What kind of employment has the most positive impact on the world? This question can be refined and tackled in myriad ways. For example, within the industry of individual and family services, do on-the-ground social workers or policy wonks in a think tank do more to effect demonstrable change in underserved neighborhoods? While there may be no definitive answer to these questions, there are many ways for individuals to do more than simply pay the bills through their employment. Nonprofits may focus directly on pressing social or environmental needs, while organizations in an unrelated industry could donate considerable sums to beneficial causes and research. Some skilled workers want to command high earnings—regardless of the role—so that they have extra income to donate to causes they care about.
One thing is for sure: Now more than ever, younger generations enter the workforce with a mind toward altruism, and business leaders need to consider this interest as they attract talent. Of course, no one should “front” as an altruistic organization simply to find good employees, but a mission that includes service to others can have this beneficial side effect. You may already be familiar with Effective Altruism, a site that helps individuals gauge the optimal way to make a difference in the world through their work. Increasingly, workers want quantifiable evidence that their employment contributes to a better world.
Altruism plays a part in the COVID-19 pandemic’s “Great Reassessment,” during which workers have found themselves questioning the relevance of their work, both personally and socially, with many deciding to quit or readjust. What began with layoffs and reorganizations forced by shutdowns has now become a worker-driven departure from business as usual. Our recent labor shortage speaks to a growing unease within the workforce as individuals re-prioritize their values during this incredibly disruptive period.
A charitable instinct represents a critical component of this massive reevaluation of work, and more and more services are emerging that help people of all stripes find employment with a purpose that extends beyond their own personal needs. An intensive, consultation-based version of the altruism movement can be found from the nonprofit 80,000 Hours, an organization I recently became aware of through a Wall Street Journal article on altruism in the workplace. “80,000 hours” refers to the average amount of time we will each spend in our profession over the course of a lifetime. Since their founding ten years ago, 80,000 Hours has provided 2,000 consultations, but a quarter of those were conducted in just the past year. This concentration during the pandemic demonstrates how much of a catalyst COVID-19 has been for change in workers’ life goals and priorities, drawing employees more toward the values of public service.
Now offers a good time for business leaders to perform a similar reassessment of their organization’s mission. Rather than posing a threat to a company’s talent pool, perhaps this season of readjustment can inspire a closer alignment to leadership values that too often get sidelined by the bottom line. Instead of viewing the labor shortage as a cudgel forcing employers to bend to the will of the employee, leaders can use this imbalanced hiring period as a time for foregrounding more socially inclined and charitable priorities aligned with a company’s charter. Every business serves the public in some way that transcends a mere economic transaction. Detailing and emphasizing these contributions may be all your organization lacks as workers decide where they want to go from here.