As the spring season begins in the northern hemisphere, I witness many final year university students busy planning their careers and life after graduation. Employers are hosting recruiting events, career offices are busy with career fairs, and graduating students are faced with a myriad of considerations for their future. While all of these activities may look like the same pattern that we have seen for decades, under the surface (albeit more virtual in many cases), there is an undercurrent of change.
The traditional employer “pitch” or Employee Value Proposition (EVP) to new recruits has traditionally centred on the earning potential, nature of the job, and the career prospects. Some might argue that the traditional EVP can be simplified into a three-variable equation:
EVP = S + R + C
Where salary (S) combined with the nature of the role (R) and the promise of career prospects (C) are combined as a measure of the attractiveness provided by an employer. While this may be an oversimplification that does not consider many other factors, we do see evidence of this in job choices by graduates. This three-factor model may be especially true in business schools where MBA students are seeking to achieve a high return on their investment (ROI). The prospect of earning high salaries in consulting, financial services, or the tech industry is still attractive, yet seems to be somehow insufficient for many graduates. As one employer noted during a recent campus visit, “We need to work harder to attract top talent – they are often looking for more of a meaningful experience.”
The pandemic coupled with increasing awareness to global and social issues has changed the expectations of many in the workforce. This seems to be especially true with those who have recently entered the workforce. So, how might employers re-align their EVP to meet the needs of the rising talent? Based on the current trends related to the future of work, it seems that focusing on mission, values, and purpose can have a significant impact. Let’s take a closer look at each of these areas:
Some occupations and businesses are clearly aligned toward a mission that is viewed as positively affecting society and the planet (education, environmental, etc.). Yet, in many occupations people have choices. Consider the simple example of an engineer being offered a job at both a petroleum energy company and a solar energy company. Oftentimes, graduates will gladly accept the solar energy role for a significantly lower salary. This choice may reflect their own values as well as the perceived peer pressure to make a positive impact in the world.
While not all employers may have a strong positive mission related to saving the planet or improving society, it is possible to create a positive sense of mission in other ways. Consider the office furniture manufacturer that shares a mission such as, “We care for the physical, ergonomic well-being of workforces everywhere to enable meaningful collaboration as they solve the problems of our time.” This is quite a contrast to the old mantra: “To be the leading supplier of office equipment in the world.” Creating and communicating a strong sense of mission that is appealing to the workforce can bring about a positive sense of affiliation and pride in the organization, which is more critical than ever before.
While most organizations have taken the time to state organizational values, it is surprising how infrequently these are used in the processes of attracting and retaining talent. No longer are these abstract words posted on a website or plastered on conference room walls sufficient for making an impact. Talent today is seeking to understand the values and how they are practiced inside the organization on a daily basis.
Consider the organization that has a stated value of “Unwavering Humanity.” It is not only important to share what this means on a day-to-day basis in the organization, but how this might become meaningful and differentiated for a potential new recruit. For example, does this mean that the firm respects the individual’s choice to work from home at odd hours – or will the firm support an employee's interest in providing humanitarian aid? Creating clear statements and examples can help bring values to life, which can be critical for attracting and retaining talent.
Just as organizations have a mission statement, many individuals are seeking or have established a strong sense of purpose. In fact, on my college campuses we have transformed the old “Placement and Career Services Office” into “Career and Life Design Centres,” reflecting the need to help young professionals chart out their personal journey with purpose in mind.
The concept of having a meaningful purpose was highlighted during the pandemic as people reflected on their work in light of the fragility of humanity facing a crisis. “What is the point to this job and why am I doing this?” was an often-repeated reflection throughout workforces around the world. When an individual can see and state a clear sense of purpose in what they do, we often see a heightened sense of intrinsic motivation and fulfillment.
Considering mission, values, and purpose has become more critical when considering the employee value proposition. The days of only thinking about pay-scales, job descriptions, and career movement is no longer sufficient.
When thinking or re-thinking the employee value proposition, I suggest a modification to the general model that suggests that mission, values, and purpose are necessary. When they are not present or addressed, they can dilute the overall value of the value proposition such that:
EVP = (S+R+C)/(M+V+P)
Where the employee value proposition (EVP) is the combination of salary (S), role (R) , and career (C) value divided by the perceived alignment of the firm mission (M), organization values (V), and role purpose (P). Of course, this is an incomplete and over-simplification to help emphasise the importance of taking a more holistic perspective to the EVP as we consider the future of work.
The pandemic had a major impact on our lives and has created a shift in how we think about our relationships with work. It is no surprise therefore that we must rethink the employee value proposition and how we communicate this to our employees and our potential talent. The shift toward more meaning, more impact, and more fulfillment seems clear, which calls for a renewed focus on mission, values, and purpose.
As I encounter students graduating this spring, I expect to hear their expressions of excitement in considering their future, not in terms of big salaries, great roles, and glamorous careers, but rather in terms of the anchoring to the mission of their organization, the values that they uphold, and the purpose that drives them toward future success. I hope that employers are able to shift to the new EVP equation to bring these bright new futures to life.