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Aaron Hurst is the CEO of Imperative Group Inc., a career development platform that empowers professionals to discover, connect and act on their purpose in their work.
Aaron Hurst is the CEO of Imperative Group Inc., a career development platform that empowers professionals to discover, connect and act on their purpose in their work.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Six ways to help millennials find purpose at work Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

The millennial generation (those born in the 1980s and 1990s) have come of age at a time of great change and uncertainty in the work force. They have entered their careers amid the Great Recession and with the reality that they will likely change jobs every two years for the next 40 years of their lives.

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This sense of chaos has brought with it a need to find stability and a future path within ourselves rather than from an employer. It has placed meaning and purpose at the heart of the contemporary work force – purpose, rather than career longevity, now provides the stability millennials seek. In a 2011 report by Harris Interactive, commissioned by the Career Advisory Board, meaning was the top career priority for those between the ages of 21 and 31.

At Imperative Group, a career development platform that connects millennials to their purpose at work, we are working to leverage the learning from workplace researchers to help employers work with young talent. We have found that six strategies boost purpose for millennials and increase their engagement within an organization.

1. Fit the job to the person, not the person to the job

Companies like Cornerstone Capital Group, which specializes in sustainable business investing, have begun to adopt changes to increase employee purpose. Erika Karp, the chief executive officer, told me that she asks her employees whether they had a good day and to identify moments that made it so. She then works with them to refine their job, making small adjustments to change their engagement at work and boost their meaning.

2. Practise servant leadership

A top-down approach turns off many millennials, who seek a more collaborative style of management that supports their hunger for independence and openness. This is why we have seen the success of open-source communities like Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox Web brower, the rapid rise of co-working spaces and the popularity of crowdsourcing.

At the Mozilla Foundation, head of people Debbie Cohen leads a new approach to human resources, which challenged the traditional management styles of hierarchy and competition. Ms. Cohen encourages leaders to succeed by following rather than directing; she fosters a culture where people worked cohesively to advance the organization’s mission. They are servant leaders and coaches, not managers and bosses.

3. Champion self-awareness

At the core of finding purpose at work is self-awareness. Organizations need to partner with employees to help them discover what creates purpose for them at work. It isn’t about causes or even the organization’s mission. Purpose comes down to the depth of our relationships, professional growth and being able to do something greater than ourselves. But we each need to do this based on our own psychological makeup. Imperative has converted the research on purpose into a free diagnostic tool on our site to help people define their purpose and craft a purpose statement.

4. Make work social

Despite the reality that they will be changing jobs regularly throughout their careers, 71 per cent of millennials said in a survey by online collaboration company Premiere Global Services (PGI) that they want their co-workers to be a second family. This means creating a culture where work can be social and be done in teams. New offices are being built today with significant social and collaboration space (online and offline) to meet this need.

5. Let people bring themselves to work

The old idea of drawing a line between our work identity and personal identity is fading. As Pew reported, millennials are very expressive and open to change. This can be disturbing to the old guard but if you look at any millennial-run organization, they have a culture where you are not only allowed to be human at work but it is expected of you every day.

6. Invest in mentors

Having been heavily coached through high school and college, millennials strongly desire mentors and according to PGI, 75 per cent say that mentors are crucial to their success. Creating effective mentoring programs and cultures isn’t easy. The key is to find mentors who can provide employees with guidance on their jobs and their purpose.

By 2025, millennials will comprise 75 per cent of the work force. Employers, from government to companies to non-profits, that design their organizations around their needs will be the ones that thrive in the new economy where purposeful work is defining success.

Aaron Hurst (@Aaron_Hurst) is an entrepreneur and the author of The Purpose Economy: How Your Desire for Impact, Personal Growth and Community is Changing the World. He is the CEO of Imperative Group Inc. (@Imperative), a career development platform that empowers professionals to discover, connect and act on their purpose in their work.

Follow us on Twitter: @Globe_Careers

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