Stephanie Matthews
Dec 9, 2021

Why a focus on 'personal purpose' can help fight 'The Great Resignation'

It’s time to put purpose at the heart of employee retention strategies, activist and Creative Equals director writes.

(Ian Schneider on Unsplash)
(Ian Schneider on Unsplash)

The latest, hotly debated research from the IPA and effectiveness expert Peter Field recently stressed the power of brand-building purpose campaigns in “engaging employees, stakeholders and investors”, as well as “driving customer sales”. Marketers are looking at how to authentically integrate “purpose” into their brand strategy, asking: "How does it align with diversity, equity and inclusion? Do I have the credibility to enter this space, and if I do, how do I sell this into the business?"

While they often discuss the concept of being purpose-led for the brands they look after, I ask how many apply this lens to their own life. 

"The Great Resignation” has propelled many—including me—into reconsidering how they spend their time. This was confirmed by recent research from the US (McKinsey, 2021), where two in three employees have reflected on their purpose. You’ve got the career, the house, the holidays, the fancy dinners and online shopping hauls. When you take it all away, why is any of this important? What does it mean? How does any of it ladder up to your personal purpose? None of us is here solely for the pay cheque. That’s just a basic hygiene factor to keep us comfortable—there has to be more. 

Blah blah blah, Steph. Get off your high horse. You’re the first in line for a fancy dinner or jazzy holiday.

While that’s 100% true, I now know the direction I’m heading in. This isn’t my primary focus any more.

Unknowingly, I’ve been slowly transitioning into my life’s mission over the past seven years.

Outside work, I've always been actively engaged in future-proofing our sector. I’ve mentored young people through the Media Trust, and BelEve, helping them find a career in advertising. I’ve been a "School Role Model" for Stonewall, sharing my coming-out story at school assemblies up and down the UK. I’ve even been the president of Bloom UK, driving change for intersectional women in our sector. However, it wasn’t until I switched from working in marketing to the DEI space at Virgin Group and then Creative Equals did it all click into place. 

The fact is 70% of US-based employees say their sense of purpose is defined by their work (McKinsey, 2001). My consultancy work supports my purpose: to change the shape of the planet for the next generation of diverse, underrepresented talent. I haven't always been able to articulate my purpose so clearly. The deafening silence of lockdown and the murder of George Floyd was the catalyst for a “mental health holiday”, where I took the time to realign my life and work priorities. When I came through the other side, clarity came like a bullet. I knew why I was here, why I cared so passionately about equality and how I could achieve that. 

As a leader in your business, there are some clear opportunities here for you to help retain your talent, putting purpose at the core.

  1. Take the time to embed purpose authentically into your business. Why does your business exist? Workshop with your teams. Consider getting B Corp authenticated. 

  2. Once you have a business purpose, map out how you can ensure it aligns with your talent. How can it better fulfil their needs when they’re at work, and give them that reason to get out of bed in the morning. The Japanese call this concept Ikigai, and it's something I live and breathe. 

  3. Allocate time for your talent to fulfil their personal purpose outside of the business-as-usual work task. Consider offering volunteering hours or vocational study courses that are not directly related to the day job. Investing in them now can only reap rewards. 

The first task of the day, though, is to spend some time on you. You can't begin to shape an organisational purpose, or marketing campaign purpose, until you’ve taken a long hard look at yourself first. Solidifying my purpose has been a game-changer for me in finding my voice and truly stepping into my power. 

As the ultimate feminist Dolly Parton said: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose."

Stephanie Matthews is an author, activist and senior business director at Creative Equals. Her book is due for publication in 2022.

Campaign UK

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