Do you know your Why? The secret to finding purpose in your work.

Ever worked in a call centre? They can be tough work environments. Shift work, low pay, strict targets, trying to connect with people over the phone who probably don’t want to be disturbed.

And if you’re working in a fundraising call centre asking people for money all day… it’s a whole new world of pain!

This kind of work environment rarely provides any opportunities for autonomy. Even the most optimistic and easy going person would find it challenging to remain motivated all the time when constantly faced with negative push backs and rude interactions.

Performance incentives in this type of environment are often focused on pay increases, promotions and bonuses. But, the trouble with this is that they do nothing to change the nature of the work or support performance improvement. 

Finding purpose in the mundane

Researcher Dr Adam Grant decided to test a different approach to finding motivation. He arranged for a call centre team he was working with on some research to meet with a student whose scholarship was funded by their work.1, 2, 3

The five-minute conversation was enough to give a sense of purpose to their otherwise boring and unfulfilling work. It gave them first hand insight into the potential impact their efforts could have. It gave them their role in the process of something meaningful.

The result? 

The team more than doubled their weekly phone calls and increased weekly revenue by more than 400%!

From a job to a calling

Discovering your ‘why’ can help turn your work from a drag to a calling. It can help you identify purposeful goals and prioritise personal and professional growth to achieve them.

A greater sense of connection and contribution in your work can help you find meaning in small tasks.

As a leader, being able to clearly articulate your purpose and beliefs can inspire others and give them a reason to follow you.

<<Related post: Are you ready to lead in the Future of Work?>>

Communicating purpose is an essential skill for leaders in the Future of Work

A number of recent reports have highlighted the desire of Millennials to do meaningful work and they are looking to leaders to provide a clear purpose-driven direction for them to follow.4, 5, 6, 7

Whilst this may be one key motivator for the Millennial generations, the need for meaning in work is not new.

For decades employees have rated a sense of purpose in work as more desirable than promotions, income, job security and flexible hours.8 A growing body of evidence indicates that meaningful work makes us happier, more motivated, more committed and more satisfied, which in turn, enables us to perform better.9, 10, 11

What can leaders do to create more meaningful work for themselves and their teams?

More than 40 years of research suggests that people struggle to find meaning in work when they lack autonomy, variety, challenge, performance feedback, and the chance to work on a whole product or service from start to finish.12

However, as important as these factors are, there’s one that matters more, and when it’s in place, meaning can be found in the most unlikely jobs.

We all have a deep psychological need to be respected, valued and appreciated.

Instead of thinking of your role in terms of ‘what’ or ‘how’, consider your ‘why’.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi.

What do you care about? What difference does the work you do each day make for others? 

This might just be the person sitting next to you, it might be a whole team, or an entire community. Think about the people who are impacted by your work – how can this help you complete the sentence, “For the sake of … I give my best at work.”

Thinking about the answers to these questions and encouraging your team to do the same can give a boost to performance now and help you stick with things through times of challenge and change.

<<Related post: Can you feel it? The Feeling-well Doing-well link>>

Dr Paige Williams

Dr Paige Williams

International Speaker, Author, Mentor


Determined to help leaders move beyond just the need for resilience, Paige provides practical, evidence-based strategies for leaders to become antifragile, lead themselves and their teams to thrive and succeed in the Decade of Disruption.

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