Skip Navigation

Navigating purpose: How companies can meet employees’ evolving needs

In a changing world, organisations need to adapt  to become better places to work, to attract and to retain staff. Here’s our latest research.​

Building a meaningful workplace can help an organisation attract, engage, and retain employees. To do this, understanding what employees want, and how their needs are evolving, is essential. 

This insight is even more important now. The world has changed significantly over the past few years, with huge amounts of uncertainty forcing many people to re-evaluate work and their expectations.

As examples, living through the pandemic has propelled health and family to the top of many people’s agendas while the return of inflation and the cost-of-living crisis have made financial security more important than ever. Employers must adapt to meet these new needs, especially in today’s tight labour market.

The methodology

To understand how employee expectations have evolved, MetLife conducted a nationwide quantitative survey, collecting the views of almost 2,500 respondents across different industries, company sizes and demographics. The findings highlight employees’ priorities and what they want from work.

Here, we look at the four key areas of the findings and explain how employers and their advisers can use this insight to build needs-focused, human-centric workplaces that really attract, engage, and retain talent.

Employee values and priorities

Understanding employees’ personal values, goals and priorities is essential. When people work towards something personally meaningful or valued, they feel more fulfilled. In the workplace, this means happier, more engaged, and productive employees.

Living through a pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis and a war in Europe has made employees care most about their inner world – their health, their family and friends, their freedom and their financial security.

Medium priorities include personal growth; learning and development; making an impact on others, the community and environment; and engaging in creative activities, while the least important priorities include belonging to a community; spiritual awareness; and status at work.


Priorities that people strive to achieve in life. Most important priorites. 72% being in good health. 68% spending time with my family and the people close to me. 675% caring for my family and the people close to me. 54% having the freedom to decide what I want to do. 45% achieving financial stability and material success.


Individual purpose is also important. Defined as ‘an abiding intention to achieve a long-term goal that is both personally meaningful and makes a positive mark on the world’, our research found that it is seen as a necessity rather than a luxury in today’s workplace.

Most people, regardless of age, gender or income level, agree that pursing individual purpose is important even in times of economic crisis and uncertainty. Not having this focus at work is seen as frustrating.  


84% of respondents believe that pursuing individual purpose is important even at times of economic crisis and uncertainty. 76% of respondents believe that not being able to pursue personal interests, passions and individual purpose at work is frustrating.

Employer focus: Prioritise the priorities

Focusing on the values that employees prioritise can deliver a greater sense of meaning and belonging at work. To create this human-centred employee value proposition, organisations should consider a range of different benefits.

Health benefits, including the value-added services that are now widely available, can support the wellbeing of employees and their families and loved ones. Similarly, offering initiatives such as flexible working and four-day weeks can help with another of their priorities – spending more time with family and friends.

The need for security, especially during the cost-of-living crisis, can be met with financial education programmes but also benefits such as group income protection that provide the reassurance of a financial safety net if they are unable to work long-term due to illness or injury.

It’s also important that organisations provide training and development opportunities to engage in creative activities and CSR projects. These deliver on the meaningful work that employees want.

Importance of purpose

Enabling employees to pursue their individual purpose is key in today’s workplace. Their ability to do this influences what they look for when choosing a place to work but, importantly for employers, it also affects how they perform in their job.

With their inner worlds of health, family, freedom, and financial security their priority, people seek jobs that allow them to thrive as individuals.

Work-life balance is the top consideration, viewed as important by 95% of respondents. In close second and third spots are the ability to pursue their interests and passions outside of work (87%) and having a meaningful job that lets you live your individual purpose (83%). This indicates that people seek jobs that allow them to thrive as individuals, living their purpose both in and outside of work.

The research also shows that employees want a workplace where they belong and feel supported. Company values (74%), community impact (71%), corporate culture (62%) and personal development (69%) all scored more highly than job title (31%).


Factors people consider when choosing a place to work. Question: How important, if at all, are each of the following factors to ou when choosing a place to work? Work-life balance, 95%. Ability to pursue my interests and passions outside of work, 87%. Meaningful job that lets you live your individual purpose, 83%. Benefits in addition to salary, 83%.

Offering the opportunity to pursue purpose can help attract employees but it also has benefits in terms of retention and productivity. Most respondents (85%) say that where a job aligns with their values and allows them to work towards their purpose, they are more motivated and likely to go the extra mile. This is particularly the case with younger age groups (18-34).

Similarly, being able to live their purpose at work drives up commitment to the organisation, supporting employee engagement, productivity, and retention.

In fact, 59% would decline a job offer with a 10% higher salary if their current role enables them to achieve more things of personal importance, with 55% declining the offer if their current role is more meaningful.


Employer focus: Offer personalisation

Giving employees the autonomy and flexibility to create a personal workplace experience is essential. After the pandemic, there’s a strong need for work-life balance and a desire to be in control of choices and decisions.

