Having purpose in both your life and your organization has been proven to make a huge impact on your productivity, happiness and even your health. It’s perhaps no surprise that a growing number of young people today crave it in their working life.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the startup world. As anyone who has worked in or indeed founded a startup of their own can attest, it’s nothing if not a stressful existence. You have to put in back breaking hours, performing a wide range of tasks you’re not always qualified for, and all with the backdrop of constant revenue pressures. Indeed, entrepreneurs have comfortably the longest working hours of any professional group in Europe.
You would think therefore that entrepreneurs would be among the unhappiest workers, but the reality is quite the opposite. Not only are entrepreneurs happier than all over workers, they’re also healthier. When this has been researched, the answer was quite clear. The pay isn’t really a factor, and the stress can be managed, providing the entrepreneur is doing something they’re passionate about.
The modern hunt for purpose
This is important because employee engagement is a global problem for workers in all industries, so any finding that the stresses and strains we associate with working life can be buffered when we do something that really excites us has to make us sit up and take notice.
The tremendous value of purpose to our lives was typified by a recent study that tracked several thousand Americans as part of the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) project. The analysis not only found that people with purpose tend to earn nearly $5,000 per year more than their more aimless peers, but they also lived a longer, healthier life.
“Studies show that purpose correlates positively with more expansive future time perspectives and with a greater sense that their time is being used effectively to fulfill downstream goals,” the authors say. “As such, purposeful people may be more likely to save money or make investments that support downstream goals, and not squander resources based on impulsive decisions.”
A purposeful life is a healthy one
Given the data generated by the MIDUS project, it’s perhaps no surprise that living a purposeful life is so beneficial to our health, but a couple of recent studies illustrate just how big an impact it has.
For instance, a recent study from researchers at Washington University at St. Louis found that purpose can provide a boost to a whole range of healthy lifestyle indicators, from the quality of our diet to the amount of exercise we get, from our sleep quality to dental hygiene.
“Participants reporting a higher sense of purpose also reported a greater likelihood to enact all health behaviors of interest and higher self-rated health,” the authors say. “Overall, these findings point to the importance of considering healthy lifestyle habits as a prominent explanation for why purposeful individuals experience better health outcomes.”
This core finding was then repeated by a second study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Review. It found that when our own values match the values of our employer, it has a profound impact on our mental and physical wellbeing. As before, both performance and health were boosted when values were aligned and we can live our lives in a congruent way each day. This boost was particularly strong when you were surrounded by peers who were similarly engaged, suggesting that the improvements delivered by a purpose-driven workforce can be exponential in nature.
Creating a purpose driven workplace
So what’s holding us back? Perhaps a recent report from the Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development (CIPD) might provide some insight. It examined the phenomenon known as ‘purposeful leadership’, which is basically what happens when your leaders are as engaged in the purpose of their organization as the rest of their team. When we work under purposeful leaders, it gives a significant boost to our own performance, and perhaps understandably makes us less likely to want to quit.
“Our study shows that the modern workplace is as much a battle for hearts and minds as it is one of rules and duties. People increasingly expect an organisational purpose that goes beyond a mere focus on the bottom line, beyond the kind of short-termist, financial imperatives that are blamed by many for causing the 2008 recession,” the authors say.
When our leaders have interests beyond merely furthering their own career, that inspires us to greater heights. What’s more, these interests don’t have to be purely business-like, they can be interests within the wider community too.
The problem is that the report suggests that few managers actually exhibit this kind of behavior. A worryingly low 20% of leaders meet the criteria to be regarded as a purposeful leader. Leaders don’t operate in a vacuum of course, so a good place to start is to work on the purpose of your overall organization. Your north star if you like that guides the how, what, why and when of your organization. This acts as the start point, followed by training and development to ensure that this is aligned and communicated effectively.
“If organisations are serious about acting on the rhetoric of business purpose, and are to invest in achievement of their purpose, they have to reconsider the ways they select, develop and assess leaders,” CIPD say. “The traditional focus on leader behaviours only goes so far as to develop their ability to perform in a role. Instead, what is required is a development of the whole person, while accepting that it is impossible to mould all individuals into a uniform model of morals and ethics.”
It’s quite clear that purpose has tremendous benefits for us both as individuals and as organizations, so it’s vital that we try and live a purposeful work life as much as possible. Hopefully, if you needed any extra incentive, this article will have provided it to you.
Read the next article in the Future of work series – Flexible work