We Asked People About Their Search for Purpose at Work 

First, there was “Everybody works from home now.” 

We know how that went.

Then came the Great Resignation.

Then some said The Great Regret came too.

Then Quiet Quitting and Quiet Firing hit the market.

...And then a recession that (still) may happen made everyone circle back to pre-pandemic states of mind (just a "little" more worn out and tired.)

If it feels it all happened over at least one decade of work, it's because it's...a lot. In three years, we went through all the colors of "this work isn't working for me"-- including the different shades of blue (depression), red (anger), and gray (burnout).

HR managers have been having a hard time dealing with all this. Embracing remote and hybrid, keeping employees in the company, helping them stay motivated, and then having to lay off thousands -- it's been a whirlwind, and that's putting it mildly.

In between pay raises and pay cuts, pizza parties and free coffee, flexible work and calling everyone back in, one essential element has been lost, though: the fact that having purpose at work can make all the difference.

So, to start the year off on the right foot, we went ahead and asked around to find out:

  • What does "purpose at work" mean to different people?
  • What role does company culture play in fostering a sense of purpose among employees?
  • Are there any specific industries or types of work people believe inherently provide a stronger sense of purpose? 

Here's what we learned.


  • People define purpose at work differently. For some, it’s the reward that comes after the struggle. For others, it’s being part of a bigger story. And for some, it’s a very complex issue happening between external and internal stimuli.
  • If there’s one thing everyone seems to agree on, however, it’s that purpose at work and organizational culture are very tightly connected. 
  • Most people think you can have purpose at work regardless of the industry you’re in – but some are more naturally inclined to be more meaningful, like education, healthcare, and, according to some of our interviewees, even technology. 

What Purpose at Work Means to Different People

When we asked this question, we expected to see a wide range of responses -- but nothing prepared us for all the beautiful nuances of how people define purpose at work.


Some Said It’s the Balance Between Struggle & Reward

"The satiation of every desire paired with a relief of every responsibility is a psychological death sentence to many (the idea is taken from a book by Eric Fromm). The idea is that in the modern (working) world, we get everything that we want without being needed for anything; leading to not being fulfilled.

Dostoevsky wrote about this too: That man is less a problem-solving creature than he is a problem-creating one. That he needs the tension inherent in some degree of struggle leading to fulfillment.

Inspired by these thoughts, purpose at work for me ultimately means struggle but reward; challenges that are overcome; difficult tasks that are mastered; research that leads to successful implementation; doing something hard and succeeding.

Purpose at work leads to fulfillment at work. And all one has to do is to take a sense of pride in their work, committing to get better and work hard, striving towards excellence, as a way of picking a purpose. Deciding that good work matters. And the feeling of purpose at work comes with it."

-- Hannah F, Marketing at Niceboard

Many Associated It With Being Part of a Bigger Story

"For me personally, purpose at work means knowing that every day when I come to work, I make a positive difference to the world, and to the lives of the people I work with. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the negative news we hear, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. Knowing that my work is helping to make things better combats this, and every success story reinforces my sense of purpose.

Of course we can’t all be the astronauts, or ballerinas, or rocket scientists we dreamed of being when we were little, and it’s important to be realistic. There are many reasons why we work, especially financial ones, and it isn’t always possible to find your dream job. Even if you do, there will still be difficult days."

-- Ashley Murry, Chief Clinical Officer, Sana Lake Recovery Centers

"Personally, "purpose at work" is about aligning my professional journey with a meaningful mission. It's the sense of contributing to something larger than myself, a driving force that fuels passion and commitment."

-- Diane Zheng, Head of Marketing at Stallion Express

"For me, 'purpose at work' transcends the mere fulfillment of job duties. It revolves around making a meaningful contribution that extends beyond personal boundaries. When it comes to security, it's about protecting people's rights and ensuring their well-being, not just putting safety measures or processes in place. What truly gives my work purpose is this deep sense of making a significant effect, of acting as guardians in our digital and physical worlds."

-- Eugene Klimaszewski, President of Mammoth Security

"Having purpose in my work means it's more than a job—it's a passion. It's about knowing that my efforts are adding something meaningful to the world, not just filling my bank account. There's a real sense of accomplishment when I see my work making a difference, whether it's in the lives of individuals, the wider community, or the environment."

-- Adam Hardingham, CEO of Rivmedia 

"For me, finding purpose at work means a lot more than just earning money. It's like carrying a torch, feeling that what I do every day is making the world a bit better. When I see the impact of my work, whether on people, the community, or the environment, it gives me a real sense of achievement."

-- Dmitriy Shelepin CEO, Head of SEO at Miromind

...And Some Had a Pretty Complex View on It

"I think there's a two-pronged approach to looking at purpose at work: external vs. internal purpose. Externally, purpose is often found by working at companies that serve the public and give back. Internally, purpose is about feeling valued and appreciated in your work. Not all companies can provide an external purpose, but most companies can work hard to make sure their team members feel like they are more than a number."

-- Amanda Cross, Content Marketing Manager at Nectar


How About Company Culture: How Does It Play Into Purpose?

