Zebra startups and the search for purpose at work

The average Briton will spend 82,068 hours working — that’s almost a decade of one’s entire life. With so much time spent at work, the ‘why’ of it plays an important role in people’s overall happiness and fulfilment. It’s this constant search for purpose that’s at the heart of a new breed of companies too: the so-called Zebra startups.

People are increasingly interested in purpose-driven careers and are likely to leave sooner if their workplace is at odds with their values. In fact, 43 percent of millennials envision leaving their jobs within two years while only 28 percent seek to stay beyond five years. 

In turbulent times, the concept of holding a job for life is like a fairytale from a distant past. The pace of change is faster than ever before. The World Economic Forum predicts that 65 percent of children now entering primary school will hold jobs that currently don’t exist. 

Despite this, the workforce wants more than just economic stability and future-proofing — they want meaning and purpose. A study by Global Tolerance surveyed over 2,000 people in the UK about values and ethics at work. Almost half (44 percent) thought that meaningful work that helped others was more important than a high salary. Another 36 percent would work harder if their company benefited society.

Purpose over profit: a new breed of companies 

Every day, new businesses are born that value purpose over profit or fast growth. There is now even a new breed of startups that is challenging the so-called Unicorn startups such as Facebook and Uber, which traditionally aim to ‘move fast and break things’.

The alternative is the Zebra startup. Unlike magical Unicorn startups, which move fast and break things, Zebra startups add a dose of reality. They are both black and white: they are profitable and improve society and won’t sacrifice one for the other. Zebra startups are purpose-driven and, in the words of its champions, “balance profit and purpose, champion democracy, and put a premium on sharing power and resources.” The idea behind this new way of doing business is as follows:

“Companies that create a more just and responsible society will hear, help, and heal the customers and communities they serve.”

The rise of Zebra startups reflects the overarching mood of the next generation, who want companies to be more responsible and ethical. The new generation of workers are highly conscious of the energy they put at work, how that is balanced with the energy they put elsewhere and how it all connects to their purpose. 

If you sound like someone who would enjoy working for a company with the same ‘values over profit’ attitude that Zebra startups have, perhaps it’s time to do your own purpose review.

Looking in: a review of your career purpose 

Whether or not you’re conscious of it, your values are very deep-rooted in your psychological makeup. Your values affect important decision-making and how you respond to events. Where there is an alignment between personal and organisational values at work, many people report increased happiness and fulfilment. 

If you want a more meaningful career, now is the time to do a quick analysis of your work life. Start analysing your company’s values. Whether you work for an organisation or run your own business. Determine whether these align with your personal values. If there are too many mismatches, it could be time to move on to an organisation where you believe in the core purpose.


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