Creating meaning at work through connecting purpose

During the pandemic many of my coaching clients have been evaluating their careers and wondering – is there more to work than this, or could I be more satisfied doing something else? 

When work lacks meaning for us, we feel aimless and engagement starts to slide. When work feels meaningful, we are more engaged, put in more discretionary effort and become more productive. It’s well established that engaged employees deliver better results and are more likely to be retained.

But why does work feel ‘meaningful’ or not? I’d like to suggest that it’s not about what we do or where it gets us to, but why we do it at all – why it matters to us, to our employer and to the world. For a person, asking “Why do I do this?” leads to a deeper existential question: “Why am I here?” And that can help to uncover a personal purpose. For an organisation, at the heart of why it exists lies the deeper mission or purpose. When expressed clearly it should link to the impact the organisation makes in the world.

You can therefore think of meaning at work as having three components:A personal purpose that aligns with and contributes to

1. A well-articulated team or organisational purpose which creates

2. An impact in the world that matters to us personally

3. It’s the through-line from one to three that generates the feeling that work is meaningful.

The start point then is to discover your personal purpose – that north star by which you navigate your life choices. If you reflect on your life, you will notice key decision points at which you made a choice and knew it just felt right. Your purpose was guiding you in those moments. If you can spot the repeating pattern in your life, then your underlying purpose is revealed.

At Complete we often help our clients uncover their personal purpose and articulate it simply as “I…” followed by a verb and perhaps one or two qualifying words, such as “I cut through” or “I create”. When you identify your purpose, it feels like coming home to an important truth about yourself. It will be present not just at work, but in all parts of your life.

Once you know your purpose, then you can consider how to express it at work and how it contributes to your organisation’s purpose. Perhaps it suggests a part of your role that you would approach differently with your purpose in mind. Or you may feel you want to talk to your line manager about a shift in the emphasis of your work to make it more aligned with your purpose. And, maybe it’s even time for a new, more purposeful chapter in your career!

Ultimately, it’s up to you to live your life ‘on purpose’ and create meaning from your work. Of course, as leaders we also have a responsibility to empower our people to find meaningful work. If we can help them discover their personal purpose, we can connect it the organisation and to an impact in the world that matters to them.

So, what is your purpose? How does it contribute to your work? How could you better align it? And, if you lead others, how meaningful is their work to them?

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