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A Purpose-driven Mission Boosts Employee Well Being

“Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy. A fool is happy until his mischief turns against him. And a good man may suffer until his goodness flowers.” – Buddha

How can today’s modern workplace kindle the sense of purpose that is hardwired into human biology? At Sustrana, we believe this starts with having a purpose-driven mission. Inspiring employees on a deeper level and encouraging them to bring their whole selves to work creates better results both for the individual and for the organization.

We’ve written before about companies that have successfully been able to reap the benefits of having an engaged and inspired workforce. As organizational change leadership expert and founder of Appreciative Inquiry, David Cooperrider says, sustainability represents the biggest human development opportunity of the 21st century. The key to unlocking this potential is having a purpose-driven mission.

Wired to be inspired

Some call it the “helpers high.” It’s also known as the “warm glow.” It’s that feeling you get when doing good or witnessing someone else doing good. When this happens, the hormones oxytoxin and dopamine are released throughout the body. Altruistic acts and pro-social behavior literally trigger the brain’s reward circuitry.

Primatologist Frans De Waal puts it this way: “We are group animals, who rely on each other, need each other, and therefore evolution has ensured we take pleasure in helping.” In other words, we have a primal affinity towards making a contribution to society.

As many social scientists have demonstrated, one of the key drivers drivers of human motivation is having meaning and purpose in one’s life. In his brilliant TED talk, the moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt wonders whether this is a “bug” in our system or an integral adaptation of human social evolution. In the latter case, humans are products of group selection, pre-programmed to cooperate with one another towards mutual benefit.

Haidt emphasizes that when humans come together, put themselves into the same movement and “become part of the whole,” they can do incredible things. He ends his talk with this:

“Most people long to overcome pettiness and become part of something larger. And this explains the extraordinary resonance of this simple metaphor conjured up nearly 400 years ago. ‘No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’”

We all know it deep down: it feels good to do good. But how many opportunities are there in our daily lives to experience this feeling?

A word to the wise

People spend most of their waking life at work. If the nature of that work is mundane, monotonous, and meaningless, employees cannot thrive. If employees cannot thrive, chances are, the organization they work for cannot thrive. The opposite holds true as well. The most successful companies today have employees who are flourishing, engaged, and animated by a sense of purpose.

Sadly, the vast majority of American workers are just not feelin’ it! According to the 2014 Gallup poll on the State of the American Workplace, roughly 70% of employees are not “involved in, enthusiastic or committed to work.”

For many, the modern workplace has been reduced to a sterilized set of tasks and tick-box exercises. Classical management styles focus on squeezing every ounce of productivity out of workers and treating them as dispensable cogs in a wheel, which (surprise!) is exactly how people report feeling. Even the words we use to describe work have negative connotations: toil, grind, labor, slog.

Luckily, many organizations have started to wise up. They’ve stopped treating people like horses who can be motivated with carrots and sticks, and started treating them like people.

What does a purpose-driven mission statement look like?

Hopefully by now you realize the need for and benefits of having a purpose-driven mission. But what does one look like exactly? Below are some examples of companies with strong mission statements:

Facebook: To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.

Patagonia: To build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Whole Foods Market: With great courage, integrity and love – we embrace our responsibility to co-create a world where each of us, our communities, and our planet can flourish. All the while, celebrating the sheer love and joy of food.

Warby Parker: To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.

Twitter: To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.

Interface Global: We will strive to create an organization wherein all people are accorded unconditional respect and dignity; one that allows each person to continuously learn and develop.

Now that’s the type of thing that might get you jumping out of bed in the morning and racing in to work! The purpose motive makes people better off personally by enhancing their sense of well being, meaning, and happiness. In the process, a company’s success and profitability go up alongside employee engagement and productivity.

Walking the talk

It is crucially important that purpose-driven endeavors don’t end with the mission statement. People won’t know what your company is doing unless the word gets out to employees. This can happen through trainings, workshops, videos, websites, posters, social media, and other communications channels. The goal should be to send the message that this is something the company cares about and is committed to – and that it all starts with them.

Need some help crafting an inspiring mission statement? Sustrana is here for you. Contact me at kquick@sustrana.com to find out how we can support you in bringing out the best in your people.