Work dominates a good part of our adult lives. Most of us spend at least five days a week at our jobs, often more than we spend with our families and loved ones. So, it is no surprise that research from McKinsey found that 70% of employees say their sense of purpose is defined by their work.

On the surface, our sense of purpose seems like a personal matter — something for each individual to find on their own. However, smart leaders realize that their team’s sense of purpose also has a significant effect on their work.

Having a sense that our work is meaningful and purposeful has a startling impact on our engagement, motivation, and loyalty. Research suggests that people who have a sense of purpose at work take fewer absences, stay longer, and occupy more skilled positions.

Helping employees find meaning in their work also has a positive influence on the company’s bottom line. Not only does it reduce staff absence and turnover, which are expensive problems on their own, but it increases overall productivity — by as much as $9,000 a year per worker, according to one survey.

Clearly, organizations should care about their employees’ sense of purpose and fulfillment at work. Unfortunately, this can be a tricky area to improve upon.

Unlike extrinsic motivators, like pay raises, bonuses, and vacation days, a sense of meaning comes from within. We can’t create it for our employees, but we can work on building a workplace culture that makes it easier for people to find their sense of purpose through their work.

In this article, we’ll look closer at the importance of purpose at work and how it affects performance. We’ll also discuss some ways companies can encourage employees to find a sense of meaning in their work.

How a Sense of Purpose at Work Affects Performance

As humans, we have a built in need to find meaning and value in our daily lives. We want to feel that we’re contributing to a wider purpose, that our efforts are worthwhile, and that our actions have an impact on the wellbeing of our communities.

While some of that sense of purpose might come from activities outside work, such as raising a family, taking part in hobbies, or volunteering in our communities, many of us define our values and worth through our careers.

When PwC asked 1,500 employees what is most important to them at work, 83% ranked “meaning in day-to-day work” in their top three. Even more notably, 9 in 10 people would be willing to take a pay cut to experience greater meaning at work, according to research.

The pandemic has only further highlighted the importance of our sense of purpose to our working lives. Given time to re-evaluate their life-work balance, many people decided it was time for a change. 2021 quickly became famous as the year of “the Great Resignation” as workers handed in their notice in droves.

For companies looking to improve productivity and retain valuable employees, the importance of fostering a sense of meaning at work can’t be underestimated. Here are some of the reasons your organization should make purpose a priority.

1. Increase Employee Retention

Recruitment and training take time and money, so hanging onto skilled employees is vital to a business’s performance and success. Fortunately, employees are more likely to stay loyal when their sense of purpose aligns with their company’s.

According to research by PwC, non-millennials are 2.3 times more likely to stay when they feel connected to their employer’s purpose. Millennials put even more emphasis on meaningful work and are 5.3 times more likely to stay.

Since millennials now make up the majority of the workplace, creating a sense of meaning at work is even more important than ever to keep your best employees for longer.

2. Raising Employee Engagement and Satisfaction

Keeping employees engaged with their work is essential to any company’s performance. Workers who feel disengaged are more likely to produce low-quality work, be absent, or negatively affect their colleagues.

This all has a sever impact on the business’s bottom line — Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity every year.

One of the best ways to increase employee engagement is by helping staff members find a sense of meaning and purpose in their work. That’s because research has found that people who rate their work as meaningful also report higher engagement than the average worker.

Those engaged workers were also happy to put in more hours. They were less likely to be absent and worked an extra hour on average per week.

3. Boost Profitability

When PwC asked business leaders about the importance of purpose, 79% agreed that it is central to an organization’s success. While there are many different measures of success, most of us would agree that a company’s profitability is the ultimate test.

Sure enough, research by Gallup shows that successfully connecting your employees to your organization’s purpose has a significant impact on your bottom line. As little as a 10% improvement in employee engagement with the company’s mission can increase profitability by 4.4%.

This increase demonstrates the impact purpose-driven work can have on an employee’s performance. When people feel aligned with their organization’s goals and find meaning in their work, they are motivated to perform at their best.

This sense of intrinsic motivation cannot be duplicated through external factors like incentive schemes and benefits. It needs to come from within each individual employee.

While companies can’t force their staff members to find meaning in their work, the benefits for performance mean that we should all make creating a purpose-driven team a priority.

Helping Your Team Find Their Purpose at Work

McKinsey’s survey might have found that 70% of employees get their sense of purpose from their work, but it also discovered that only 18% get as much purpose from work as they want. Clearly, there is room for improvement at many companies.

