Why having purpose is important for our happiness and well-being
What is it that keeps you going through hard times and setbacks? As a leader, what guides you and your teams? What keeps you focused and energised through the many challenging times at work? As a leader, you and your team members have your own internal issues and personal problems, which all accompany you in your work. What is it that makes you forget all those issues, focus on your work, and be co-operative with each other? Are you driven just by money, or does a greater purpose drive your work?
Every person, team, or organisation needs a reason for existing. We need an interest, a fully justified reason, and emotional attachment to fully engage ourselves in whatever we are doing. It’s our existential need to find a purpose in life; to live a happy and healthy life.
Having a purpose
To have a purpose means more than just achieving goals/targets. A goal is a target one wishes to achieve, and a purpose is the reason for targeting the goal. To move towards a goal is to move towards a specific direction, and purpose is what gives the direction. More importantly, a purpose is 'why' we should pursue certain goals, and this 'why' is influenced by our values and beliefs. This reason makes our life worth living or makes the work we do worth doing. For example, many people like to align their efforts with a purpose like saving the Earth, helping the poor and underprivileged, working to create their own version of a masterpiece, a scientific discovery, or working towards creating the latest technology.
Why having a purpose is essential for living a happy life
Research shows that people experience a sense of awe, a sensation of being a part of something much larger than themselves. In the research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the participants consistently reported that awe produced 'a reduced sense of self-importance relative to something larger and more powerful than they felt connected to'. Aligning ourselves to a purpose, especially if it’s an altruistic/idealistic purpose, makes us less self-centred. We feel a part of something bigger, something outside of ourselves, and this makes us less focused on our own worries and anxieties. Our own problems seem less significant, and we spend less time thinking about them, and so our sense of well-being increases.
If we have a strong sense of purpose, we are more likely to experience flow. As per psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, 'flow' is the state of intense absorption in which we forget our surroundings and ourselves, and as Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi has shown, flow is a powerful source of well-being.
"The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times... the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile" - Csikszentmihalyi, 1990
The more flow we experience, the happier we feel. According to research, flow is more enjoyable when people are working in a team and they discuss openly the matters of work with each other. Being part of the team, working together, and having a shared sense of purpose is likely to create an experience of flow for the team members.
Why aligning employees with organisational purpose is important
Research indicates that our current workforce of employees regards engaging in a meaningful purpose as being more important than the paycheck.
In 'shaping the future' research, the CIPD found that "feelings towards profit-related purpose are generally negative, with employees saying it makes them feel de-motivated and less committed to their organisation. Nonetheless, just under a third feel that focusing on investors is the right thing to do in the long run. It seems in order to produce a motivated and committed workforce, the main purpose needs to have a social basis to it – profit does not seem to ‘kick start’ the workforce" (CIPD, Shared Purpose: The Golden Thread, 2010).
To increase employee engagement at work, leaders need to redefine the purpose of their organisation in terms of how it serves society. Many organisations have been successful without having a social purpose, but the world is changing. According to 2019 Global Talent Trends report by LinkedIn, 74% of the participants said that they would like to go for a job where they feel like their work matters.
According to a Harvard Business Review article, among the elements of true engagement, the top element is the feeling of meaning and purpose derived by the employees from the company’s mission. According to the study, the employees inspired because their work makes a difference are almost three times more productive than dissatisfied employees.
Companies need to create meaningful work and work on creating a shared sense of purpose and clarity on how employees are contributing to a greater purpose. This shared sense of purpose is more likely to promote an agile mindset among the members of the team, i.e. it promotes respect, collaboration, improvement, pride in ownership, a focus on delivering value, and the ability to adapt to change.
Having a purpose in business
How leaders can align their teams with a greater purpose
A business doesn’t have to be a non-profit or social venture to create an environment where employees feel like their work matters. Leaders can help their employees identify and establish how their organisation’s products or services make the world a better place. The organisation’s vision, mission, strategic goals, and new product development can be aligned to work towards achieving a greater purpose. Also, to be authentic in their approach, it’s very important for the leaders to effectively communicate the emotion behind the purpose for teams to believe their intentions and emotionally get attached to the purpose. Their verbal communication, as well as their body language, should inspire their team to align with the purpose.
A sense of meaning and purpose is fundamental to our mental health and cognition, as this is our existential need. As many organisations these days are focusing on the mental well-being of their employees, it is crucial for the people in leadership positions to consider and work towards establishing a shared sense of social purpose for employees to feel that they are helping humanity make progress through their work in the organisation. Not all employees will have the same purpose, but the majority of people would find their work more meaningful if they feel they are contributing to making this world a better place.
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