Editor's letter: We must find meaning in what we do

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HR magazine editor Katie Jacobs explains why meaning and purpose are so central to HR

Recently I have had the luxury of thinking a lot about meaning and purpose. At the Corporate Research Forum’s annual conference in Vienna a few weeks ago 400 senior HR leaders, and one lucky HR magazine editor, gathered to debate the meaning of work, with a little bit of help from the Vienna Youth Orchestra.

A few days later I attended the Balanced Business Forum conference, where business leaders including Mike Rake and Ian Cheshire discussed the importance of authenticity and purpose to organisations.

It’s clear that ‘purpose’ is having a bit of a moment. And it’s not too hard to see why. Crises of trust – and the scandals just keep coming – are forcing companies to rethink what it is they stand for, the ‘why’ of their very existence. According to research by EY, purpose-driven businesses perform 10 times better than non-purpose-driven businesses and have 1.4 times higher levels of engagement.

Getting purpose right can be hugely powerful. Work is where the majority of us will spend much of our waking time. Feeling personally connected to what it is we do, and finding that meaning in our work, will have a profound impact both on organisational performance – working towards a common goal – and our own sense of self.

Talking about purpose has led to me considering what our purpose at HR magazine is, at least for me personally as a leader. The answer is quite simple: most people have to work, work has the potential to impact us all (for good or ill) so anything we can do to make workplaces better is to be not only welcomed, but championed.

HR should be in the business of making work better, so at HR magazine we need to both push the profession to improve and innovate, and champion the good it does.

So, our November issue, which tackles HR-bashing and offers a celebration of all that’s positive in the profession, fits with my sense of our purpose. Yes, there are things that need changing, but here we seek to give the function a boost, to say: We love HR. You are the people with the capacity not only to make organisations great places to work, but to create businesses that make a positive difference to society.

However, it’s easy to be sceptical about purpose if all this talk does not lead to action. It’s not enough to future-gaze and make highfalutin statements about a ‘VUCA’ world. We can only change the future by improving the present. And given that the present for most is going to work, HR is in a prime position to create a more positive, more purposeful ‘now’ for millions of us.

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