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Moral Purpose: Understanding Why You Do What You Do

IGPR moral purpose

We’ve all heard someone say, “It took me forever to finish this,” or “I worked overtime last night.” We often share details about what we’ve done, but we rarely talk about the meaning.

The first step to understanding the meaning behind your work is to define your moral purpose. A moral purpose is defined as “a value that, when articulated, appeals to the innate sense held by some individuals of what is right and what is worthwhile.”

Increasingly for younger generations of people, it’s essential to have a moral purpose in the workplace. Why do you do what you do? What’s the value in your work as it applies to the greater good of the world?

According to Cone Communications, nearly 70% of millennials will spend more money on brands that support important causes. Further, the average millennial is willing to give up $7,600 in salary every year to work at a job that provides a thriving, purposeful environment.

Having a moral purpose and understanding the value of your tasks—or seeing “the bigger picture”—is essential to feeling and showing appreciation.

To find your moral purpose, you can ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the greater reason for my work?
  • Who or what am I helping by doing my job well?
  • In my role, how am I making a positive impact on the world?
  • What is the meaning of my responsibilities?

In addition to knowing your personal moral purpose, it is equally important for companies and organizations to choose a moral purpose that benefits the greater good in some way. A moral purpose that resonates with the feelings and sensibilities of customers or employees will serve several functions.

IGPR moral

The Functions of a Meaningful Moral Purpose

For one, it will contribute to positive morale by defining a sense of community and meaning. The modern workplace is as much a battle for the hearts and minds of workers as it is a battle for tasks and duties.

Secondly, a well-chosen moral purpose inspires people to problem-solve, to persevere and to appreciate working together as a team. It will provide a unifying theme, giving people the chance to understand how their actions fit within the greater goal.

A real-world example of a company built with a winning moral purpose is Wal-Mart and founder Sam Walton. Walton began Wal-Mart not for the purpose of making money, but to give customers a good deal.

By making sure his first employees, who he called his “associates,” feel like their responsibilities and tasks were both appreciated and worthwhile, he tapped into their ethical sentiments toward fellow human beings.

This led to his associates treating customers in a helpful, friendly manner, which established the winning customer loyalty that has ultimately led Wal-Mart to being the success it is today.

Walton made sure his associates furthered his customers good feelings and self-esteem, allowing millions of people to, perhaps, be better off today than if Wal-Mart had never existed as their go-to superstore.

How will you uncover your moral purpose? How will you communicate to the people you work with that your moral purpose is meaningful?

We need to tell one another what the real value of our work is. We probably need to remind ourselves, too. It’s not about the “how much,” the “how often” or the “how many.” Rather, it’s about the why. 

Ask yourself, how often do you tell those with whom you work how much you value their work? What does their work mean to you, and to others? How does their work enrich other people? 

There is a moral purpose for all of our work efforts, and it’s up to us to appreciate its worth.

moral compass purposeful leadership

Purposeful Leadership Matters, Too

In the same way that a moral purpose affects an employee's innate sense of value in their work, leaders should also develop a vision for their organization that is unwavering and value-driven. 

A new study recently found that leaders who demonstrate strong morals, a clear vision and a commitment to stakeholders are better supported by employees, leading to increased productivity as a whole. 

The modern workplace and all of the challenges that come with it, such as high turnover rates and dissatisfied employees, shows a true need for purposeful leaders. When a company's key players invoke and "live" with a moral purpose, employees are less likely to quit, willing to go the extra mile and are less cynical overall.

While many companies understand the value of their mission, not many consider how strongly this mission is tied internally to the moral compasses of the organization's leaders. 

Leaders therefore need to be people who employees want to follow, not just people who support the organization's mission statement mindlessly  without backing it up with one's own actions. 

To align your work with your workplace's mission, it is beneficial to ask yourself why your work matters to you, to your colleagues, to your community and even to the world. Understanding your personal moral purpose will lead to fulfillment not only in your career, but also in your life.