Creating the purpose economy starts with your workforce

One thing CSRs often try to do is get employees engaged in company sustainability programs. Any program will find it hard to engender engagement if all an employee can think of is clocking out to go home.

In his One Great Idea talk at GreenBiz Forum 2015 in Phoenix, Ariz., Imperative CEO Aaron Hurst laid plain the fact that many employees feel much more fulfilled by the work they do for free. 

Even then, there aren't enough volunteer opportunities for everyone who want to donate their time. Hurst said that 4 million people sought volunteer positions on LinkedIn, but demand for those positions far outstrips the supply. 

"For every 20 people, there was one opportunity for people to get involved," Hurst said.

The impact of that work wasn't even the main driving force of wanting to volunteer, either.  "It actually had to do with the fact that they had incredible relationships with people who shared values," Hurst said. "The relationships and the social interaction they had in pro bono work was much more fulfilling than what they had in their day job.

"They did have a chance to make an impact, which felt great. But they also have a chance to grow. In their day job, they weren't given a chance to stretch."

Hurst argued that companies can provide that sense of purpose, and later hosted a workshop on how to accomplish just that.

"The reality is, you can make work feel like pro bono work," Hurst said. "It's an opportunity to radically change work, by setting the goal and having that ideal that all work should feel like pro bono work."

Hurst then showed a slide that said 70 percent of a bag of chips is just air, and compared that to the average company workforce. 

"Seventy percent of the people you're paying are not delivering up to their potential to drive innovation, growth and profits for your organization. It's a societal catastrophe," he said.

The problem, as he saw it, is that companies often don't think about the wants and needs of their employees outside of pay and benefits.

"We design our work for professionals, not human beings," he said. "The professional ideal is a robot ideal, not a human ideal. And the robot ideal led to this bag of chips."

Hurst said the solution was for companies to systemically adopt a higher purpose and implement it at all levels. He gave an example of how absurd it would be for a company to donate $500 to plant a single tree when the company is responsible for cutting down 10,000.

"It is not enough to give someone a volunteer opportunity and say that you've addressed the issue of employee engagement [and] employee empowerment," Hurst said. "It's the same as giving money for that one tree and not addressing the fact you've cut down 10,000."