The Connection to Purpose: Why work matters

At some time or another, every human being is swept up in that search for purpose. Aside from a paycheck, most workers will cite that what makes them happiest is that they have a meaningful level of contribution to their organization and that they can take an active role in shaping the outcomes.

A sense of purpose is critical for employees to maximize their full potential. It sparks creativity and intensifies focus. Employees who are connected with an inner purpose are more fulfilled, more passionate, and more invested in the success of their organization. A sense of purpose links the individual employee's values with the greater organizational values and creates a more engaged employee.

Defining Purpose

In a broad sense, purpose can be defined as "the reason for which something exists or is done." It is not the task at hand but rather seeing how that task fits into the greater scheme of the organization. Employees who see that their work has a direct and significant impact on the world around them are more likely to tackle that work with passion; they aren't just in it for the paycheck.

For instance, if you were to ask a member of the cleaning staff what his purpose is, he may say that it is to empty wastebaskets and mop the floors. He may not feel very inspired or passionate about those tasks. How would he feel if he considered his purpose to be creating a safe and inviting environment that will help put patients and their families at ease, thus instilling greater trust in the organization?

Being aware of that greater sense of purpose connects that employee's personal value of caring for others with the job before him of mopping the floors. No longer is he just pushing a mop around, he's helping to care for every patient that comes through the doors.

Developing Purpose

Chances are, however, that the cleaning person didn't always see beyond the mop bucket when defining his purpose at work. Developing that level of engagement and commitment to a greater purpose is an individual choice and an individual journey. Organizational leaders can't force an employee to be engaged in his work; however, they can help employees discover their purpose by showing them how their work makes a difference in the greater scheme of things.

Connecting to a greater purpose begins with having a clear definition of your own personal values. All employees should be encouraged to reflect on what values they regard as their highest priorities and deepest drivers. Carl Jung summed up the discovering of personal values: "Trust what gives you meaning and accept it as your guide."

Although this may seem somewhat philosophical, these values naturally impact every area of your life, including your work life. Once you have reflected on and articulated your own values, determine how they fit with the organization's mission, vision, and values. Then examine how the organization's mission, vision, and values are infused into your own job description. If your organization is committed to providing the best in healthcare to your patients, how does your job description support that goal?

Helping yourself and your co-workers see the connections between personal values and organizational values will help foster a deeper engagement and sense of purpose.

Rediscovering Purpose Every Day

It's not enough just to be able to articulate how your personal values connect with the organization's goals. You need to be able to see evidence of that connection in your daily work. Leaders who routinely link specific employee actions to organizational success and point out that link to the individual will find that their employees are more engaged and more likely to execute their jobs purposefully.

Help employees by asking them on a routine basis how they're making a difference and how they're living out their values in their work. Intentionally reflecting on their purpose creates more aware, committed employees.

Having a sense of purpose isn't written into job descriptions as a "meets expectations" criteria. It is a personal journey for each employee. But the leader who invests the time in helping his employees develop their personal connection to the work at hand will be rewarded with a dedicated staff that routinely goes the extra mile.

Igniting a sense of purpose and passion has a direct payback for both the leader and the employee. Just as the leader will reap benefits from a more engaged team, employees who take the time to link their values to their work will be rewarded with a greater sense of purpose about their work that runs much deeper than their next paycheck.

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