Do you believe in the work that you’re doing? Do you believe in the mission of the company you work for? Do you believe your work fits into the overall mission of your company? Do you know how and why it does?

All of these questions address purpose and purposeful work. So what exactly is purpose? Google defines purpose as the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists. Purpose is the 3rd key to human motivation (the other two are mastery and autonomy). It’s also the organizing principal for the way we deliver mastery and autonomy in our lives and at work.

Purpose and passion aren’t the same

Sometimes people confuse passion and purpose; they’re not the same thing. Passion is what drives you and purpose is how you deliver on your passion. For example, my passion is helping people go after the potential they’re afraid to admit that they have. My purpose is to coach them to a place where they own their potential and move toward it.

So, when we talk about purpose at work we’re talking about understanding a company’s mission, goals, and how it communicates them to people both inside and outside of the company. We’re talking about their “Why.”

Do you believe in your company’s purpose?

In coaching, I encourage my clients to pursue careers at companies whose purposes (aka missions) they believe in. Why? Because believing in a company’s mission keeps you engaged and motivated. You have a different level of buy in because you believe in what they’re doing and the way they do it. And, as you examine various company missions and purposes, you will refine your own.

For example, let’s say you’re looking at opportunities at UPS and FedEx. You like working in logistics because it’s time sensitive, customer focused, and mission critical. You are also committed to sustainability, personal development, and excellent customer service. You start comparing the 2 companies by examining their mission statements.

FedEx: FedEx Corporation will produce superior financial returns for its shareowners by providing high value-added logistics, transportation and related business services through focused operating companies. Customer requirements will be met in the highest quality manner appropriate to each market segment served.

UPS: “What We Seek to Achieve:

  • Grow our global business by serving the logistics needs of customers, offering excellence and value in all that we do.
  • Maintain a financially strong company-with broad employee ownership-that provides a long-term competitive return to our shareowners.
  • Inspire our people and business partners to do their best, offering opportunities for personal development and success.
  • Lead by example as a responsible, caring, and sustainable company making a difference in the communities we serve.”

Interesting, isn’t it? Both companies make their corporate purpose very clear. Since you’re committed to sustainability, personal development, and excellent customer service, UPS looks like the better match for you. And, logistics is more prominent in their mission statement.

How does your work fit in with their purpose?

Looking at a company’s mission statement and spending time researching if they live it out may add a little time to your job search. When you take time to do your research, you will have a better result in the end. You’ll know more about the company; you’ll have a better idea of how you would fit in with the company’s culture and values; you’ll be able to create more targeted cover letters, and you’ll have a lot more informed questions to ask in interviews. It will also show your commitment to the company and job.

What if you’re not clear on how your job fits in to the big picture? That makes it difficult to identify your purpose at work. So, when you find yourself caught up in doing seemingly meaningless tasks, it becomes hard to stay motivated. You feel like a cog in a wheel, nothing special. So ask someone how it fits in. The best supervisors and managers know that when employees know how their jobs fit in the bigger picture, they are more motivated.

A study about purpose and productivity

There’s even a study about this. Adam Grant (author of Originals) researched how understanding the purpose of their work can make employees more productive. He put together a study of people working in a call center. They were making calls for an alumni fundraising operation.

The workers were divided into 3 groups. The control group wasn’t given any extra information about the purpose of the fundraising. Another group read stories from previous employees about how much money they made fundraising and the personal development they experienced. The 3rd group read stories from people who had received scholarships as a result of the fundraising project. They talked about how the scholarships improved their lives.

People who understand the purpose of their work are more motivated.

You can guess who raised the most money, can’t you? The employees in the 3rd group raised twice as much money as the other groups. Why? Since they understood the purpose of their work, they were more motivated to be successful.

Don’t know? Ask.

So, if you’re not sure about the big picture – which could be the overarching mission of your company or the goals of the particular project you’re working on – ask. If you don’t get an answer that makes sense to you or you can’t get an answer at all, try to figure it out yourself. Again, I’ll point out that the best managers understand that getting employee buy in by building context for their work yields more productivity. Just understanding the purpose of the project you’re working on can help you get motivated and stay motivated.

The process of exploring the context for your work should motivate you to do your work and do it well. But what happens if discovering the purpose of your work doesn’t motivate you? Then it’s time to re-assess both your work and where you’re doing it.

Does your career path still align with your purpose?

Here’s the deal. People change; companies change. Perhaps it’s time to look at your career path and see if it still aligns with your purpose. Are you being challenged enough? Do you feel like you’re missing opportunities for advancement?  Or, perhaps your company culture has changed and it no longer aligns with your purpose?

As you examine your answers to those questions, you should also ask yourself about the other two facets of motivation: mastery and autonomy. Are there opportunities for you to demonstrate mastery of your skills at work? Are your skills appreciated? Do you have some say in how you accomplish your work? Do you get to set personal goals and are you able to reach them? Do you feel like you’re trusted to do your work?


If your answers to any of those questions is no, it’s time to take a hard look at both your job and the company you work for. Because if the answers to 3 or more of those questions is no, then you’re probably having a lot of trouble getting motivated to do the quality of work you want to do. And that’s a recipe for discontent and disengagement. You don’t want to go there.

Instead, hone your skills, update your résumé, tighten up your LinkedIn profile and start seeing what work is out there that will get you motivated. Motivation leads to productivity. Productivity leads to great results. Great results lead to job satisfaction. Job satisfaction leads to life satisfaction.

What do you need to do to get motivated? If you’re ready to be motivated at work again and you’re not sure how to get started, sign up to get this blog in your inbox every week!