The Purpose Gap in a changing World

The Growing Purpose Gap

In the wake of a global pandemic, a common theme has risen from the ashes and is creating challenges and change within workplaces…purpose, or lack thereof… the purpose gap. With increased downtime, it seems that people are re-evaluating how they can feel they have a purpose when life, as they have known it, has turned on its head. Companies are now being called to re-evaluate where they stand, what lies at their core and how they will continue to instil a sense of purpose in their employees.

The Purpose Problem

Increasingly, individuals are boycotting companies whose values don’t align with their own and employees are feeling more and more disengaged from their work. This is the purpose problem! People are seeking more! More than just routine purpose statements that have no personal call to action, more feelings of being needed and that their job plays a crucial part in helping the company succeed!

More, more, more! And this is not a bad problem, as long as companies can do the deep and hard work and get to the core of what purpose means to them, and how they will instil that into their teams!

In a survey conducted by McKinsey, they found that 82% of people affirmed the importance of purpose, however, only 42% of people said that their company’s purpose statement had an effect on them. That is a whole 40% of people from this study that find purpose important in work, but not actually finding it there. That is a big gap! So, it is clear that generic purpose statements are more like tasks companies want to tick off just to say they’ve done it, but they don’t actually believe in the power of a compelling and personal one! They are so generic, they become overlooked by all…no wonder we are having a lack-of-purpose pandemic also!

Purpose: A Working Context

So, a purpose gap and all, but what does purpose actually mean in this context? On a general and larger scale, the purpose is that overarching feeling of meaning in life. A sense of direction and contribution to something bigger! And really, it is the same at work. People want to get to work and feel like what they do matters, that they matter! That what they are spending countless hours and years of their life doing, is actually contributing to something so much bigger than them! We all want this in one way or another.

In the same study, McKinsey found that 85% felt like they had a purpose, but only 65% of them believed that they could actualise that purpose and live it out! There’s another gap! Purpose is emotional, and both personal and collective, some would say it is even a pretty complex thing! I would agree! How can companies create a sense of purpose for large groups of people who all need different things to feel purpose? Complex, hey?

Would you say that your work is your purpose or your life’s calling? Or would you say that your purpose and calling is a much broader thing, and work is one of many means of chasing your purpose? It is interesting that 70% of people, in a McKinsey study, define their purpose through the lens of work. However, millennials even more so, tend to believe that their purpose is achieved purely in their work lives, they see work as their life calling. These are important questions to ask!

Digging Deep, Being Honest

Although there are so many questions around the purpose gap, and it can shape up to be quite a monstrous topic to tackle, the answer seems to be relatively simple. The only way we can bridge the purpose gap is to embed reflection, open exploration, honest discussion, and worthwhile action at the very heart of every company. Do some companies already do this? Absolutely! The companies that ensure these critical aspects lie at the heart of the company are forward-looking and their employees find immense purpose and meaning in their work!

Success in companies isn’t purely about numbers, revenue, profit, sales etc…success also looks like overall organisational health with employees that feel they are making a difference in the work that they are doing! Employees are itching to be doing work that they can be proud of and openly stand behind, but some companies are making this impossible!

So, the solution you ask? The salve is deep and honest reflection, done by companies, assessing corporate identity, where they stand on certain issues, and their core values! What do you really stand for? And is what you stand for really truly evident in your company? Purpose is emotional and personal, and until companies can get a grasp of what that means for their employees and how they will create meaning in all aspects, we will continue to see this purpose gap perpetuating.

There Is No Substitute for Hard Work!

Getting to the core of your company, your processes, your operations, and the organisation as a whole, is hard work and there is no substitute! But, worth it? YES! What is invaluable is having employees that feel alive, purposeful, and needed and so all this digging to the core is so worth it. Do you feel truly purposeful where you are? Does your company emphasise purpose and seek to ensure that the desire for purpose is realised? Dig and dig deep, the results will pay for themselves!

Hey! You're Biased! – #10 Ego Depletion

We've all felt what it's like to be drained, and feel like our willpower is depleting and dwindling away. This is called Ego Depletion, and it is a very common thing! Willpower naturally requires mental energy, and so as it is being used it drains the limited supply of mental energy. Research has shown that people who initially resisted chocolate were less able to persist in completing a puzzle or difficult task. Interesting hey! They used their willpower to resist chocolate, and subsequently had less willpower to help them persist in completing the puzzle! Keep an eye out for this one, your mental energy is a precious commodity! Let's get unbiased!


McKinsey. (2020). Purpose: Shifting from why to how. McKinsey,should%20feel%20uncomfortable%20and%20new

Dhingra, N & Schaninger, B. (2021). The Search for Purpose at Work. McKinsey. Joly, Hubert. (2021). Creating a Meaningful Corporate Purpose. Harvard Business Review.

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