What does having “purpose” solve in the workplace? According to Nicolas de Benoist, “When people are engaged in something greater than themselves, than the project they’re working on, they have more resilience to face the stresses of everyday life,” he says. “Without purpose, you get stuck in the small details of everyday life and forget the larger goals.” As a Steelcase researcher who has studied employee wellbeing and engagement for several years, he definitely has a point of view worth exploring!

In issue 70 of Steelcase 360 magazine, entitled “Think Better”, there is an article exploring the connection between “people + purpose“. According to the team, too often, especially in large organizations, individual work can feel disconnected, irrelevant or underappreciated. “Without purpose, people can feel frustrated and even a sense of shame,” de Benoist explains. “When companies can express their values in a pure, explicit way, it helps employees feel there’s a connection to their work.” Defining common goals and shared values throughout an organization helps people feel like even the smallest task is connected to a larger purpose. In essence, it give people perspective – the ability to see the big picture which can be hugely motivating.

The polls clearly indicate that worldwide employee engagement is low. A recent Gallup poll illustrates that only three in ten employees worldwide are actively engaged with their jobs and only one in ten are considered good managers. Yet conversely, when employee engagement is healthy, Gallup says, stock performance rises with nearly 150 percent higher earnings per share. Employees generate significantly higher productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet for organizations but there are a mix of strategies proven to improve workplace experience and bring daily realities more in line with organizational goals. And the experts say it is often linked to a sense of purpose. According to the article,

“As momentum for the emerging purpose economy continues to mount, organizations will be challenged to re-examine practices, beliefs and values. They’ll be challenged to overcome behavior versus expectation gaps, to create new policies and rethink their spaces to reinforce a purpose-driven culture. As the drive for meaning permeates culture, it will redefine how we work, the organizations we prefer to work with and how we make choices. In response, vanguard companies are rediscovering their purpose, learning to articulate it clearly, and putting tools in place to ensure employees are connecting with it every day. In this new era of meaning, purpose is the new job description.”

ARC (Applied Research Consultants)

The ARC team, a Steelcase consultancy geared towards engaging people at all levels of a client’s organization,  works to deeply understand their needs, how to better support them and articulate the organizational purpose. When working with clients, ARC asks them to consider their current state and often these conversations and exercises reveal a significant disconnect between reality and vision. Listed below are some fundamental questions the team asks their clients to help identify issues and infuse a sense of purpose into everyday workplace experiences.


•  Is the purpose clear? Do people at all levels understand it?
•  Does achieving the purpose seem both aspirational and feasible?
•  Does it motivate action?


•  Is our work experience designed to link our skills/capabilities to accomplish something for the organization?
•  Does the purpose build community? Do people believe that we are better together?
•  Is it safe to challenge the status quo?


•  Do I understand our purpose?
•  Is there a clear line of sight? Can I see my contributions impacting our purpose?
•  Do I find the work personally compelling and meaningful?
•  Do I believe in the work that I do?
•  Do I have an opportunity to learn and grow?

AUTHORED BY: Petra Geiger
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