Humans are hungry to feel that their work has impact in the world. A job isn’t just a job anymore. It’s where we spend the majority of our waking hours. When we’re not at the “office” (an increasingly vague place name), we’re likely checking emails, reviewing documents, or posting on social media in between social engagements. The divisions between work and life are quickly blurring.
All of this is fine if we feel engaged by our work and fulfilled by its impact on the world around us, but many of us (over 80% according to Gallup) don’t. There’s a problematic gap between how people’s jobs and their employers’ core business connects to social and environmental impact in the world around them.
Now, defining “impact” is notoriously difficult. A physicist would point out that every action has an impact. We’re of course speaking about positive impacts, though we do have a broad sense of what those impacts can be, from creating jobs that provide dignified work to delivering products that minimize harm to the environment and bring health, knowledge, or joy to consumers. Particularly this broad definition of impact can feel intangible and distant from your cubicle, hot desk, or coffee shop. And so, we need tangible, action-oriented frameworks for people to identify the ways they can have an impact on the world, starting today, in any role, in any industry, with or without their employers’ support.
To solve our most important problems — whether in education, workforce development, environmental regeneration, or otherwise — we need to engage the entire economy, not just not-for-profit organizations.
From government to not-for-profits to social ventures, and the rest of the traditional for-profit economy, there’s a role for all organizations to contribute to strategic and sustainable systems change. That cross-sectoral approach to social and environmental impact provides an opportunity for employees in all organizations to connect their work to impact. It is that sense of impact from our work that blurs more and more into our lives and that provides benefits to us as humans — and by extension to our employers — including increased productivity, as well as mental and physical well-being.
As well as covering the entire economy, impact can be found in multiple areas of our lives, perhaps differently at different phases of our career and life cycle. Specifically, we’ve developed four areas for you to map your work to social and environmental impact.
- Your role at work
- Do you have hiring authority and can think creatively about bringing in professionals from underrepresented backgrounds, to increase the performance of your teams and ultimately contribute to reducing the inequality of incomes and wealth?
- Are you involved in buying goods or services for your firm? Can you choose suppliers who are environmentally responsible, local, and/or owned by underrepresented professionals?
- Product people, can you think about the implications of your products or services on the world, perhaps reducing packaging, or changing to recycled or reusable components?
- UX designers, can you create an experience that enhances human connection rather than contributing to the insecurity and disconnection that have been shown to result from many digital products?
- Your organization: The next potential level for impact is your organization. Regardless of what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis, it is designed to support the larger purpose of your employer. Maybe your role is fairly straightforward (you can always be a positive co-worker, helping to create the psychological safety that enhances individual well-being AND team performance), without much room for impact. But, if that role enables the worthy activity of your organization, whether direct service, environmental protection, advocacy, or providing a good or service that makes lives better, you can derive a sense of impact from the organization.For example, think of an accountant at a nonprofit like Red Cross or a social enterprise like Patagonia. Their day job may not necessarily feel highly impactful, so it’s important that they remember (and are reminded by leadership) that the organization could not do their work without someone keeping an eye on the accounts!