Purpose is rapidly replacing profit on boardroom agendas, with businesses looking to demonstrate they’re about more than making money. Aligning health and wellbeing to an organisation’s statement of purpose can amplify the message, with significant benefits for businesses and their employees.
“There’s a huge opportunity to extend brand presence and philosophy by offering benefits aligned to the organisation’s purpose,” says Gallagher director, organisational wellbeing consulting Francis Goss. “Increasingly, employers need to treat their employees as consumers.”
Understanding what corporate purpose means is essential. Unlike a mission statement, which outlines what the organisation does, purpose is all about its reason for being. An article by Colin Mayer, Peter Moores professor of management studies at Saїd Business School, which formed part of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, states that corporate purpose should be about ‘producing profitable solutions to the problems of people and planet, and not to profit from producing problems for people or planet’.
It’s a concept that’s quickly gaining traction in the corporate space. As an example, Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Alison Rose recently announced that she wanted to build a purpose-led organisation, championing potential; improving financial capability; and, by halting lending to oil and gas companies without adequate decarbonisation plans in place, accelerating the transition to a low carbon economy.
Importance of purpose
Making it about more than profit has a number of advantages, many of which actually benefit the bottom line. For starters, it can win the trust of consumers and employees. “Millennials are particularly in tune with the purpose of an organisation, and they will seek out those that share their views,” says IHC lead consultant Paul Roberts. “This is increasingly important when, with near full employment, it’s more of a challenge to attract, retain and engage employees.”
There’s also much more visibility around what it’s like to work at an organisation. Thanks to anonymous review site Glassdoor, employees can rate their employer, calling them out for anything less than perfect. Embedding purpose throughout the organisation helps to create more positive coverage.
There’s also the bigger picture to consider. “We’re all in this together,” says Aon Employee Benefits principal Jeff Fox. “Organisations face the same issues, such as climate change, as individuals, so they are also incentivised to do something to address them. If there’s no society, there’s no business.”
With corporate purpose such an important weapon in the talent war, Pw C partner, human resource consulting Alastair Woods says that advisers need to ensure they map it into the e mp loye e exp e r i e nce by making it part of the benefits package. “Work out what the business is about and what employees want,” he explains. “If a company says it wants to improve the financial capability of the public, it needs to include financial wellbeing in its employee offering; if it’s about learning, provide employees with personal development budgets.”
For those involved in health and wellbeing, Fox has some good news. “Around 85 per cent of firms now offer some form of health and wellbeing proposition and, as these are designed to deliver positive outcomes, they’re some of the easiest benefits to align to purpose.”
While corporate purpose will shape the benefits package, ethical sourcing is also important. “This might be something as simple as ensuring the pension funds offered to employees meet the company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) requirements but it could also mean that an adviser needs to gain a much deeper understanding of the profile of all the benefits providers,” explains Goss.
To illustrate this, he points to waste management company Biffa, which has anti-slavery as one of its corporate objectives. As the benefits strategy is aligned to this, any supplier must be able to meet its anti-slavery criteria.
Bringing it to life
Communication is a key tool when aligning benefits to purpose. “You could argue that dental is dental and life is life but you can be much cleverer in the way you present these benefits,” says Goss. “Organisations need to tell a story.”
As an example, he points to a cycle to work scheme. “Rather than simply include it in a list of benefits, tell employees why it’s good,” he says. “Tell them how important their wellbeing is and that you’ve negotiated a brilliant deal with Halfords on their behalf.”
While clever communications will help to lever additional benefits by emphasising purpose, taking this approach will bring further advantages. Mercer Marsh Benefits commercial leader Nick McClelland says it raises the profile of benefits. “Communicating benefits hasn’t always been great but by having this link to purpose, you can create an emotional connection,” he explains. “This is much more powerful. It engages the employees and delivers more value to the employer.”
Avoid the pitfalls
This approach may deliver many benefits, but there is one condition: to be credible, corporate purpose has to be authentic. “The company has to live and breathe it,” says Roberts. “It’s not enough to stick a benefit on a flex platform and hope employees suddenly think the company cares.”
Woods agrees. He says that where an organisation fails to marry all the employee touchpoints with corporate purpose, it can be very damaging. “Promote purpose but fail to deliver and the organisation risks losing employee loyalty,” he adds.
Uncovering these inconsistencies is also easy, as the Church of England found out back in 2013. After the Archbishop of Canterbury took on the ‘morally wrong’ payday lenders, all it took was a quick scan of its pension fund investments to find it was investing in a venture capital firm with links to Wonga.
As well as integrity, it also requires a more active and joined- up approach to benefit provision. “It can’t just be a box ticking exercise,” says McClelland. “It’s no good promoting financial wellbeing if the organisation doesn’t pay fairly. And why invest in mental health if the company has a culture of bullying and stress? It must address the issues: it’s not enough to just pay lip service to them.”
Although there are potential pitfalls that need to be avoided, the adoption of purpose within the benefits arena is already causing a stir. “It offers a real opportunity for innovation in the market and I expect we’ll see more creative benefit solutions being developed,” says Fox. “It’s brought energy back to the market.”
As an example, he points to carbon offsetting, where employers can match an employee’s contribution to increase the environmental benefit.
McClelland agrees. “Recognition and reward are becoming much more personal,” he says. “Being able to reward people in this way is very powerful.”
Providing benefits that link to an organisation’s purpose has the potential to transform reward. But, with organisations introducing new benefits, tracking employee sentiment will be increasingly important.
Technology is making it much easier to gauge employee sentiment quickly. Aon Employee Benefits principal Jeff Fox, says the growth in people analytics is beneficial. “It gives y u visibility over how different benefits play into attraction a d retention,” he says. “You can see what value each benefit brings to the organisation.”
As an example, PwC recently joined the Qualtrics Partner Network to help organisations measure the return on employee experience. “This acts as a diagnostic tool, allowing an organisation to see how employee sentiment is affected by anything from a new benefit to an announcement from the CEO,” explains PwC partner, hum n resource consulting Alastair Woods. “With this insight, an organisation can react much quicker to ensure employees are engaged and happy in the workplace.”