Finding purpose in work: four places to look

Finding purpose in work is important: it makes the work worthwhile and connects you to a larger and greater cause. It gives greater meaning to your day.

How can you find this purpose? First it helps to understand your personal values. Once you know what you value there are several ways you can find purpose in your work.

1. Finding purpose in your company’s role in society

My father spent 44 years working for a company that generated electricity (originally this was a government utility and later a privately-owned company). He finished his career in quite a senior role and I always remember the story he told me:

If I had a bad day at work, on the way home I would look at the lights in people’s homes, think of the brightness and warmth that electricity provided, the food on their tables, and remember that this was the reason for working.

He chose to find purpose in his company’s role in society and use it as motivation for doing a better job each day.

2. Connecting with your team and those around you

Not everyone connects with the purpose of their company, for some people their immediate team is more important. Many years ago I had a manager who was a little cynical about our company, he talked (a little too often) about “our dysfunctional organization”.

Despite this he was a great manager because of the care and concern he had for his team. He took great pleasure in supporting us, both with our day-to-day work as well as helping us plan our careers and navigate the organization. He had a great reputation and though he was not too senior, many of his team went on to bigger roles because of his support.

3. Finding purpose through your personal tasks

Sometimes the best place to find purpose is in your daily tasks. A friend of mine works for an insurance company in the household claims department. Like anyone, there are parts of her job that she enjoys, parts that she finds tedious. Her job is to assess insurance claims and to make payment when the claim is within the terms of the policy. There’s a lot of stress, dealing with customers who are themselves feeling stressed. To help her through the day she chooses to find purpose in the claims she does pay and the support it provides customers when they need it most.

I can’t always pay an insurance claim, but when I can pay out, I always take a moment to remember what I’ve just done. I’ve helped someone when they needed it and protected them from risk.

4. Finding purpose through your personal development

For me, it’s learning and development that gives me the greatest sense of purpose. Helping others to learn and develop is at the core of my role. The times that I feel most motivated are when I’m doing this, and something new, something challenging, something that gives me the opportunity to develop my skills too!

Your next steps

First, recognize that finding purpose in work is a choice. Whatever you do, you can choose to see it as ‘just work’, or you can choose to see it as having a bigger purpose.

To find purpose in the work you do, take the following three steps:

  1. Prioritize your personal values (if you haven’t done this already)
  2. Explore these 4 sources of purpose
  3. Write down a short statement, starting “I find purpose in my work when…”

When you’re having a tough day take a step back, return to your statement, remind yourself that there’s a bigger purpose in the work that you do! It will help you through.