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“The drive toward greater meaning and purpose at work is a shift in the deepest current governing where the world of work is headed. We ignore it at our peril.”

"Salaries and a career pathway are no longer enough to attract the best emerging talent – they want professional purpose and greater meaning" - Orlagh Hunt, Chief People Officer & Sustainability Lead at YBS

Orlagh Hunt

06 July 2022

Orlagh Hunt

Story by
Orlagh Hunt, Chief People Officer & Sustainability Lead at YBS

Trends come and go. But, make no mistake, the drive towards greater meaning and purpose at work isn’t just a momentary fad. It’s a shift in the deepest current governing where the world of work is headed. We ignore it at our peril.

The early shoots of a radical shift in what people want from work have been there for some time. When Millennials came of age, their older Generation X or Baby Boomer bosses sometimes despaired at their demands, their expectations, their lofty ideals.

But this wasn’t just an intergenerational spat. Millennials laid the seeds of profound change that Generation Z is now propelling forward ever faster.

All the data is telling us this. Research by PwC has shown that 86% of employees prefer to support or work for companies that care about the same issues they do. More than three-quarters will stop buying from companies that treat the environment, employees, or the community poorly. Job fulfilment and the ability to be authentic at work clock in just behind pay considerations among employees considering a job change.

By 2029, Millennials and Generation Z will make up 72% of the world’s workforce. It means a radically more expansive experience at work will no longer be just an attractive extra, but a commercial necessity. And for those of us working in HR, our remit will therefore expand increasingly further than pay, perks and progression.

I’ve experienced this in my role as Chief People Officer at the Yorkshire Building Society where social purpose and sustainability was added to my brief in September 2020.

As a mutual, we have a strong purpose and have always been committed to people and community so there was a synergy around the societal piece and a broader ESG agenda for us. Our work in communities and on our I&D were already part of the people division agenda. It was a logical bridge for us into the arena of sustainability covering everything from the products we offer to the partners we work with.

Taking it on was certainly a personal learning curve. To prep for the role, I did some training at Oxford University and the data was more sobering than I could ever have anticipated. But they’ve also fuelled my passion for this work and the role business must play in finding solutions to these huge societal and environmental challenges.

It’s never been more critical. Sustainability is fundamental to our business model – on a practical, financial, and ethical level – and the younger generations we are looking to recruit know they are at the sharpest point of impact for all this.

They are inheriting a working world with significant social inequality and climate challenges that will need to be tackled in their employment lifetime – and these considerations are now forming a key part of their decision-making process about who to work for, and how long.

More than 50% of Gen Z who are dissatisfied with their organization’s societal impact, progress on diversity and commitment to sustainability would like to leave their job within two years.

But be warned: this isn’t time for headline-grabbing generalisations about your positive impact. Emerging talent is more discerning than ever about what you say – and what you do. They will research, evidence your claims via external agencies and call you out if you are not doing what you say. Their skepticism however will drive our collective accountability.

"It’s a big ask. It can at times feel overwhelming. But this isn’t about being perfect or having all the answers. What’s key though is that we are on the journey: personally, professionally, and organisationally."

Orlagh Hunt - professional purpose and greater meaning.

For us at YBS, sustainability is multi-faceted and comes from our purpose of real help with real life, by helping people to find a place to call home and to build their financial wellbeing. We have six areas in our ESG strategy, covering a host of sustainability related topics, including diversity, and championing our people, investing in & supporting our communities, and minimising our impact on the planet.

In terms of people, it’s about providing a workplace that promotes an inclusive and diverse culture that colleagues can be proud to work for. We also strive to be an environment that enables colleagues to succeed and to support them when they’re struggling. We provide them with the tools and support to manage their health and wellbeing, and to make sure they receive the appropriate reward and recognition for their contributions.

As a mutual, it’s in our DNA that we provide support and investment into our local communities. We have a strong physical presence in Bradford, one of the most income-deprived areas of the country and so we partner with local schools, colleges, and communities to deliver everything from digital skills programmes to employment opportunities.

We are also looking at the broader work of impacting low aspiration levels at our target schools as we know the impact of work experience opportunities can be transformative.

When it comes to the environment, YBS has made good progress on our direct carbon emissions but we are now starting to look at our carbon impact downstream. That means anything from the houses we help people buy with our mortgage products to helping them upgrade existing homes. The impact of our supply chain is also key.

A challenge facing us all of course is investors. Just as government and business both have a role to play, so too do investors. Put simply, the focus on short-term profit must shift. Investors are increasingly understanding the importance of ESG credentials and the correlation they have to return-on-investment. In response to this, it’s key that we improve our transparency and how we communicate their ESG data points, to highlight performance and progress.

Emerging talent plays a crucial role in helping us tackle these pressing issues. We need powerful voices joining our organisations to force the pace of change and as people professionals, we are perfectly positioned to make sure they do. As the engine room of not only powering the progression and retention of existing talent, but acquiring and retaining it in the future, we must fully embrace our role in guiding change within our organisations and drawing the younger generations into them.

It’s a big ask. It can at times feel overwhelming. But this isn’t about being perfect or having all the answers. What’s key though is that we are on the journey: personally, professionally, and organisationally.

But if we truly embrace this then make no mistake: as leaders we can significantly contribute to creating the kind of meaningful organizations that the leaders of tomorrow will want to work for.

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