How to Create a Great Place to Work

Best-selling author Dan Goleman showcases the three elements that matter more than anything else.

Daniel Goleman is author of the international best-seller Emotional Intelligence and of the forthcoming Optimal: How to Sustain Personal and Organizational Excellence Every Day. He is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. 

According to a new report from the Great Place to Work Institute (GPTW), when it comes to employee retention, three things matter more than anything else: purpose, pride, and fun. Analyzing data from more than 1.3 million employees at over 2,400 US companies, GPTW asserts that when these three things are absent from the employee experience, workers are more likely to look for opportunities elsewhere.

This data is evidence of a shifting world. Since the pandemic, workers from just about every generation have been rethinking the way work fits into their lives. “The intent to leave or stay in a job is only one of the things that people are questioning as part of the larger human story we are living,” says Caitlin Duffy, a research director for the management consulting firm Gartner. “You could call it the Great Reflection…. It’s critical to deliver value and purpose.”

While GPTW’s study revealed that “special and unique benefits” do correlate with an employee’s intention to stay in their role—making them 1.7 times more likely to do so—they found that the intangible elements of work had a far greater impact on retention. In jobs where employees agreed with the statement “My work is meaningful,” they were 2.7 times more likely to stay with their organization. In the end, purpose revealed itself as the top driver of employee retention.

This is a different conversation than the one that was happening a decade ago. Though purpose, pride, and fun have always been a part of great organizational cultures, there were many years where companies were most known in the job market for their perks and approach to pay (making headlines for things like sushi bars and incentive trips, for instance). You could say that as time has ticked on—and as the world has gotten more complex—what employees are really asking for is a wider definition of livelihood, one that encompasses things like well-being, equity, and opportunities to commit themselves to a mission that goes well beyond the bottom line.

Drawing on thousands of employee comments, GPTW included in the research findings a quote from an employee at the rural community hospital. “We treat our patients like family,” this employee said. “I chose nursing as a career because I felt it was my calling and I wanted to make a difference and help others. When you are surrounded by a team that shares that purpose, it makes your work meaningful and fulfilling.”

While this healthcare example communicates the value of a shared purpose, it’s worth remembering that employees don’t need to be saving lives in order to feel like their work has meaning. When researchers asked 245 participants to name a job or careers they could do that would—or would not—give them a sense of meaning, they found that meaning varies greatly from person to person.

“Forty-four percent of the jobs that were listed as being meaningful by one participant were listed by at least one other participant as lacking meaning,” reported the researchers, Similarly, 55% of the jobs that were listed as meaningless by one participant were listed as meaningful by someone else.

If a company is determined to retain talent, they will want to know exactly what matters to the people they employ. At the same time, they will want to take a good look at all of the invisible things that make up the employee experience—including company culture and other non-material elements that are hard to articulate yet weigh most heavily in an employee's commitment over the long term. 

Co-written by Elizabeth Solomon


Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.