Creating meaningful work is tricky. Your employees are all unique, and their sense of purpose is driven by many different factors, plenty of which are beyond your control. It is highly unlikely that everyone who works with you will feel fulfilled and satisfied all the time.

However, some workplace doe more than others to create a culture where purpose-filled work is a priority.

As leaders and managers, we can set the tone for our teams and influence the place that purpose and meaning have in organizational decision-making. Here are some ways you can inspire your employees to find value in their work.

1. Define Your Organization’s Purpose

You might not be able to control your employees’ sense of purpose at work, but you can at least make it easier for them to find it themselves. One way to do this is to define your company’s mission and purpose, then ensure that this messaging takes center stage in your internal communications.

Having a clearly defined company purpose helps to inspire employees by showing how their work benefits the wider world. However, the process must be authentic if you want your staff to connect with your mission and make it their own.

People can generally recognize when companies only pay lip service to their stated purpose. For this exercise to be worthwhile, there needs to be genuine buy-in from senior management and a commitment to making sure day-to-day life at your organization reflects the purpose you set for yourselves.

2. Embed Purpose in Decision-Making

Business leaders might understand that purpose is vital to success, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily act on this knowledge. PwC’s research found that only 34% of leaders used their organization’s purpose as a guidepost for decision-making.

Part of inspiring your team members to connect with your organization’s purpose is showing that it has a noticeable impact on how decisions are made. If employees can see that the company’s strategy is determined by its purpose, they are more likely to sense this purpose as integral to their own work too.

As well as determining your business strategy, your organization’s mission should have a role to play in how you manage your employees. Hiring and promotion decisions should prioritize people who demonstrate that their values and sense of purpose align with your company’s since they’ll be the ones who are best able to find meaning in the work you offer.

3. Share the Big Picture

Leaders have a vital role to play in helping team members find their sense of purpose in their work. One of the ways they can do this is by consistently highlighting the impact each member of staff’s work has on the company’s wider goals.

Leaders should make it a priority to talk to their teams about why their work matters and how it helps the organization reach its aims. This shouldn’t only happen during performance reviews either but should also be a regular part of the day-to-day conversations that leaders have with their direct reports.

As well as connecting each individual’s work to the big picture, leaders can help their team members understand and engage with the company’s mission. Making sure employees see their impact on the wider world, as well as the organization, helps them to find a sense of purpose and meaning in their daily tasks.

4. Focus on Job Enrichment

Job enrichment techniques are those that aim to make roles more meaningful, interesting, and engaging. For companies that are serious about building purpose-driven teams, these techniques can be a great guide for designing roles where job fulfillment is a priority.

Considerations like autonomy, flexibility, and accountability empower staff members to take ownership of their roles. When they feel trusted and valued, employees are more likely to find a sense of purpose in their work.

This sense of ownership also increases team members’ connection to your organization and their pride in their place within it. It helps to take work from a necessary evil to a source of validation and identity.

5. Bring Teams Together

There is a strong link between the level of social support available and the amount of meaning employees find in their roles. It isn’t just what we do that fosters a sense of purpose at work, but the support we get from the people we do it with.

Creating a culture of collaboration, connection, and teamwork not only helps people feel happier at work but also increases their job satisfaction. When we have solid relationships with our team members, we see ourselves as a vital part of the whole and have a stronger sense of shared purpose.

As leaders, team cohesion and relationship building need to be priorities so that we can encourage this sense of belonging and collective purpose. We can also make sure team members have the support they need, in the form of mentors, line managers, and training opportunities.

6. Prioritize Staff Input

Perhaps most importantly of all, creating a workplace culture that prioritizes meaning and purpose require input from everyone, including the staff themselves.

As we’ve seen, finding our sense of meaning is a very individual thing. Even if your company has a clear and defined purpose, you’ll still need to provide opportunities for employees to connect with that mission and make it their own.

Encourage your team members to reflect on their purpose and identify opportunities to express this through their day-to-day tasks. How can they find meaning in their work? Consider coming up with individualized progress plans that help each person develop their personal and professional skills in a direction that best aligns with their own sense of purpose.

Purposeful work is essential to our job satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty. Employees who feel aligned with a company’s mission perform better, stay longer, and are more likely to recommend their employer to others.

Although we can’t force a sense of purpose on our team members, there are things that managers can do to create opportunities for meaningful and fulfilling work. When done authentically, this can lead to great benefits, for companies and employees alike.