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Corporate purpose divides employees and senior business leaders, research finds

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New research published by Business in the Community, The Prince’s Responsible Business Network, has found that when it comes to companies having a clear sense of purpose, senior leaders and employees feel differently. Five in 10 (54%) senior leaders from large companies believe their company’s purpose impacts on their role, compared with three in 10 of employees. Corporate purpose is defined as the reason why a business exists beyond generating profits, and how that company benefits wider society.

A recent survey by Business in the Community (BITC) and commissioned by YouGov found that seven in 10 employees believed it was important to work for a business with a clear sense of purpose.1
However, opinions differed on whether their companies had a purpose, particularly among employees and business leaders from varying company sizes. Respondents also disagreed on the impact of a company’s purpose on jobs and whether employees were being rewarded by businesses for aligning with their purpose.

The research found that:

  • Seven in 10 (65%) employees at large sized companies reported believing their business had a purpose, compared to four in 10 (43%) employees at small businesses and three in 10 (31%) at microbusinesses
  • Five in 10 business leaders from small (54%) and microbusinesses (45%) believe their companies’ purpose impacts on their roles, compared with six in 10 (65%) senior leaders from larger businesses
  • Eight in 10 (83%) senior leaders believed workers are being rewarded when their actions align to their business’s purpose, compared to seven in 10 (68%) employees

BITC has published a new report, Embedding Purpose: Lessons from Business, which outlines 10 key learnings on how employers can define and embed a clear purpose for their business that is transparent to employees, and which can act as a catalyst for achieving their ESG targets.

These findings include:

  • Integrating measurable ESG targets into the core success metrics of a business helps to drive purpose delivery
  • Embedding purpose-related performance into employee evaluations and compensation schemes drives individual action and accountability
  • Purpose champions’ help embed purpose-driven decision-making and action at every level of the organisation

Alastair Loasby, Responsible Business Director at Business in the Community, said:

“Understanding the role that businesses play in wider society has become more important to employees over time and this research shows that trends are only going up. People want to feel a sense of purpose when they go to work that is more than profit margins, sales reports and quarterly reviews.

“No one business, person or organisation can achieve the drastic changes that we need to see on the environmental and social agendas alone. Collective action is fundamental to reaching net zero, supporting people who struggling to pay bills and giving opportunities to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Senior leaders must ensure that they embed a purpose that all of their employees can support and understand the individual role that they play in achieving a more equitable and fairer world.

A clearly defined purpose is at the heart of any responsible business, and that is the way forward for any business, large or small.”

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