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This article was published on October 27, 2021

The ultimate employee benefit you need to offer: Purpose

The game has changed and perks don't mean anything without purpose

The ultimate employee benefit you need to offer: Purpose
Bob Lord
Story by

Bob Lord

SVP Worldwide Ecosystems, IBM

Bob is Senior Vice President, Worldwide Ecosystems. He is focused on transforming how IBM engages with clients and ensuring the success of I Bob is Senior Vice President, Worldwide Ecosystems. He is focused on transforming how IBM engages with clients and ensuring the success of IBM’s ecosystems of partners and developers with our open hybrid cloud platform and AI software. At the center of this work is a commitment to open innovation. Bob oversees IBM’s leadership and participation in open source communities, its contribution and donation of open source code, and fosters collaboration across industry, government, academia and NGOs. A prime example is Call for Code, which Bob launched in 2018 to give developers and problem solvers access to IBM tools and technologies as a means to solve global, societal challenges. Since launch, over 400,000 developers and problem solvers from over 179 nations have built solutions for an immediate and lasting impact in society. Prior to IBM, Bob served as President of AOL, leading the company through its evolution into a leading, global advertising platform. He also served as CEO of Razorfish, a pioneering digital transformation consultancy helping companies like Cisco, Condé Nast, Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Pfizer redefine their brands for the digital age. Bob’s experience and passion made him an active member of the TED community, board member for Aqua Finance, a Blackstone Company, and former board member for Williams-Sonoma and Screen Vision Media. He is one of CRN’s 50 “Most Influential” channel chiefs and the author of the 2013 book "Converge: Transforming Business at the Intersection of Marketing and Technology". He began his career as an engineer, graduating from Syracuse University with a BS in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, and holds an MBA from Harvard University.

The world’s labor markets are currently bracing for a mass exodus of workers in what some experts are calling “the Great Resignation.”

Recent surveys indicatemore than a quarter of the global workforce, and perhaps as much as40%, is considering quitting. Meanwhile, U.S. Labor Departmentdata reveals Americans are already leaving their jobs at the highest rates in two decades.

Why? Because with crisis comes perspective.

As many around the world emerge from the most difficult year in their professional lives, a steady job with fair pay and decent benefits is no longer enough.

Even work-from-home options aren’t enough, with data indicating many workers are itching to get back into the office: 63% of people with kids under 12 and 40% of childless workers are ready for the end of work-from-home, according to a recent Haven Lifesurvey.

If, as employers, you want to keep employees engaged and productive for the long term — which I think you definitely should — let me tell you, the game has changed.

You must now meet a higher standard. You must imbue their jobs with meaning. You must offer work with purpose.  

Create meaningful opportunities for employees to become activist engineers

Of course, not all lines of work come with an inherent sense of purpose. This is why nearlytwo-thirds of employers now offer some sort of paid-time-off program to encourage volunteering. That’s commendable.

But these programs leave it to employees to identify and engage with an overwhelming and often unfulfilling array of volunteer opportunities. As a result, only about a third of employees take advantage of these programs.

To truly inspire employees to make a difference, I implore you to create volunteer opportunities that allow employees to become activists, applying the same skills they use in their day jobs.

One example that I know well is Call for Code, a program IBM launched in 2018 with David Clark Cause and The United Nations Human Rights Office, to provide resources, funding, and open source technology to empower developers to create tech for good. 

The response has been staggering, with over half a million developers across 180 countries to date having contributed solutions to address societal problems. For example, four developers from Taiwan, Brazil, Mongolia, and India built an app to bring the power of artificial intelligence and weather insights to help rural farmers struggling with the effects of climate change.

In this way, I view the traction we’ve witnessed with Call for Code as evidence that developers truly crave outlets for activism and a deeper sense of purpose – while also further developing their skills and exercising critical problem-solving skills. 

Offer to fulfill “stretch” assignments

Traditional stretch assignments serve an important role by acknowledging the tedium inherent in some roles. But these extracurricular opportunities often wind up being little more than a repository for unwanted, non-critical work.

To foster a sense of purpose in these assignments, you need to — as a business leader — identify or co-create opportunities to give back to communities while honing existing skills.

The health fitness company Equinox, for example, fundsThe Heroes Project, which provides personal and physical training to severely injured veterans. SMBP, the large recruiting company,donates resume services and career coaching for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

So look at where you can give back and use it to inspire your employees.

Build ecosystems of support

Solving difficult, societal problems requires a variety of expertise and perspectives. But I feel like organizations limit too often the scope of their outreach based on artificial barriers.

When trying to change the world, collaboration with customers, business partners, and even competitors are both necessary and deeply rewarding. This is a wonderful opportunity for deep employee engagement beyond their typical role.

In California, for example, The San Francisco Chronicle heads theSan Francisco Homeless Project, which brings together reporters from dozens of competing news organizations and outlets to report stories that shine a light on the city’s homeless population.

In Nigeria, the consulting company Accenture created a new e-learning platform to reach students in Africa in innovative ways, part of the Junior Achievement Nigeria initiative, a collaboration between many of the world’s leading consultancies and banks.

In both cases, competitive boundaries were crossed in the name of purpose, which is a lesson to us all. 

Two years ago, before the start of the pandemic, the CEOs of the largest companies in America, including former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty,redefined the “purpose of a corporation.” The statement they issued made manifest the corporate philosophies many companies already held. Namely, that the responsibilities of the modern corporation should extend far beyond shareholders to include customers, employees, suppliers, and communities.

They also understood that today’s workforce needs more than stock options and profit-sharing to stay motivated. They need a sense of purpose. A connection to something bigger.

And to be honest, it shouldn’t take a global crisis to make us deliver meaningful opportunities to the workforce so they can apply their shared desire and aptitude for activism to drive social good.

So as the job markets begin to thaw and competition for talent heats up, I believe companies of all shapes and sizes, in every part of the world, need to start investing in purpose the same way they invest in marketing or product development, for the good of their business, and the good of society.

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