Workers Need a Purpose to Work Best

Imagine how much we could accomplish if everyone worked at something fulfilling. Some people are fortunate enough to find true vocations and spend their lives at what they would consider their calling. Everyone else works for a living.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Through the decades, workers have been able to demand better working conditions, wages, benefits, and paid time off. Now, those are the table stakes, especially for younger generations who seek greater fulfillment in their work.

Companies need to go above and beyond to become an employer of choice. The benefit is more than simply finding the best talent it means having employees who will go the extra mile for their employers. But building this higher level of loyalty can’t be done just with cash, parties, gifts, or trips. Businesses have to give their employees purpose.

Find the WHY behind your business

A study by the Edelman Trust Barometer and Gallup found that more than 75% of American workers are not engaged at their jobs. It doesn’t matter how much they are paid or how much PTO they have accrued. They will never give their best if they are only motivated by a paycheck or working for that next vacation.

Meanwhile, there have been extensive studies about the value of purpose-driven work. In a study by the Harvard Business Review, 426 of 474 or 90% of executives surveyed said they understood the value of purpose-driven work. Yet less than half of all those executives said purpose informs how they operate.

This, despite the many examples of how purpose-filled organizations outperform the S&P 500 14 to 1. The qualitative and quantitative evidence demonstrating the value of creating a purpose-driven culture abounds. Yet executives continue to struggle to make purpose part of their organizational culture. It usually doesn’t go much further than a company-wide recycling program, charity drive, or the occasional volunteer opportunity.

It is not simple. Leadership often has to contend with shareholders who have different, short-term priorities. The organization’s purpose might not have the proper infrastructure in place. It could be hard to track performance toward the purpose. Often, employees don’t understand the concept, or it is not communicated well.

Thank the Millennials

The generation born between 1981 and 1996 has driven most of this. They not only want flexibility in the how, when, and where they work. They need a reason to work for someone.

A paycheck isn’t good enough. That next vacation isn’t good enough. If they are going to spend such a large portion of their lives committed to working, it needs to matter. When it matters, great things can happen.

When workers see a purpose to their work, they will do more than is expected of them. They will become absorbed in their jobs. They develop a greater sense of commitment to their employers and will be less likely to quit. That is according to a survey conducted in 2011 by organizational psychologist Paul Fairlie.

Fairlie found people had a better connection to their job if it matched with their personal values. Their job needed to help them fulfill some purpose in their life or help complete the picture of who they thought they were or help them do good things in the world.

A good deed is its own reward

We have grown accustomed to dangling ‘carrots’ in front of people to lure the performance we want. Tech toys, exotic trips, cash incentives, and merchandise items are common material rewards for jobs done well. However, it takes very little effort to go beyond and add some altruism to that rewards program.

For example, how passionate do you think someone would work if they knew that their actions and recognition were also funding the planting of trees to help fight climate change? Do you think a team might feel more motivated if they were competing against another department to see who could be the first to plant 1,000 trees? Ten thousand trees?

By partnering with trusted eco-action organizations, companies employing more than 3 million workers worldwide have already planted 6 million trees, restored thousands of acres of forest, and helped local ecosystems, and local economies recover.

It should be inspiring to create a purposeful work environment. The opportunities exist. It is just a matter of taking the steps to harness the real meaning behind why people work. Business owners and leaders may also find they enjoy their work more as well, as they build work cultures focused on purpose.


Sandy Chernoff
Sandy Chernoff
SANDY'S 30 years of didactic and clinical teaching in study clubs and continuing dental education, coupled with her almost 40 years of Dental Hygiene practice bring a wealth of experience to her interactive soft skills workshops. With her education background she easily customizes interactive sessions to suit the specific needs of her clients. Her energetic and humorous presentation style has entertained and informed audiences from Victoria to New York City. Sandy’s client list includes law firms, teaching institutions, volunteer and professional organizations and conferences, businesses, and individuals. Her newest project is turning her live workshops into e-learning programs using an LMS platform. Her teaching and education background have helped her to produce meaningful and somewhat interactive courses for the learners wanting the convenience of e-learning options. As the author of 5 Secrets to Effective Communication, Sandy has demonstrated her ability to demystify the complexities of communication so that the reader can learn better strategies and approaches which will greatly improve their communication skills and ultimately reduce conflict, resentment, disappointment, complaining, and confusion. As a result, the reader will be able to increase productivity, efficiency and creativity, improve all the relationships in their lives and ultimately enjoy a happier, healthier existence! Sandy blogs regularly on her two websites on the various soft skills topics that are featured in her workshops and e-learning programs.

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  1. While I applaud the millions of trees planted, Sandy, it is pretty pathetic that organizations have such limited creativity or such nefarious purposes that they can’t find something purposeful within the organizational scope but have to rely on “outsourcing” their good deeds to NGOs and non-profits.