How Building a Strong Purpose-Driven Culture Boosts Employee Engagement


One of the key mandates for HR leaders and organizations worldwide is developing and maintaining an engaged workforce and a robust corporate culture. These two things are inextricably intertwined and difficult to build. Ignore one, and you cannot achieve the other. Without a strong culture, an organization will struggle to achieve its goals. Especially in challenging times. 

We know the importance of engagement. Scores of articles, books, and studies discuss this vital aspect of the workplace and of an organization’s success. But even more important is the next frontier – purpose.  

A Bain & Company study on employee satisfaction levels illustrates the critical importance of purpose. They created an index of employee productivity, where the baseline was 100 for a satisfied employee. An engaged employee’s productivity jumped to 144, nearly 50% higher. But the real superstars were employees aligned with the organization’s purpose – they produced at a pace of 225, more than double the number of satisfied employees! There is no question that we need to engage employees – but we also need to ensure that everyone understands how they help the organization deliver on its purpose. 

How culture leads to engagement

So, how does an organization inspire its workers? It might be surprising that it is not through monetary compensation, although that does play a role. A strong corporate culture aligning with employees’ values and the organization’s purpose is key.  

Developing this type of robust culture can be daunting for any leader – particularly when the meaning of the word “culture” can be subjective. The values and beliefs of an organization affect everything, from how managers and employees interact to how the organization conducts business.

Developing an engaged and high-performing culture takes time. There are four key priorities that organizations can follow to achieve their culture goals: 

  1. Comprehensive and holistic care
  2. Growth opportunities
  3. Culture of collaboration
  4. Purpose – Making a difference, together

Comprehensive and holistic care 

Successful organizations can easily and clearly articulate their employee value proposition (EVP). A robust EVP will tell employees (and future employees) what they can expect from their employer for their efforts.

Since the pandemic, HR professionals across Canada have focused on comprehensive and holistic care as part of their EVP, prioritizing overall wellness. Wellness includes physical, mental, and financial health, as well as having a sense of belonging.

  • Physical: This is the easiest to explain as it can include subsidizing gym memberships and encouraging healthy eating, exercise and lifestyles.
  • Mental: Ties into augmenting benefits that provide employees with access to mental health professionals, resources and tools for mental health issues, events such as ‘Wellness Wednesdays’ to focus on activities that promote mental wellness – meditation, relaxation, mindfulness, etc.
  • Financial: This can include savings plans to purchase a home, financial literacy and planning, and credit counselling. One of the most prevalent examples is some form of longer-term savings plan – for example, retirement plans, which may include a defined benefit pension that provides secure lifetime income to employees at retirement. According to a report by the Canadian Public Pension Leadership Council, 47% of Canadians say retirement planning stress impacted their mental health. Many people are not saving enough to retire, and a growing segment of employees expects their employer to step up and help.
  • Sense of belonging: Creating a culture where people feel they belong includes opportunities to provide ideas, be heard and acknowledged, interact with colleagues, and feel psychologically safe to call out errors without repercussions. 

Growth opportunities 

CAAT Pension Plan, as an example, has seen intense growth over a brief period, going from approximately 84 employees in 2019 to nearly 500 in 2023. We onboarded almost two-thirds of our staff during the pandemic. 

Because of this rapid growth, we rely on our EVP more than ever to convey to job applicants that we are a purpose-driven organization, with our values at the core of how we interact with one another. I think it says something about our culture that we developed our EVP with input from staff –it reflects what’s important to people and what is happening in the organization. 

At CAAT, we devote a lot of resources, time, and effort to professional development, supporting our employees as they adapt, innovate, learn, and grow as professionals. We provide them opportunities to grow in their roles and advance their careers. We help with skills development, upskilling, and reskilling through, for example, leadership and mentor programs, facilitated sessions to ideate solutions to real work challenges, online learning programs, and much more – all to ensure employees are prepared for any changes in the work environment.

Culture of collaboration  

We emphasize a culture of teamwork and collaboration, which means we celebrate together and build relationships while living our organizational values of teamwork, integrity and impact. Collaboration is essential in any business, but even more so as a business rapidly grows – solutioning and ideation are essential to solving problems, together, and research shows that teams with diverse perspectives achieve better solutions and results.  

This culture of collaboration requires leaders to be accessible, transparent, and committed to ensuring their teams understand exactly how their work helps deliver on the purpose of the organization. Employees should always be included in developing organizational strategy – it improves alignment, creates buy-in and understanding, and a sense of belonging. 

It is essential that everyone feels safe to talk and have their voices heard. Pulse and engagement surveys can help identify potential problems, areas for improvement, and what’s working well and needs to continue. Employee feedback is critical in taking an organization to the next level, but only if the organization is willing to share and act on that feedback.  

Making a difference together 

At CAAT, we value the widest range of experiences, geographies, genders, ethnicities, backgrounds and perspectives. This diversity helps us continue to grow and thrive and maintain our culture of belonging. It allows us to make a difference and deliver on our organizational purpose.  

I chose to join CAAT because of its purpose-driven mission. As a defined benefit (DB) pension plan, we help Canadians retire with secure lifetime income. They know they will not outlive their savings, so they can enjoy the next phase of their lives by travelling, going to restaurants, and helping stimulate the economy in their communities and create jobs. It also lessens the burden on social services. This is growing in importance because one-quarter of Canadians between the ages of 45 and 64 have no private retirement assets. Equally important, DB pension plans make a difference for employers, helping them attract and retain top talent.   

Employers can focus on several other efforts to increase their social impact. For example, we recently launched ‘Days of Giving,’ where staff can volunteer to help our local communities. This can range from volunteering at a foodbank to cleaning up a downtown park. These activities help foster a sense of community and make a difference in people’s lives. 

Award-winning culture 

As mentioned, my organization has expanded more than five-fold in just four years. That rapid growth could have been disastrous, but my team, leadership, and employees have been laser-focused on maintaining our award-winning culture as we’ve grown. We have worked hard to ensure our employees understand what it means to live our values: teamwork, integrity, and impact, and what they look like in action every day. It has been challenging but successful. And during this growth, our engagement scores rose from 76% in 2019 to 88% in 2023. 

We also work hard at ensuring that our purpose is understood from the get-go – this includes our CEO taking every opportunity to talk about the impact the organization is having – I’m proud to say that 100% of our employees understand our purpose! 

Despite these achievements, we cannot rest on our laurels. Continuing to evolve our culture, maintain strong engagement, and ensure alignment to purpose takes constant action, active listening, and deep commitment.  

A purpose-driven culture supported by strong employee engagement creates a sense of meaning for our people, leading to increased productivity and innovation, lower turnover, and a positive impact on the organization’s success and reputation as an employer of choice. 



Julie Giraldi is the Chief Human Resources Officer at CAAT Pension Plan. Her executive leadership experience spans over 25 years and multiple industries including pensions, healthcare, and transportation. She served on the Board of Directors for the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) and currently serves on the Board of the National Diabetes Trust.

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