According to a recent report by PWC, 83% of the people they surveyed said that it was important to find meaning in their day to day work. But what does this really mean and how can we make what we already do matter more?
Newer recruits to the workforce prioritise meaning over money and it’s reminded us all that purpose is important. Many more of us have been choosing to work for organisations whose internal or external values align with our own; voting with our feet when we sense that this is no longer the case. The employment decisions of the new generation of workers (GenZ) are reportedly based not solely on salary but consider an organisation’s social and environmental impact too. This shift has begun to change the governance, focus and recruitment tactics of even the most successful employers.
We all want to have meaning in our life, and work is where we spend the majority of it. But for an increasing number of us in impending financial hardship, it’s becoming less likely that we will have the luxury to choose employment that ticks all of our ‘personal values’ boxes. Moreover, working for an organisation that ‘does good work’ or at least puts their ESG to the top of the agenda, does not mean that the work we do day-to-day will give us that sense of purpose we crave.
So, how can we find more purpose in the life we already live?
What is ‘purpose’ anyway?
Having a sense of purpose is a fundamental human need. Without it, we suffer psychological discord; a sense of unease when our attention isn’t occupied by external things. Put simply, when we have too much time to think and not enough to do, we lose our sense of purpose pretty quickly. Similarly, when we feel like we are ‘sleep-walking’ through life and become disengaged with our own actions, our sense of purpose is eroded.
The vast majority of us have a great deal of purpose, but it can be easy to lose sight of it as we move through the routines of our daily lives. It’s common to think that purpose has to be ‘grand’. But, if we get up every morning with the intention to do something with our day, then we already have purpose. We can align ourselves to causes greater than us if we like, but unless we actually do something to further that cause, we may still feel lacking.
This is why working for an organisation that is purpose-led does not automatically create meaning in our lives. If we have lost sight of how our job contributes to the greater cause, then we will experience just as much apathy as we would working for a company whose values we loathe.
Purpose is about perspective; choosing our actions, engaging with them and understanding that they impact not only how others perceive us, but how we feel about ourselves. It’s acknowledging that we have control over how we choose to live our lives and the value we place on what we do. Simply by engaging with even the most mundane aspects of our lives can help us to feel more connected, engaged and purposeful.
Acting on purpose
When it comes to work, it can be all too easy to be swept along with endless to-do lists, meetings and dealing with immediate issues. Finding the time to really think about what we’re doing, and why, can be tricky and feel unproductive. It’s easier to start with reflection; at the end of each day, taking stock of what we did, why we did it, what the outcomes were and what, if anything, we might have done differently.
This kind of evaluation can help tap into the parts of our day we most enjoyed and were most meaningful and worthwhile. Think of it like re-writing a CV or updating a LinkedIn profile - everything we do seems much more impressive and purposeful when we have to think it through and write it down. Finding someone to share this reflective process with, will make it all the more potent.
It’s important to consider other aspects of life in this way too. Reflecting on our relationships with others and ourselves helps us to work out where our priorities really lie. Knowing more about what and who brings us joy can help figure out what might be missing in our life, so that we can choose what we need to do to get more of what we need.
In the words of one GenZer in a recent BBC article, “There is nothing wrong with just focusing on existing and enjoying life” and we do not have to be defined by our work (unless we want to be). Meaning can come from all sorts of places and we don’t have to limit ourselves to one overarching, grand purpose.
For some though, finding meaning in the mundane and focusing on forging interests outside of work, still won’t be enough. Without a strong connection to where we work, there may always be a risk that we will ‘quietly quit’ - the downside of which means low motivation and low tolerance for any kind of change or additional demands placed upon us. To mitigate the chance of this happening, it is beneficial to find out more about the values of the organisations we work for and work out if they fit with our own.
Organisational values may not be always obvious, but delve a little deeper and we should notice that the behaviours that are rewarded and encouraged, are aligned with the core values of the company. HR business partners and managers should be able to shed light on the official values if they are not already emblazoned on our hearts…
In an unhealthy work environment behaviours will be at odds with the stated values. In organisations that don’t fit our personal values at all, we will observe behaviours and ways of working that we don’t or can’t subscribe to. Values are the drivers of purpose and if they don’t match our expectations or they don’t feel supported then it really could be time for a change (or doubling down on that outside interest).
If the organisational values we find match or compliment our own then there is work to be done to decide how and when to bring those values to life in our role. Not every aspect of our job will give us the opportunity to fly the flag for the values but if we recognise how our attitude and behaviours can influence the way we feel about certain tasks, we are on to a winner.
By far the best way to create more purpose in both life and work is to build or strengthen strong and trusting connections with others. The quality of our relationships can impact our sense of self-worth. Knowing that someone values or even relies upon us can be an incredible boost to self-esteem and can instil a sense of purposeful responsibility. For many people family, friends and colleagues are enough, but sometimes the support from someone new, outside of our immediate circle, can be hugely beneficial.
At Voco our community is filled with people who are seeking more purpose in their working lives. People who value the input of those at a similar stage in their careers and who can help them to do that important reflective work; enabling them to forge the next step on their career path.