Recommended actions provide the specific steps that a workforce or economic development agency can take to implement job quality in their local area. The steps are intended to provide both guidance and inspiration by highlighting a variety of options including how to support job seekers, businesses, and their own operations.

Learn about Ikigai

Take a moment to understand the specific ways today’s workforce seeks purpose at work. For example, a 2022 study found the majority of workers under 40 expect employers to be highly committed to having a positive impact on the environment. More than half define purposeful work as being passionate about what they do and achieving a healthy work-life balance.

“Purpose” and “passions'' are broad terms with a range of interpretations. The concept of ikigai is a helpful framework for this (although there are many similar ones, such as Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept and Daniel Pink’s autonomy, mastery and purpose model in Drive).

Internal Staff

Many public agencies assume that their frontline staff connect their daily work to the broader vision and purpose of the organization. This is not always the case. Make it a habit to share how individual job functions tie into your organizational strategy by:

  • Telling impact stories that emphasize the connection of daily work with  change in society, customers, working teams and individuals—as well as  the company itself.

  • Training frontline managers to engage their staff members about the concept of ikigai and how they can support employees in moving toward more meaning in their world.

  • Acknowledging diversity in the way that purpose is defined. People may find purpose and meaning by working with a team they care about, earning money for their family or their company, helping customers or contributing to the public good.

  • Providing small group engagement opportunities with senior leaders so that frontline direct service staff can ask questions and discuss how their role connects to the bigger picture.

  • Creating visuals for the office or computer desktop or badges that remind staff of the purpose and core values of the organization.

  • Instituting award or recognition strategies where staff nominate peers for how they are living out the organization’s values in their work.

Check out this chapter in Good Jobs, Good Business–-a toolkit for business owners seeking to improve job quality-–for strategies to strengthen employee engagement and create a strong workplace culture.

Supervisors should be encouraged (or required) to have scheduled deliberate conversations about employee values, definition of meaningful work and their desired impact during their one-on-one discussions. This report lays out a few strategies:

  • For a dynamic two-way conversation, encourage employees to do some personal exploration and begin to think about goals that both meet company objectives and support a personal connection to the agency purpose. Finding Your Ikigai: 8 Questionnaires and Tests offers some samples.

  • Empower employees with autonomy to contribute ideas, find a healthy work-life balance and work in ways that feel most effective to them.

Go beyond financial compensation to motivate people; small and unexpected gestures can be highly effective. For example, employees identified flexibility as the top leadership trait that supports their sense of purpose. Being flexible in how employees approach and do their work can go a long way in supporting their ikigai.

Map your agency's internal career pathways and ensure that employees are aware of them. It can be difficult for early and mid-career workers to feel like they’ve found their ikigai if they don’t see a growth path at your agency. Explore questions like:

  • Do employees believe that they can have a career at your company?

  • Are career paths clear and fair?

  • Do employees think they can build a strong financial future by staying at your agency?

  • Are there growth opportunities for employees that don’t want to move into management?

  • Are there growth opportunities for employees who will move on to jobs outside your agency?

Update your recruitment tools to include information about the organization's goals and where employees fit in as part of job postings, interview templates, interview process and wages. A survey by the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work demonstrated that the top leadership traits workers value are flexibility, honesty, work competence and integrity. Consider whether your external-facing recruitment reflects your organization’s commitment to these areas and make changes as needed.

As an executive team, begin monitoring the quality of your organization's jobs, which includes the sense of purpose and meaning that employees have. Here are some potential measurements to get you started:

  • Turnover trends, informed by exit surveys

  • Percent of employee satisfaction and changes over time

  • Percent of absenteeism

  • Percent of turnover

Program Delivery

Include content related to ikigai or other purpose and meaning frameworks into your program workshops, job clubs, and program orientations. In San Diego, jobseekers receive information about this framework at orientation workshops.

One to one connections should be introspective and reflective. Research has shown that people who spend more time reflecting have a higher sense of purpose and can improve job performance. Take time to engage the job seeker around:

  • Values:  Explore what really matters to the individual. Encourage jobseekers to review postings not just for benefits offered but also for alignment of their core values with those of the company. Remind them that interviews are as much about the individual’s fit within the company as the company’s alignment with the individual.

  • Passions and Skills: Encourage jobseekers to analyze the job function and how it aligns with what they know and love. Help them explore whether  employers offer a space for them to learn, develop and grow their passions. Check out this RIASEC framework quiz, which uses six themes to describe people’s interests and match them with careers.

  • Purpose: Dialogue about what the company’s purpose is and how that fits with the individual’s goals for life. Encourage  jobseekers to ask questions about how the proposed role will fit within the larger organizational strategy during their interview. For example, “why is this job/task important to what the company does?”

Check out the Purposeful Work Faculty Report, which discusses the findings at Bates College about why purposeful work is important to incorporate as part of courses aimed at preparing students to enter the workforce. The free guide Find a Fulfilling Career That Does Good is also a useful tool designed specifically for job seekers to help guide them in their quest to find their ikigai.

Update the templates for the individual employment plans (IEPs) or other tools to include information about what the individual is passionate about and needs as well as what employers need and will pay for. The San Diego (CA) career center staff uses a series of videos to help jobseekers develop their IEPs that align with their ikigai.

Through your business services teams, helping companies understand what your program’s jobseekers are looking for can improve your program outcomes. A few methods include:

  • Job posting feedback: Share examples of job postings that resonated with diverse jobseekers in your programs.

  • Conduct surveys or report existing data from your own programs about what workers in your local labor market expect related to meaning and purpose.

  • Share existing data around the impact of the “purpose gap” that many companies are experiencing with regard to their attraction, retention and engagement of employees.

  • Develop local case studies from other companies that demonstrate how they have addressed purpose and meaning for their employees. The Good Jobs Transformation at Quest Diagnostics talks about Quest’s journey to improve the organization’s performance and the lives of the workers. Turnover was high (60% of reps left within a year, resulting in up to $10,500,000  indirect turnover costs annually) and operational issues were leading to frustrated employees and customers. In 2015, under new leadership, the company launched a Good Jobs Transformation to improve the performance and lives of the workers.

Here are some potential measurements to get you started:

  • percentage of jobseeker satisfaction with services received

  • percentage increase in jobseeker readiness to engage companies regarding purpose during interviews (pre/post)