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Executive Education

What Really Gives Work a Sense of Meaning and Purpose?

According to our latest Executive Horizons survey, the primary elements that give work a sense of meaning and purpose are liking what you do, being motivated to achieve your goals, professional development opportunities, and working for a company with clear, strong values. Feeling that your work has meaning and purpose has considerable benefits for both employees and companies.

WHEN WORK MEETS PURPOSE

Research by Imperative has shown that people fit into two categories: those who are purpose-oriented in their work, and those who are not. The latter group is generally motivated by financial gain, social status, and personal advancement. They see work as a type of transaction, which leads to personal rewards, rather than something that has inherent value. For the purpose-minded group, the aim of work is to help others, to contribute on a broader scale, or for personal fulfillment.

Research also demonstrates that a sense of purpose is not necessarily related to a specific profession, but is determined by the nature of the work itself.

In a global survey of LinkedIn members, the percentage of workers driven by purpose decreased with each subsequent generation. Baby boomers topped the list, with 48% of respondents over the age of 51 reporting that they prioritize purpose over money. That figure drops to 38% for members of Generation X between the ages of 36 and 51, and to 30% for millennials. However, with 74% of respondents saying they want a job they feel is meaningful, there is significant potential for employees and companies to find common ground achieve mutually beneficial goals.

 

CREATING AN ALLIANCE

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, says that finding “a high degree of alignment,” enables employers and employees create an alliance.

 

The key to a high degree of alignment,is a shared sense of purpose. Companies that understand the increasing emphasis of purpose in today's professional landscape improve their ability to attract such employees and their ability to retain them for longer periods of time.” —  Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn

 

Corporate HR analyst Josh Bersin recommends that companies should only recruit people who are actually interested in doing the job for which they are being hired, while at the same time developing jobs that offer meaning and have enough flexibility and freedom for employees to create their own purpose.

 

BENEFITS FOR COMPANIES AND EMPLOYEES

Both employees and companies reap the benefits of purpose-driven work. Engaged employees are 44% more productive than simply satisfied ones, while inspired employees are 125% more productive. According to our Executive Horizons survey, the key benefits for companies are higher levels of motivation and commitment, higher levels of performance, and the ability to attract and retain talent.

There are significant benefits for purpose-driven employees, too. They’re 55% more likely to advance to a Director-level role, 50% more likely to be in the top position in an organization, and generally tend to remain at a company longer, develop stronger relationships with colleagues, receive higher performance scores, and feel more fulfilled in their work.

 

BE WILLING TO CONTINUALLY ADJUST

Author Dan Pontefract says that change, or even career transitions, can be necessary to continue finding a sense of purpose and enjoyment in your work. Like many things in life, this sense of purpose can evolve significantly over time. He recommends tracking how much of each workday is spent in a paycheck mindset (focused on compensation), a career mindset (focused on advancement), and a purpose mindset (when a professional and personal sense of purpose align). If you’re in the paycheck and career mindsets for more than half of your working day, he says, it’s probably the right moment to step back and reconsider in which direction you really want your career to go.

 

Read more: THE MYTH OF THE MILLENNIAL ENTREPRENEUR