Job Purposing: Igniting a Sense of Purpose at Work

Employees At Their Best — On Purpose

When someone sees a strong purpose, when they feel really good about what their organization stands for, and they feel they have true meaning in what they’re doing then they are going to feel pride in the organization, optimistic about its future and they’ll emotionally invest. And of course, when you have a critical mass of your employees all feeling that way, that’s when you see business results through the customer or citizen experience, through higher retention, higher productivity, and lower absenteeism. And that’s all because they want to be doing all that.

According to Deloitte: 73% of people who say they work at a purpose-driven organization are engaged compared to just 23% of those who don’t. One of the ways we can make that link is through job purposing.

What’s meant by purpose is a cause bigger than one’s self, something that contributes to the world out there. Researchers refer to this higher purpose as pro-social behavior, helping others.

A study done by Adam Grant at Wharton looked at changing employee behavior around washing hands before leaving the bathroom. Different signs were posted in different bathrooms. Researchers monitored how much soap was used in each of these locations.

The first sign: Washing your hands prevents you from catching diseases made zero difference. It did not affect behavior at all.  Appealing to the personal benefit did not motivate behavior.

The second sign: Washing your hands prevents others from catching diseases appealed to the social purpose, what’s good for others. There was a 46% increase in soap use.

Purpose is profoundly important to us as humans. It actually makes our immune system stronger. We’re less likely to feel rage, disappointment or depression. It gives us a higher sense of self-confidence and is associated with more happiness.

“We’re preprogrammed to reach out,” says Emory University Primatologist, Frans De Waal. “We’re a group of animals who rely on each other, need each other, and therefore evolution has assured we take pleasure in helping.”

Our brains secrete endorphins when we pursue social purpose.

Our affinity for societal contribution is primal.

How then do we bring social job purposing to the workplace?

HP is ridiculously green, protective and respectful of the environment. The company has adopted all kinds of practices internally.  An Eco Advocate program was developed for interested sales people to learn all about HP’s transferrable practices, making the sales value proposition more than the fastest, safest cloud solution. By providing clients with environmentally sustainable solutions and offering to help with internal measures like a carbon audit to reduce solid waste, a conventional sales job now also serves the purpose of protecting the environment.

Another great example is Caesar’s Entertainment. They have dozens of hotels that employ hundreds of housekeeping staff.  How did they take a relatively mundane job, like scrubbing tubs and bring a social purpose to it? Well, most people don’t use their entire bar of soap when they’re at a hotel. And guess what? All that soap ends up in landfills. Housekeeping staff is invited to voluntary collect the soap which is sent to Clean the World Foundation where it’s sterilized and redistributed to families in developing countries where sanitation is an issue, and the risk of dying from completely preventable diseases is high. What makes this initiative even more meaningful is that a lot of the housekeeping staff comes from Central America; Clean the World Foundation delivers soap to their home countries. And once every year a handful of employees are invited to visit a location where the soap is distributed to see the impact they’re making “in the field.”

Igniting A Sense Of Purpose At Work Can Also Be Individually Inspired:

  • A security guard responsible for checking IDs at the airport offers a small gift and sings a few happy-birthday lines for travelers celebrating a birthday
  • A parking attendant checks tires and alerts car owner of any bald spots, thus preventing potentially fatal traffic accidents
  • The safety officer at a manufacturing plant makes a small donation to the neighboring food bank – every day that there are no safety violations – which has resulted in over 300% improvement
  • A hairdresser who suspects some of her clients are victims of domestic violence has become trained in providing information and referrals

Purpose is a high octane motivator. Yet we’re so parched for it. Studies indicate two-thirds of employees don’t believe their jobs matter in the grander social scheme.  To introduce job purposing into your organization, keep these few suggestions in mind:

  1.  It’s about the job itself. It has to connect to the job somehow. Volunteering at events or serving on the boards of not-for-profit organizations does not fit.
  2.  Job purposing is voluntary, not mandatory.
  3.  Create a sense of ownership. Encourage employees to come up with job purpose ideas and implementation.
  4.  Look for group-based opportunities. When job purposing involves co-workers there’s a strong impact in terms of boosting engagement.
  5.  Sometimes people’s jobs have a high amount of social purpose but they don’t know about it, they don’t know they’re making a positive impact out there. Tell them. A hospital CEO routinely stops cleaning staff and orderlies in the halls to thank them for their integral role in reducing C difficile and other hospital-borne diseases.

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