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Purpose in workplace

Purposeful Work

A sense of purpose is one of the most important factors in a person’s work. Purpose refers to how that work affects other people and creates meaning for the individual and for the greater good. Many people derive their life’s purpose from their work. This gives employers a great responsibility to foster and support purpose in the workplace.

Companies should make efforts to ensure not only that their employees have purposeful work, but that the employees can identify that purpose. A bus driver is not just driving a bus, he is helping people get to school and work and appointments. He is reducing the number of cars on the road, thereby reducing pollution. Companies can help employees see how they are improving the quality of life not only for themselves, but for everyone. Deepak Chopra said in an interview, “The purpose of any organization or business is to improve the quality of life, period. Focus on the quality of life for your employees because if your employees are happy, then your customers are going to be happy. If your customers are happy, your investors are going to be happy. So start with your employees first, and then everything else will fall into place.”

Purposeful work gives employees motivation to get up every morning and do something with their day. It contributes to wellness, internally and externally. And it strengthens companies through employee loyalty and customer relationships.

Purpose and Wellbeing

Purpose and wellbeing are undeniably linked. A sense of purpose influences an individual’s reason for getting out of bed, for taking care of themselves, for going to work, or for doing anything at all. LinkedIn reports, “Not having purpose can damage an employee’s mental wellbeing but finding this will improve it drastically; in fact, those who do feel a sense of purpose at work have five times higher levels of wellbeing than others. Ultimately, having purpose produces better equipped and better functioning employees who are more capable of supporting the organization.”

Similarly, purpose deeply affects mental health. Having a source of positive motivation helps to eliminate or minimize negativity by creating a healthy outlet for mental energy. Psychology Today states, “[Purpose] makes us less vulnerable to what I call ‘psychological discord.’ This is the fundamental sense of unease we often experience whenever our attention isn’t occupied by external things, and which can manifest itself in boredom, anxiety, and depression. By focusing our attention externally, and giving us a constant source of activity to channel our mental energies into, purpose means that we spend less immersed in the associational chatter of our minds — the chatter which often triggers negative thoughts and feelings.”

Negativity has a way of seeping into the workplace, especially when workers feel disconnected from their work. When employees can’t see why their contribution matters, they become disengaged at work. This causes the small challenges to seem all-consuming. A small hiccup at work might make the workers question why they are giving so much of themselves to something that doesn’t give back. On the other hand, workers who can derive meaning from their work and understand how their contribution affects others are better able to overcome workplace challenges. Forbes says, “Workers who feel that what they do matters are also likely to be more resilient than their colleagues. Meaning can be a strong motivator, one that can help an individual overcome obstacles.”

Survival Mode vs. Purpose

While finding a higher purpose through work is essential to wellbeing, employees who are in survival mode must focus their attention elsewhere. In survival mode, employees are only working to earn enough money to get by, to make it from day to day. Survival, according to Psychology Today, is “the most basic level of purpose, common to all living things on this planet. It means the effort to meet basic physical needs for food, shelter, or to protect one’s survival in the face of others who threaten it.” Employers who help their employees get out of survival mode position them to recognize a higher purpose.

For employees who are struggling to get by financially, chances are the only motivation they have to work is the paycheck. Art Brief, an organizational psychologist, said, “When people work a second or third job, I don’t think they’re there to find a higher meaning, they’re there to find money.” Companies can help their employees thrive financially, not necessarily through big paychecks, but through financial wellness programs. By providing these programs, employers can help their employees get out of survival mode and into thriving mode. Employees can focus on their purpose and their contribution to the greater good when they are no longer struggling financially and stressed about money.

When employees are secure financially, money is no longer the primary motivation. Gartner says, “It turns out that pay is far from the only motivator. People are motivated when they feel valued and create impact. It turns out that people want acknowledgment, growth opportunities and to feel valued, trusted and empowered…People want purpose in their lives — and that includes work.” Employers are in a great position to help their employees develop financial security, and ultimately to find their greater purpose. This doesn’t just help employees individually. It also helps the company through greater retention and impacts all those within the reach of the company’s purpose.


A company’s role is not just in creating purposeful work, but in helping employees identify that purpose and determine their own personal contribution. HBR shared an example of KPMG, a large accounting firm, in which employees were invited to design posters illustrating their role at the firm. The idea was to depict how each role connected to the organization’s purpose. Instead of designs depicting accountants, the designs included purpose-driven headlines such as, “I Combat Terrorism”. These were supported by related descriptions. For example, “KPMG helps scores of financial institutions prevent money laundering, keeping financial resources out of the hands of terrorists and criminals.”

This activity to help employees identify their purpose led employees to take pride in their work. The result was soaring rates of employee engagement. HBR states, “So purpose is not just a lofty ideal; it has practical implications for your company’s financial health and competitiveness. People who find meaning in their work don’t hoard their energy and dedication. They give them freely, defying conventional economic assumptions about self-interest…They do more—and they do it better.”

Employers are recognizing more and more their employees’ need for purposeful work. Purpose is essential for employee health and for organizational success. Companies that help their employees identify ways to serve society through their work see greater retention. Their employees stay long-term, despite challenging times, in order to fulfill their greater purpose.

Find out how 101 Financial’s Workplace Wellness program helps employees get out of survival mode and focus on their purpose.