When I joined the workforce 28 years ago, we were not supposed to talk about creating meaning at work. We were just lucky enough to have a job to pay the bills. I still tried to find purpose in what I do. How was I contributing to humanity and my society through my work besides making money? While I was working at IBM, I figured out it was “bringing top notch technology to my customers so that they could serve their clients better.” It was a real purpose, but it was not a good match for me. I had to find my purpose in life and align it with what I do; so I decided to quit my well-paying job. I became the black sheep; back then nobody around me was interested in expressing purpose through work.
I am thrilled to witness this is changing now. There are so many thought leaders, studies, and resources that talk about “purpose through work.”
Why is “purpose” so important?
First of all, at an individual level, finding and living your purpose is the highest form of fulfillment which is more lasting than happiness. Studies now show there are three tiers of happiness:
1) Pleasure – chasing next high; hard to maintain
2) Passion – flow; peak performance; time flies by
3) Higher purpose – being part of something bigger than yourself
(Source: The book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh)
So if we aim for ultimate fulfillment in life, it is imperative that we look at what we do on a daily basis and see the purpose in it. Bryan Dik, Ph.D. and Ryan D Duffy, Ph.D. have great examples in their book Make Your Job a Calling, like Bryce's story. Bryce is a STOP sign flagger, and he sees the purpose in what he does which may look like a very tedious job to others. He says "I keep people safe with my job and love it because it matters."
When we align our purpose and express it through our job, we don’t feel like we are “working” anymore. “When we operate from a strong sense of what we are called to do, then we are not as the saying goes simply making a living, we are making a life” as Richard Leider and David Shapiro explain in their book Work Reimagined.
Why should organizations care about purpose?
1. A strong sense of purpose beyond financial success is very crucial for millennials, and they are the biggest part of the workforce now. If they are our present and future employees, we have to pay attention to what matters to them the most.
2. As Josh Bersin (Principal at Bersin by Deloitte) explained at the Annual Human Culture Conference in October 2016, purpose is one of the top 5 factors impacting culture today. 2 out of 3 millennials state their organization's purpose is a reason why they chose to work there. In organizational cultures without perceived purpose, only one out of five millennials is satisfied at work.
3. Companies who are more purposeful are doing much better with their bottom lines too. It is very understandable; if you work fulfilling your purpose, your productivity and your engagement will improve. Percentage of non-purpose led companies that showed drop in revenue is 42% while percentage of purpose-led companies that showed positive growth is 85%.
4. As consumers, our buying behavior has changed: we care where we spend our money. We want our transactions to be a reflection of our values. Organizations with a clear purpose, a humanized environment, and a sense of serving their communities win our hearts faster. The Soul of the Money by Lynne Twist is the best book I read that examines our attitudes about money.
5. Values, purpose, and passion are becoming the differentiating factors both for professionals and organizations. Many tasks that require IQ are taken over by computers and robots, but we need the emotional intelligence piece to make teams work as Daniel Pink’s brilliant book A Whole New Mind explains in much further detail.
6. 87% believe companies perform best over time if their purpose goes beyond profit. “The clear articulation of a resonating purpose plays a major role in driving an organizational culture of disruptive innovation. Employees in innovative companies want to continuously and actively innovate…Their passion is nurtured through a strong, believable and clearly stated organizational purpose – one that creates greater engagement than purely economic ones. Money alone can only motivate employees so much.”
So the way we work is disrupted. We mostly owe it to millennials, visionary leaders and also companies that laid off many of their accomplished and well-performing people. Why do I include the companies to this list? Because laying off made these hardworking people think twice about what matters in life. They began questioning the status quo that was accepted for 150+ years: “Is it worth working so hard for a job that I don’t like to pay the bills or should I bring more meaning to my work?” Their children were watching too. They saw too many of their parents getting laid off even if they stayed loyal and worked very hard. These kids watching are the millennials. Of course, they will push for change after what they witnessed. Nobody can blame them for asking the right questions earlier in life.
It is time to follow the transformation happening in the workplace and embrace being purposeful. We know in our hearts this is very much needed after watching too many people having their souls crushed at work and witnessing the consequences of many organizations not having any purpose other than making a profit.
We did not come here to have a job that we don’t like, to build a business solely to maximize profit at the expense of our people or to express our purpose only with what we do on weekends. Purpose is our natural driving force; it can be practiced in all parts of life, and it is a pull we cannot ignore so that we can all thrive.
Brooke Erol is an advisor, a speaker, and an author who is interested in future of work and how organizations can thrive in this new world. She works with executive teams to increase employee engagement, lower turnover rates, and hire the right people based on both culture and job-fit using a three-phase methodology that uses Emotional Intelligence practices. She is the author of Create a Life You Love. Her purpose in life is to help as many individuals and organizations as possible to find their purpose and actualize it. You can connect with Brooke on her website or on Twitter (@boerol1).