Why core purpose matters in the agile workplace

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What do employees really want from an agile workplace?  Flexible working, great spaces and benefits like gym membership all feature prominently in survey results.  Yet even when all these things are provided, employees can feel there’s something lacking: despite their company providing multiple benefits, the core purpose of the business can seem hollow and less than fulfilling.

Driving profits for shareholders is motivating up to a point but we know many people look for something more: a greater sense of purpose and the opportunity to make a contribution to society that goes beyond the bottom line.

Value of Skills Volunteering

One way to provide that is through volunteering opportunities.  You’ll be familiar with the kind of things typically offered: team activities like painting buildings or cleaning riverbanks; or the chance to engage in community activities such as visiting a local school to hear children read.

As worthwhile as these activities are, the reality is that they often lead to a diminution of value.  Years ago, I can remember working in a large organisation where the Chief Operating Officer decided to ‘lead from the front’ by giving an afternoon to clear litter from the banks of the Thames.

Even then it struck me that such an experienced business figure could add more value to society by doing something that aligned more closely with her substantial skills. Now I know that she could undoubtedly provide transformational support for a growing social enterprise by applying her business expertise to help them scale.

This goes to the heart of what we do at Social Business Trust (SBT), working with a close-knit group of world-class corporate partners – including Bain & Company, Clifford Chance, EY, Permira and Thomson Reuters –  to use their employees’ expertise to help high-growth potential social enterprises grow.

A win-win for business and social enterprises

In the seven years since we began, we’ve given over £15 million worth of cash grants and in-kind support, including 30,000 hours of business expertise, to a carefully selected group of social enterprises in the UK. It makes a significant difference: with SBT’s support the social enterprises in our portfolio have helped over 1.4 million people in the same timeframe. In fact, on average, beneficiary numbers have doubled in the first two years of a social enterprise working with SBT.

These organisations are social innovators working with children, young people, those with mental health challenges, elderly citizens, repeat offenders and more. By using high quality business professionals to help them build their core capacity for growth, we ultimately enable them to support thousands more beneficiaries.

In a recent survey, 100% of our social enterprises told us they find the professional support received through SBT is effective. But it goes both ways and our corporate volunteers see great benefits from the work they do through us too. In fact, 92% say their SBT volunteer experience has helped their professional development and 100% recently told us they would like to volunteer again with SBT.  SBT’s latest Impact Report tells more.

Ultimately it helps employees develop a sense of purpose from directly using – and developing – their expertise in a socially meaningful way.  They develop new networks and get new perspectives from venturing beyond the environments in which they work.  It’s an element of the holistic, agile workplace that should not be ignored.

Or as one of our senior business volunteers put it: “I’m pushing my skills and applying them on something quite different from what I do every day and it’s really very satisfying.”

Rowena Webster, Director of External Affairs, Social Business Trust

Rowena Webster

Rowena Webster