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The Water Cooler

A blog of fresh ideas and findings from organizational leaders and researchers on how they’re making work better, shared regularly.

Finding organizational purpose by working out together

Finding organizational purpose by working out together
Does your organization exist for a higher purpose? Research shows that a sense of working for something greater can help attract talent, increase employee engagement, and promote a sense of meaning at work. But how do you foster a sense of purpose at work?

Dr. Doug Lepisto, assistant professor of Management at Western Michigan University's Haworth College of Business, spoke at the re:Work 2016 event about the organizational effects of purpose in the workplace. The insights came from his 21-month ethnographic study at a global athletic footwear and apparel company, pseudonymously dubbed “FitCo.”

Lepisto found that for the employees, their sense of purpose was rooted in the communal workout activities they participated in. These regular activities brought coworkers together, energized them, and got them excited to be working at FitCo. “These kinds of situations pump people up with what sociologists call a morally suffused energy,” Lepisto explained. “It gives people the sense that what they're doing is exalted, worthy, and good”.

By experiencing what their customers sought to experience using FitCo’s products, FitCo employees saw that athleticwear was a means to a grander end. “Employees started to see FitCo in a new light, existing for something beyond shoes and apparel, something more worthy,” Lepisto added. “And in their words, their purpose at FitCo was to look to empower people to be fit and healthy in their lives so that others can experience what they had experienced.”

Organizations can successfully promote a sense of meaning by creating positive, shared experiences for employees, Lepisto said. Leaders should reinforce those feelings with employees and make sure their stated organizational purpose aligns with the employee experience. “Doing so can create a higher purpose that's credible, authentic, and meaningful,” Lepisto concluded.