Why the Rise of the Purpose Economy Will Change How We Work Forever

The quest for purpose and self-expression in life is reshaping the workplace - and the world.

by Mark Salenga, January 1, 2018
The Purpose Economy


The Purpose Economy
The Purpose Economy is a phrase coined by Aaron Hurst to describe the way in which work is changing to reflect the desire amongst employees to realise a higher societal purpose in their work. The theory of the Purpose Economy suggests that companies will be most successful in the long-term only if they have a very clear sense of societal purpose, with which employees can closely identify. 

Imagine this:

You have a career that’s just right for you. Every weekday, you wake up and look forward to going to work. You’ve built a positive relationship with colleagues and clients, you get the feeling that you’re contributing to something greater than yourself, and you’re constantly growing as a person. Mondays aren’t something you dread anymore. You’re happy and you can say you’ve realized your sense of purpose.

Sounds nice doesn’t it? Maybe even a little too nice? Potentially. But what would you say if I told you that this scenario could be more than just a fantasized idea? This is the type of career lifestyle that people in our generation are actively searching for. This is the ultimate goal for workers in the purpose economy.

So what is the purpose economy? 

According to Aaron Hurst, the purpose economy is “an economy that is driven and organized around the creation of purpose for people, not just information, goods and services.” It taps into our intrinsic desire for meaning in our work and life. Let’s break down what this means.

“The purpose economy is one that fosters the flow of good ideas, the creation of positive and impactful services and products, and ultimately a more efficient way to spread good in the world.”

We all know the typical economic model is driven by the flow of goods and services. A fruit company produces apples, sells them in the market and consumers (regular people like you and I) buy the apples. This is just a small transaction in the continuous cycle that brings profit to the fruit company, and this is how our economy has worked for ages in the market for any product: cars, clothes, technological goods, you name it.

Nowadays, things are changing. People are looking for a sense of purpose in their lives. Given that work shapes a large part of our modern identity, this is translated to wanting a career with purpose. Not only do people want to sell the apples, but they want to feel good about it, too. This quest for purpose and self-expression in the workplace is reshaping corporate behavior and creating new economic opportunities. Ideas like Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) have been brought into the business sphere, and companies are showing a refreshing dedication to being environmentally friendly, philanthropic and ethical. 

"Millennials expect a social commitment and are looking for businesses that have social responsibility." -Danny Rimer

More than 85% of millennials correlate their purchasing decisions (and their willingness to recommend a brand to others) to the responsible efforts a company is making. This is why the current generation is so supportive of brands like Toms, which uses the one-for-one movement and Patagonia which actually encourages consumers not to buy their jackets. What sounds like a trick in reverse psychology is really a genuine effort to get consumers to start thinking about sustainable consumption. Buy what you need and then buy no more.

So why does the idea of a purpose economy matter?

It matters because it’s a testament to the fact that people in our generation are actively searching for ways to spread good in the world. A typical person in the purpose economy is looking for a way to make an impact.

Now back to the ideal job that was mentioned in the beginning of this article. A job like this is closer than you think. If you are able to align your values with what you look for in a job, you’re pretty much golden. Millennials who are on the lookout for a new, impactful career are asking these three things of potential future employers:

1. Will I build positive relationships?

Relationships are what make life interesting. Without other people in our lives, how bored would we be? The relationships we develop with colleagues and clients can make or break our experiences at work. When we genuinely want to help them, those relationships are more likely to become much more significant. As you've probably already heard before, relationships are a two-way street. Relationships drive a greater sense of purpose within us (think of that warm feeling we get when we help someone) and they help us grow (when we are stretched, challenged, or mentored by another person).

2. Will I make an impact?

New job seekers are looking for careers where they feel like they can contribute to something bigger than themselves. We feel a sense of purpose when we do something we believe matters – on a societal level or an individual level. Wanting to make an impact doesn’t limit you to careers in the non-profit, NGO or social sectors. So long as you feel fulfilled with the work you do and you truly believe you’re making a positive impact in one way or another, your sense of purpose will be easy to pinpoint. You could be anyone from a volunteer at a local animal shelter to a high-level executive at The Walt Disney Company who is thinking of new CSR strategies to incorporate into future business plans. Not everyone finds purpose in the same things, so we each have the freedom to mold our careers into whatever we believe will be most impactful.

3. Will I grow?

Growth comes in many forms and from several avenues. This is also a question of personal preference because while one person might want to grow in terms of their professional place in the corporate ladder, another person might want to grow in terms of personal experience and gain new knowledge or engage in something that scares them – like skydiving. Personal growth is an extremely unique experience, and you must ask yourself things like: How do I want to grow? Is it a matter of meeting new people or learning something new? Overcoming a fear or learning a new skill? Finding the answers to these questions will help you understand what matters to you and why in the workplace. It’s up to you.

These are the three prerequisites to finding a career with purpose. If you ask these questions and answer them effectively, you’ll be on your way to becoming an efficient member of the purpose economy.

This way of thinking about the world has caused millennials to take on new ventures like starting up new businesses in sustainability, green tech, or any other form of social advancement. Employees are more mindful, conscious, and intentional. Gone are the days of squandering time and wasting valuable resources. 

With a greater sense of purpose in the workplace, workers are more productive and excited to be doing what they’re doing. People who have a sense of purpose are more likely to be high performers and leaders. They live longer, too. 

The purpose economy is one that fosters the flow of good ideas, the creation of positive and impactful services and products, and ultimately a more efficient way to spread good in the world.

In the purpose economy, it’s easy to see that times are changing. Things are looking up.

Originally published on August 16, 2016