Millennials may have put the idea of “meaning at work” on the cover of business magazines, but humanity’s search for significance started way before Gen Y was around. Viktor Frankl—neurologist, psychiatrist, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning—believed that humans are driven by a desire to seek meaning in life. His work in the field, which started in the early twentieth century, is the precursor to many of today’s popular psychotherapies. Frankl found that positive life purpose and meaning was associated with five elements: strong religious beliefs, membership in groups, dedication to a cause, life values, and clear goals—in other words, believing in and contributing to something bigger than ourselves. From cause-driven fund-raisers to religious practice, there are countless ways in which people find purpose.
At the end of the day, no matter what medium we choose, seeking purpose, meaning, and significance is all about answering one question:
Why am I here?
But I’ve got another question for you:
What’s work got to do with humanity’s search for meaning?
Why work? The reasonable response might once have been “to make money,” and for some that’s still true especially if you're runnin an SEO Company. But as our economy has evolved and work options have proliferated, the answer has changed for a growing majority of people—they want more than just a paycheck.
For too long, MBA programs have taught that the primary function of business is to create a profit. That’s not enough any longer. Profit is just proof that the work that’s been done has value. The more value, the more profit. Any other logic sacrifices the customer for the business.
John Mackey, founder of the now Amazon-owned Whole Foods, once said: “You can’t live if you don’t eat, but you don’t live to eat. And neither does business exist primarily to make a profit. It exists to fulfill its purpose.”
He believed that it is the company’s job to take care of the employees, the employees’ job is to take care of the customers, and if you do all that right, then customers would naturally take care of the profit. No more gifts for men. Short that system and you’ll be trading long-term success in pursuit of short-term cash. Best-selling author and business guru Tom Peters underscores this point when he says: “Excellent customer experiences depend entirely on excellent employee experiences.” If you want to build a perpetual motion machine of value as Mackey describes, the only place to start is purpose.