The Rise of “Purpose” During the Pandemic

Work, as we know, died. It is not sustainable to work just to get a paycheck and live for weekends only. We need to find more meaning in what we do. We all know it deep in our guts even if we don’t admit it.

2/3rd of US-based employees reflected on their life because of Covid-19 and half of them are reconsidering the type of work they do” says one recent study from McKinsey. The same study says “Employees expect their jobs to bring a significant sense of purpose to their lives. Employers need to help meet this need, or be prepared to lose talent to companies who will.”

The numbers mentioned above are huge. It is a monumental moment. We have to stop and understand what is happening in depth.

One important impact of Covid-19 was to reveal what was already broken. We knew all of it but we were ignoring it.

Our planet is in peril. Social justice issues and inequalities are in our faces. Work is broken. We lack meaning in our lives.

Now that it is crystal clear, we can no longer deny it. These are two big questions people ask about work:

“Is this the right job or career for me?” or “How can I find work that is more meaningful and aligned with me?

Let’s dwell a little further into this.

First of all, it is a step in the right direction anytime we want to align with who we really are. Life puts us in boxes because of widely accepted norms on what it means to work and then we lose ourselves trying to fit in. We get disconnected from who we are. (Our biggest trauma is being disconnected from who we are is what many psychologists say by the way.)

Whenever we go deep and ask hard questions about what matters to us the most, we find a better path. Although the path may be challenging, it is a big awakening. We worked waiting for weekends and retirement far too long. This is not why we are born. To dislike and in some cases hate 5 days out of 7 for at least three decades is not normal. As Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Dying for a Paycheck explains there is also just too much stress because of work and it affects people’s health. When you hate going to your job, you cannot use your gifts, you are told what to do and you wait for Fridays, of course, you get sick.

This awakening because of the pandemic may push the change we wanted to see for a long time in workplaces. Part of this change as you see in the McKinsey report above (and many others I carefully save) is that people are taking Purpose more seriously at work. Especially the biggest workforce of 2025 and onward; millennials and Gen Z.

Why do we talk more about Purpose at work?

I define purpose as using your gifts to help others in a way that matters to you. Let’s first start with some science.

Fields like positive psychology, and neuroscience have more insight into how purpose plays a part in our lives:

  1. Purpose brings the best and most sustainable level of happiness.

  2. It taps into a discretionary energy source in us that we don’t even know exists. (Observe people around you who found a purpose in life. They never get tired. They don’t complain about work. They do not dream about retirement every day.)

  3. It is an intrinsic yearning in us all even if we never seek it.

As Daniel Pink says in his book Drive, what he calls Motivation 3.0, the factors are not about money or perks.

The biggest motivators are:

  1. Autonomy: yes people can make their own decisions. They are adults. They make decisions outside of work every day.

  2. Mastery: people want to improve their skills. They want to learn and grow.

  3. Purpose: people want to know what they do all day matters.

Purpose has health benefits too. In this study, they proved that possessing a high sense of purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events.

Let’s look at some other studies about Purpose in the business realm:

A World Economic Forum article refers to Deloitte’s steps Reflect, Recommit, Re-engage, Rethink and Reboot that have been discussed since September of 2020 in this article. You will see in the diagram that Purpose is right at the center. People need a way to come to work other than just making money.

Research by Bain & Company concludes that if a satisfied employee’s productivity level is 100%, and an engaged employee’s level is 144%, but the productivity level of an employee that is truly inspired by the purpose of their employer is a whopping 225%.

There are a lot more studies I follow and a lot more to say about the benefits of Purpose for individuals and organizations and what to do. This is only a start.

As leaders, we have to understand what Purpose really means and why people need it. Then we need to give people the space to find what matters to them the most.

The pandemic forced people to do that. Their purpose may find them during the pandemic or later. No matter what, both people and organizations, being shaken up by this unexpected disruption need to do a reset. This is a critical moment in history.

We cannot continue to waste human potential on meaningless work. Work, as we know, died. People are awakening to a different and better way to live: live and work with Purpose. Let’s believe Purpose is necessary first otherwise we will never take action. Next time I will give the steps of getting there.

We owe this shift to ourselves and our species. Let’s not wait for another catastrophe and use this chance.


Brooke O. Erol
Brooke O. Erol
Brooke O. Erol started her career at IBM following the traditional path she was given to be "successful". She quit her "great job" on paper after 11 years, feeling she is not aligned with it. She started her journey to find her purpose in life. She started her first business in 2003; Your Best Life to help professionals who don’t like their jobs and want to find more meaning at work. After being around so many unhappy people at work as her clients, she decided to help the organizations and leaders who employed them. She started her second business; Purposeful Business to help leaders catch up with our times and grow their businesses without sacrificing the well-being of their people; where profit becomes a by-product rather than the main goal. She believes life is too precious to live only for weekends and retirement. She is the author of Create a Life You Love. She is also the co-author of "From Hierarchy to High Performance: Unleashing the Hidden Superpowers of Ordinary People to Realize Extraordinary Results" that became an International Best Seller in 2018. She speaks and writes about Leadership, Purpose-Driven Life and Organizations, Future of Work in the US, and abroad.

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