The Science of Purpose for your Organization: Leading and Engaging your Employees on Purpose

The Science of Purpose for your Organization Leading and Engaging your Employees on Purpose | HRDQ-U Blog
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Heather Malin in her book, Teaching Purpose for Resilience and Flourishing, suggests that relative to other dimensions of well-being, purpose in life is important in predicting our future health and mortality. Furthermore, people with purpose tend to seek opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way to their families, their communities, and the world at large, and they are likely to persist in their achievement of this contribution.

Reflect on your own ability to cope with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Did these challenges in themselves enable you to reassess your values, beliefs, and larger purpose? Have new opportunities presented themselves through the hardships of the year? Additionally, how has your organization responded to the COVID-19 crisis? It has become even more important to motivate remote employees through meaningful, purpose driven work—aligning people around work that matters to the organization, to employees, and your consumers.

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Leading and Engaging on Purpose

In the 2010 ABC World News article, “The ‘most important pieces of advice’ Stephen Hawking gave to his children,” Diane Sayer asked Steven Hawking about the advice he would provide to his children. One of the pieces of advice he offered: “Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it.” The purpose mindset considers the impact of our activities and that of our organizations—with a commitment to making a difference in the lives of others. People who can align their interests, values, and beliefs at work, are more likely to find purpose in their activities. In turn, higher purpose, and positive impact on others, is more likely to be associated with higher overall employee well-being, higher engagement, motivation to persist, and an overall sense of fulfillment.

Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer explain in their book, Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, that it is forward progress in meaningful work that creates the best inner workplace experiences for employees. These researchers suggest that as long as employees themselves feel that they are contributing in a meaningful way, they feel happier at work. Leaders have a role to play by providing employees with the needed resources, the autonomy to work toward the goals of the organization, and by acknowledging the work that employees are doing is valued and important.

In this respect, Tracy Brower suggests in her article, “Want to Find Your Purpose At Work? Change Your Perceptions,” that employees focus on “feeling connected to something bigger than themselves, knowing their work matters and, perhaps most importantly, understanding how their work affects other people—not just the organization’s bottom line.” Ask yourself first as a leader, how does your work matter, to whom does it matter, and what is your impact? Then consider if employees are aware of the value they bring to the organization and how their work matters. Evaluate the communication strategies used to convey the organization’s vision and impact including, virtual town halls to provide regular updates to employees and to solicit input, relevant newsletters, even ideation platforms to engage employees.

Providing employees with the opportunity to participate in and even lead innovation allows employees to see the impact of their innovations, with the goal of enhancing the quality of life for people. Engaging employees in innovation provides employees with a voice in the implementation of the corporate strategy, increases a sense of connectivity to peers and even consumers, and increases the motivation to strive for excellence for themselves and for others. More than asking for ideas, when organizations follow through on employee ideas and communicate on actions taken, employees are more likely to participate and engage more with the organization-increasing than well-being at work, discusses Laura Hamill in her article “How Employee Well-Being Drives Innovation At Work, And How Leadership Can Foster It” and Scott Raskin in “How to Promote a Culture of Employee Engagement Through Innovation.”

Hamill explains that well-being can be defined as “feeling good and living with purpose”—that well-being fosters creativity and creativity in turn enhances well-being in a virtuous cycle. For organizations, creativity drives innovation and profitability. As a consequence, organizations need to view creativity and innovation as not only connected to employee well-being, but ultimately to the organization’s well-being. The opportunity to participate in innovative activities can be encouraged by leaders through space design, team design, and program design-where employees feel safe to experiment, share their knowledge, and learn from both success and failure.

Bringing purpose into the organization necessitates purpose-driven leadership. Purpose-driven leaders will commit to building human centered organizations driven by people. These leaders will exhibit empathy for people, value diversity of thought, and possess a strong ability to connect to employees. Purpose-driven leaders will see their employees as a reflection and extension of the organization and themselves—realizing that just as they seek purpose, their employees need to and should be supported to find their purpose within the organization.

As a first step toward bringing purpose into the organization, try to re-connect with your own personal sense of purpose. This means:

  • Connecting back to your sources of deeper happiness.
  • Understanding the connection to your values and beliefs.
  • Reflecting on the social connections that matter.
  • Thinking about the impact of purpose on your health and well-being.
  • Leaning into your passions and interests to find your purpose.


Your Task: Having considered this at a personal level, how can you connect your employees to their purpose at work to increase employee well-being?

The Science of Purpose for your Organization Leading and Engaging your Employees on Purpose | HRDQ-U Blog

Headshot of Dr. Minna Allarakhia
Dr. Minna Allarakhia

Dr. Minna Allarakhia is the founder of Engaged Thinking Associates, a training and consulting organization focused on human-centered leadership and innovation. She is a faculty member at the University of Waterloo in the Management Sciences Department. Dr. Allarakhia’s 20 years of experience encompasses innovation strategy development, employee engagement through innovation, designing for the whole consumer, and leading the organization driven by sustainability. She has written more than 100 articles on the topic of open innovation, stakeholder engagement, coopetition, knowledge management, and intellectual property management. Her work on knowledge management and coopetition are highly cited and have been featured in R&D Management and Technovation.

Her past experiences include working with employees, managers, and leaders from Imperial, Union Gas, Coca-Cola, GM, Nokia, SAP, IBM, Dell, Peoples Group, TD, BMO, Scotiabank, CIBC, PwC, General Mills, and various city, state, and national agencies of government. Dr. Allarakhia is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brown University. She consults with clients in the areas of human centered leadership, building the human centered organization, business model re-innovation, designing for impact and sustainability, engaging and empowering women within organizations.

Connect with Dr. Allarakhia by email at

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