Social Impact
The Purpose Question: Does work have to make sense?
23. November 2021
Work with meaning, instead of meaningless work - that's what we all want somehow. Especially “Generation Y", where the "Y" or "why" even stands for the generation-defining question of meaning, is looking for "purpose" in their job. But where is this purpose hidden actually? And how do you find it?

Do you need a purpose company to have purpose in your job?

No generation before has asked so many questions about purpose as "Generation Y". 

In some articles, it is even described as the "generation of commitment anxiety". But this commitment anxiety not only shapes how we deal with private relationships, but also with relationships in a professional context. It has to be somewhere, the holy grail. The job that pays enough, where great colleagues work and - very important - where the company also does something good or, in the best case, where the company's purpose is to do good. Well, and it has to be fun, too. After all, satisfaction is right at the top of the Y-workers' list. 

How important is the search for meaning for us?

The sociologist Maslow developed a hierarchy of our human needs in a theoretical model. If you relate this to the work context, you can see why Generation Y is in search of meaning: they are fed up. But let's start at the beginning: In Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the satisfaction of physiological needs, such as hunger, thirst, sleep and sexuality, is at the top of the list. Next are security needs - in the context of work, for example, this would be a work contract or a safe work environment. This is followed by social needs. As an employee, you want to feel that you belong, that you are part of the team. If this is given, the need for appreciation follows, i.e. recognition of the work. If this need is also satisfied, the last level of the hierarchy follows: the need for self-actualization. Now it is about being able to develop one's own personality. This also includes the need to pursue a meaningful activity. To sum up: Only when we are doing really well do we even ask whether there is "purpose" in what we do. It is the icing on the cake, so to speak. 

In the search for meaning, it depends on the perspective

There are jobs where the supposed purpose is not obvious at first glance. We go into the office in the morning and work on our marketing campaigns. We go home in the evening and ask ourselves "why actually?". Yes, you probably didn't contribute anything to world peace that day. But your actions were not unimportant. Because honestly? The marketing campaign is also important. Without it, the advertised product won't be successful, without the success of the product, the company won't earn any income, without income, no jobs can be kept, without work... Well, without work, there's simply no money. It's okay to be proud of what you do. Even if you don't work for an NGO or perform an open-heart surgery. 

The special task of managers: giving meaning

At best, every company has leaders who communicate the meaning of working in that very company. Leaders who satisfy the hunger for personality development by feeding it communicatively and argumentatively. If not, let's try to take it from there in a few words. Marketers may be proud that their campaign supports a mega product. This can be a household appliance that makes housework easier and gives stressed people more time. But also a shampoo that provides a real moment of relaxation in the shower is a reason to be proud. Because: relaxation is important for our health! Bakers can be proud that the warm, fragrant rolls sweeten their neighbors' mornings. The newspaper carrier makes sure that the Sunday paper is on the breakfast table on time for the first coffee and provides both comfort and information. We could go on like this forever... 

Colleagues also play a role - if they want to, even a big one.

Thesis: Maybe the purpose doesn't have to be in the work itself. Not every company is a purpose company and maybe you find it difficult to apply the previous examples to your situation. But hey, your colleagues are nice and you just have a good time together? Nice! Because that can be meaningful, too - doing something good for yourself and others at work. Laughing, talking, exchanging advice... socializing. Maybe it will even lead to more. Maybe you get together, start a group which advocates for more women's rights in the workplace or for the 4-day work week. And bang: New things emerge from the job that just seemed pointless, and maybe you will soon be the company that is considered a pioneer for the 4-day week. Or you get together, and start a regulars' table or a badminton team and just have fun together. Fun is so important on the path to contentment! The point here is to have fun itself - and that can be incredibly liberating. 

It all comes down to your own attitude

Honestly, most of us don't save lives. That's just the way it is. But that's okay, too. Every job has its raison d'être, you just have to recognize it. Ultimately, for most of us, the desire for purpose is not in altruistic action at all, but in the pursuit of happiness and satisfaction. We may believe that only a supposedly meaningful job can contribute to our own happiness. But this is not true. It is not meaningful work, it is meaningfulness. And the creation of meaning is entirely up to us and perhaps our superiors. But also just maybe. So, to answer the opening question: Where has this meaning been hiding? In your head!