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The importance of ‘purpose’ in motivating employees

The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania once conducted a study involving the call center at a university fundraising organisation. Employees were separated into one of three groups at random:

Group 1: The employees in this group read stories from other employees describing what they perceived were the personal benefits of the call center job. These benefits included the development of skills, the increase of knowledge, and of course the financial gain from the job. (Personal Benefit condition)

Group 2: These employees read stories from those who directly benefited from the fundraising organisation and how the scholarships they’d obtained had positively impacted their lives. (Task Significance condition)

Group 3: The final group served as the control group and did not read any stories.

The results? The control group (Group 3) and the employees from Group 1 (those who read the stories about personal benefits) raised the same amount of money.

However, those in Group 2 (the Task Significance group) who’d read stories about what their work accomplished and how it positively affected the world earned more than twice the number of weekly pledges and more than twice the amount of weekly donation money!

There truly is power in using purpose as a motivator in the workplace and managers can benefit immensely from helping fulfill their team members’ desire to contribute to a cause greater and more enduring than themselves.

Here are 4 simple ways to do it:


Team Language

Whether in your promotional materials or staff meetings, be mindful of using purpose-oriented words. Refer to the company as a united team by using words such as “us” and “we”. Not only will team members start to mimic this way of speaking about the company, but it will cause them to feel as if they’re a part of something bigger than themselves and assure them that they are a valued and needed part of the workplace family.


Big Picture Vision

Additionally, ensure that the company is communicating its purpose clearly and effectively, and that team members understand this purpose as well as the company’s long-term vision. This will help them to see how their individual roles contribute to the bigger picture and they will be more likely to find satisfaction with their work.


Purpose Over Profits

Maintain balance between profits and purpose. Research has shown that profit goals contribute more to an individual’s ill-being than it does their well-being. Instead, place just as much emphasis on purpose as you do profits. Just as in the above study, let team members know the impact their work is having on the external world and how others are benefiting from the company’s mission.


Give Back

Considering giving back to the community as a way giving your team members a sense of purpose. When team members know that the work they’re doing is partially funding projects that help charities/nonprofits, it can very often give their daily work meaning. Consider polling your team members and asking for suggestions as to the organisations they’d like to partner with.



More than ever, people want to feel fulfilled in their work, and one of the best ways to do that in the workplace is to help your employees feel purpose and significance in their day to day tasks. Which of the strategies above will you use this week to achieve that for your team?

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