On this front, we saw an almost unanimous consensus: company culture shapes and feeds purpose at work.

"I think, when the company culture lets room for individuals to do what they're best at, combined with a clear, compelling message about what the company stands for itself, it will render the strongest culture of purpose."

-- Hanne Wulp, Owner at Communication Wise

"A company's culture is vital to the development of this sense of mission. A company's culture organically unites its staff around a shared goal when it is based on core principles that appeal to its workforce. In our instance, the pillars of our culture are integrity, empathy, and a dedication to excellence. These principles foster an atmosphere where workers believe their work matters and has an influence."

-- Russell Noga, CEO at Medisupps

"I think that company culture plays a significant role in fostering a sense of purpose. If companies don't take the steps to create an environment where people feel like they have a purpose, it probably won't happen organically. Companies must be willing to clarify their purpose: who do they help, why do they help them, and how does each team member help? At Nectar, we make our purpose crystal clear by spotlighting a specific customer testimonial each time we have our All-Hands. It's nice to put a face and name to the work we do every day."

-- Amanda Cross, Content Marketing Manager at Nectar

"Company culture plays a huge role in creating that sense of purpose. Here at Redlands Mazda, we focus on empathy, taking care of the customer, and always improving. That gives employees a supportive environment where they can see how their work directly helps enhance someone's life, even in some small way. And that gives you a real sense of purpose."

-- Peter Niebling, Dealer Principal at Redlands Mazda

"A robust company culture is pivotal. It acts like a fertile ground where a sense of purpose among employees can be cultivated and nurtured. By emphasizing values like collaboration, innovation, and respect, we create an environment where each member feels their contributions are vital and valued, thereby fostering a deep sense of purpose."

-- Leigh James, Head of HR at Page One Formula

As for Purpose-Driven Industries...

They told us a variety of opinions, ranging from "yes, there ARE industries that are more purpose-driven" to "not really."

"I think anything where you are helping people is going to have more purpose. Specifically, if you are working with people directly, as in care, then that can be very rewarding as you are making a world of difference to that person's life.

The flipside of that is if you are working with just computers, and working from home, you can lose sense of any purpose without those human connections!"

-- Marcus Miller, Digital Marketing Specialist at Bowler Hat

"Purpose can be found in all sorts of jobs, not just the obvious ones like healthcare or education. It could be about being really good at what you do, making strong connections, or just doing your job really well. It's about seeing the value in every task."

-- Dmitriy Shelepin CEO, Head of SEO at Miromind

"I wouldn't say there's a purpose leaderboard between industries, but I do think jobs that directly impact others can be naturally more purpose-driven. Think doctors, teachers, social workers – these folks see the real-world difference their work makes every day. But honestly, it's less about the industry and more about the mindset. Any job can be infused with purpose if you approach it with the right intention and a focus on how your work contributes to something bigger, even if it's just making someone's day a little brighter."

-- Connor Ondriska, CEO at SpanishVIP

"Brewing the perfect cup of coffee! Jokes aside, I believe this is something that will differ from individual to individual. We are all unique and we can't contest in what someone might find a stronger sense of purpose. Following our passions often leads to a profound sense of purpose that fuels our drive and dedication.

-- Alex Mastin, CEO & Founder at Homegrounds

"While every industry has the potential for purposeful work, I believe the digital and tech sectors are particularly conducive. These fields are inherently about innovation and solving real-world problems through technology. This creates a natural alignment with purpose, as employees are directly involved in shaping the future and impacting lives on a global scale."

-- Mark Voronov, CEO & Founder at SocialPlug

"While purpose can be found in any job, some industries naturally have a stronger pulse. Healthcare professionals, educators, social workers – they directly impact lives and contribute to the well-being of society. But purpose isn't limited to these fields. A tech engineer at a sustainable energy company can feel immense purpose by innovating solutions for climate change. It's all about the mindset, the intention you bring to your work. Even in seemingly mundane jobs, finding ways to make your work impactful, to add value beyond the task itself, can ignite a sense of purpose."

-- Kimberley Tyler-Smith, VP at Resume Worded


OK, OK, But Does It All Matter to Business?

You might be tempted to believe purpose and revenue are not in the slightest bit correlated. And in some ways... you'd be right. There isn't much connection between purposeful work and how big your bank accounts are.

Except, here's the thing, though: according to a recent study run by Harvard Business Review in conjunction with Great Places to Work, purpose at work comes in two flavors: camaraderie and clarity. The first one makes people feel nice, but it does not necessarily bring business impacts (i.e., they can feel nice outside of work too -- which is precisely why free pizza has been so ineffective at retaining employees.)

The clarity one, however, makes people want to stay. It transpires across different verticals too: management, company goals, alignment with personal beliefs, and so on. And that is, in fact, correlated with your business' growth -- because you can't grow an empire on employee churn and because hiring new people is always costly when you take all the variables into account.

So, does purpose matter to businesses? Absolutely.

Your turn: how do you define purpose at work -- and how do you drive it?


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