One morning as I, Eric, left the house, I said to my preschool-aged daughter, “Have a fun day on your field trip!” She replied, “Have a fun day at work!” Her reply made me smile. It was such a natural response coming from a child. Who doesn’t like to have fun? Yet I couldn’t help thinking that, while I like to have fun at work, I don’t go there specifically to have fun. Instead, I go because there is purpose in my work.
My work matters because it meets the needs of our clients and helps achieve our organizational purpose. In moment-to-moment ways, my work also makes a positive difference for my colleagues. This sense of purpose motivates me to come to the office each day and do good work.
At a fundamental level, one reason we all work is to earn a living so that we can meet our basic needs, such as food and shelter. However, once our physical needs are met, most of us desire something deeper from our work, like meaning. We want to matter and to see that our efforts make a positive difference.
Imagine if your work life consisted of a series of unending tasks with no connection to any purpose, like Sisyphus, from Greek mythology, who pushed a rock up a hill every day only to have it roll back down. What if your work didn’t matter to anyone? Consider how this would affect your motivation to be at work. For most of us, it would be devastating.
What if your work didn’t matter to anyone? Consider how this would affect your motivation to be at work. For most of us, it would be devastating.
The sense of doing work that matters often gets overlooked as a key factor for organizations in creating places where people like to work. Rather than intentionally defining and communicating their purpose, too many organizations emphasize completing tasks, accomplishing short-term goals, and even having fun, with the hope that these priorities will motivate people. While tasks, goals, and fun are significant, they need to be put in their proper place – in support of purpose.
Although we have long known that purpose matters for creating a healthy organizational culture, we were surprised by just how significant it was shown to be in our survey. Ninety-eight percent of survey participants who said they have a great workplace also agreed that their organization has a meaningful purpose! This is a huge indicator that healthy organizational cultures must be anchored to meaningful purpose.