Work with purpose: Silhouetted shot of a young businesswoman looking at a cityscape from an office window

Having Purpose in Your Work

Have you ever known why you are doing something? You know the job or task has a higher goal or purpose than to “just do it.” You might be a teacher and know that the information you are sharing with your students will benefit them in the future. Alternatively, your company provides a service for the elderly that you know they could not get anywhere else. Or it could be as simple knowing the product your company produces is innovative and will provide a convenience to others. Wouldn’t it be great if more people had that?

In today’s society, studies like Gallup’s1 indicate there are at least 87 percent of employees worldwide that are not engaged at work. This lack of engagement could cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in missed deadlines and quality work.

On a similar note, The Employee Engagement Study2 has shown half of the human resource leaders surveyed indicate 50 percent of their turnover is due to burnout. This too costs the companies an exorbitant amount of money to recruit, hire and train new employees to fill those positions.

These two issues, lack of engagement and turnover due to burnout, should be seen as warning signs that something is definitely wrong. However, there is one thing that can be done to reduce these numbers: combining purpose with profits3.

If companies find the true purpose of their work (what they do that supports others in some way), employees will be intrinsically motivated to complete work with quality. Many studies4 show that the measure of job satisfaction can increase when people find meaning at work. Thus, there would be more engagement and less burnout resulting in turnover.

In the studies about goal framing theory (GFT)6, finding and sustaining your purpose can be difficult and riddled with barriers and temptations. GFT recognizes there are three areas of concern that makes us focus: hedonic goals (concerned about feeling good or wanting to do a fun part of work), financial goal (concern is income, bonus or promotion) and pro-social goal (concern is about a common goal, the purpose). First, you have to find your why or purpose for your job, or the company’s purpose, which can be a struggle in and of itself. You have to figure out what you are doing that supports others or the community. Do you want to put your employees or clients first, or is your purpose to help the community in some way?

Once you find your pro-social goal(s), you have to find ways to support and sustain it. One way is through communication. You must convey a consistent message that this is why you are doing something. You can also sustain these goal(s) by putting its importance before any financial goal(s). Financial goal(s) should come as a natural consequence of working for a purpose.

For business, there has to be more than communication to support the pro-social goal(s). There has to be some structure in place. For example, if you believe that your employees should come first before profits or clients, then you show them by creating an employee board that can put checks and balances into the daily functions and decisions of the company. You don’t let them worry about benefits or their financial well-being. You take care of their needs first before the company or yours.

Wouldn’t it be great if more people had a purpose, knew their why or had pro-social goal(s)? We would have a love of our work, always motivated and providing the best of ourselves for a purpose. All it takes is for you to find your why, purpose or meaning for doing what you do.




Gallup, Inc. (n.d.). The Engaged Workplace. Retrieved February 4, 2019, from

Brikinshaw, J., Foss, N., & Lindenberg, S. (spring 2014). Combining Purpose with Profits. MITSlaon Management Review,55(3), 48-57. Retrieved February 4, 2019.

The Employee Engagement Study – Workplace Trends. (n.d.). Retrieved February 4, 2019, from

Steger, M. F., Dik, B. J., & Shim, Y. (in press). Assessing meaning and satisfaction at work. In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of positive psychology assessment (2nd Ed.). Oxford, UK. Oxford University Press.

Sinek, S. (2013). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. London: Portfolio/Penguin.

Lindenberg, S., & Foss, N. J. (2011). Managing Joint Production Motivation: The Role of Goal Framing and Governance Mechanisms. Academy of Management Review,36(3), 500-525. doi:10.5465/amr.2011.61031808


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