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The Purpose-Driven Workforce Is 42 Million Strong

Employees motivated by a desire to make a difference do better work. Do they exist in your field?

The Purpose-Driven Workforce Is 42 Million Strong
[Top Photo: Ints Vikmanis via Shutterstock[/url]]

Why do you do your job? Are you there for a purpose, like improving the world, or really just in it for the money?

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A new report puts numbers to the motives driving our daily toil. Twenty-eight percent of the U.S. workforce—42 million out of 150 million people—is purpose-oriented, while the rest, well, they’re just going to work every day.

“Some people see work in their lives as solely a source of income or status. Others are oriented to see work as primarily about purpose: personal fulfillment and helping other people,” say the authors, Aaron Hurst, CEO of Imperative, a group that promotes the “purpose economy,” and Anna Tavis, an adjunct professor at NYU’s School of Professional Studies

The numbers are based on a 36-question online survey given to 6,332 U.S. adults this August. The study found that women and people aged 55+ are more likely to be purposeful than men or those in middle-age.

Education and nonprofit workers have the highest levels of purpose (more than just under 50% of each field fit the profile) followed by agriculture, forestry, fishing, entertainment, and health care. At the bottom are retail and utility jobs. Among job types, artists and professionals report most purpose, while “operators” and laborers are least likely to be purpose-filled.

The report argues that purpose-oriented employees do better work, have higher well-being, stay in their jobs for longer and are better ambassadors for their employers. Organizations should therefore look to identify purposeful people and promote and retain them.

Despite a greater prevalence of “purpose-oriented” people in certain professions, the report argues that anyone can be purposeful. Purpose “is a trait not a state”—something people carry with them from job to job and “the core of who they are,” say the authors. But the report doesn’t offer any real evidence to say purpose isn’t just circumstantial or that purpose isn’t just the product of a purposeful activity. Surely, purposeful people will gravitate towards situations where they can carry out purpose? Otherwise they’re not very purposeful, are they?

But Imperative and Tavis offer some advice to workers, employers, parents, managers, and educators about pursuing purpose. They call on workers to understand “their purpose drivers” and for managers to “understand what brings daily fulfillment to everyone on your team.” That sounds useful.

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Read the report for yourself here.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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