Offering benefits such as flexible hours, home working and time management programmes can help employees strike the work-life balance they want. The ability to personalise the workplace experience can also extend to employee benefits, enabling them to select the ones they really value.

Purpose in the workplace

Employees are eager to pursue purpose but our research also identified a purpose gap in organisations. Understanding where this gap exists and the steps required to narrow it will give employees the purpose they seek while rewarding employers with engaged workforces. 

Employees have higher expectations of their employers, looking to them for support at work and beyond. Most employees believe that employers should empower and encourage them to pursue their passions and purpose at and outside of work, with this felt most keenly among managerial and administrative staff.

Seventy percent of senior leaders saw this as the employer’s role, falling to 65% of middle managers and 60% of junior managers. Perhaps more positively, 82% of business owners felt it was the employer’s responsibility, indicating that employee purpose is on their agenda too. 


Question: People who live their purpose at work feel more committed to the company where they work. 78% agree. 13% disagree. 9% don't know.

Identifying where the purpose gap lies – and closing it – is also important. Most people (62%) say their current role enables them to achieve things that are meaningful but, as 83% think this is important at work, this leaves a significant purpose gap.

This gap is more common in larger organisations, with 35% of respondents in companies with 250-1000 employees and 38% in companies with 1000+ employees saying their roles did not offer purpose. The self-employed and employees in SMEs were least likely to say this, at 15% and 28% respectively.

To reap the benefits of a purposeful workforce, HR policies and practices should strive to narrow this purpose gap and empower employees to find and live their purpose.

Question: Employers should empower and encourage employees to pursue their passions and purpose at work or outside of work. Owner, 82% agree. Senior leader, 70% agree. Middle manager, 65% agree. Junior manager, 60% agree. Other, 61% agree. No management responsibility, 58% agree.

Employer focus: Make purpose meaningful

Offering employees the ability to pursue purpose is a key tool in attracting, engaging and retaining talent. Employers should use a variety of programmes and initiatives to create a sense of purpose on both the organisational and individual levels.

A strong mission statement and programmes that benefit the community at large will help create a common goal for employees. In addition, organisations should help employees understand why their role matters and support them in pursuing their individual interests in and outside the workplace. This could be through flexible working, volunteering opportunities and personal development opportunities.

Protection and purpose

Our research also sought to understand the relationship between employee benefits and purpose. Knowing how different rewards, from pay to purpose, motivate employees – and how this might change in times of uncertainty – enables employers and their advisers to build attractive workplace packages. 

Although purpose is a key motivator, financial stability is important to employees too. Only the minority are prepared to take a job paying 15% less and offering fewer material benefits for more personal time (38%), more meaningful work (30%) and more opportunities to make a positive impact on other people, the community and the environment (27%).

There is no room for complacency though. While employees might not be happy to take a pay cut to chase purpose, more than a third (37%) are seeking changes in their current job to make it more meaningful. This is particularly the case among younger employees and those working in large organisations.

Top 5 non-financial considerations when choosing a workplace. 1. Will I be able to achieve work-life balance? 2. Will I be able to pursue my interests and passions outside of work? 3. Will my job be meaningful and enable me to live my purpose? 4. What kind of Employee Benefits will I have? 5. Are corporate policies aligned with my personal values?

In this environment, employee benefits have a more important role to play than ever when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. The perceived importance of workplace benefits has increased since the pandemic, offering employees valuable protection from stressors such as health problems and pay cuts.

The range of employee benefits on offer is one of the top five non-financial considerations when choosing a place to work. What’s more, our research found that two thirds (65%) of respondents would decline a job offer with a 10% pay rise if their current job provides better employee benefits, and 45% would stay with their current employer if it had a better wellness programme.

Key findings. The need for purpose in the workplace converges with a strong need for stability and protection. 62%, most respondents said they were not ready to forego a higher salary and Employee Benefits for more personal time, a more meaningful job and more opportunities to make a positive impact on the community. 63%, most respondents said they were not likely to leave their current jobs for more purpose in the workplace, but are likely to seek changes.

Employer focus: Provide protection

Employee benefits and financial security are a key priority, especially with the pandemic and the cost of living crisis reminding everyone of the potential for uncertainty and upheaval.

Employees are prioritising their inner world of health, family and freedom so offering benefits that include cover for family and loved ones could provide the sense of stability and protection employees need to pursue their purpose with confidence.

Employers should also seek to cover all four elements – work-life balance, purposeful work, flexibility, and personal development – within the employee value proposition, with sufficient choice to enable employees to personalise it to meet their needs.

Understanding employees’ needs and providing them with the benefits and purpose that enables them to thrive is key to attracting, motivating and retaining talent. By listening to employees and meeting their needs, businesses benefit too.

Access the full report here.

Access our full report, our handy one-pager and the report video here.
The Navigating Purpose report

Join the MetLife Academy mailing list

Subscribe and get access to new content when it becomes available.