reveals that 90 percent of employees are happy to coach others. If employees are so motivated to coach, why isn’t this happening more? Hurst told me that most employers don’t create the infrastructure for peer coaching, and they don’t give their employees the permission they need to do it. "Think of volunteering," he said. "There’s demand, and to some level, it happens organically, but it needs to be programmatically supported in order to scale." To enable peer coaching, make time, give people explicit permission and create a structure for reflection, feedback and informal conversations.
  3. Put your employees first: Teams develop stronger bonds and feel more confident and secure when they feel their company puts employees before customers. Imperative experts say a good test of whether your company puts employees first is to ask yourself and other managers: Do you treat your people like "human beings" or "human resources"? Do you define success as "being busy" or "making an impact"?
  4. Cultivate your own purpose mindset: The final step is to cultivate your own awareness and make sure you are embracing a purpose mindset. Do you understand your purpose at work? Do you see your work as meaningful in your life? Do you believe your work is making an impact in the world and influencing others?

"Sustainability teams should consider investing more in relationships and personal growth because this is where core teams will see the greatest gains," Hurst explained. "There’s also a tremendous opportunity to turn every employee into part of the sustainability team by using peer coaching so that each employee is regularly reflecting with peers on ways that they can impact not only their personal sustainability, but also use their influence in their job to identify and act on opportunities within their orbit."

In other words, by cultivating fulfillment within the sustainability team, we have a chance to bring so much more impact to our work.

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