Becky Bocklage

Becky Bocklage

*Editor’s Note: CC Biz Buzz is a monthly column series that features insightful commentary from a member of the Columbia College Robert W. Plaster School of Business faculty.

Here is a question I have thought about, and I wonder if you have too: “Why am I doing this work?”

I’ve had the privilege to work in some amazing jobs over my 30-year career, but some of them held more meaning for me than others. As a rule, I try to open my mind and ears to take in information from individuals in all walks of life, so I was curious if my experience is unique.

What I’ve found is some people take jobs just to pay for their lives outside of the work hours and they really don’t expect much fulfillment from their eight-hour stint. Others will only take a job that has meaning for them, and if they don’t make as much money as someone else in industry then so be it, they are doing work that is important to them. I’ve done both of these, how about you?

Being in education and learning from our emerging leaders, I think the demands for a more blended work experience are becoming persistent. Today’s students are very consistent in one theme: They want to do work that is meaningful. When I talk with prospective business leaders, they almost all express some need or desire to use their work to the greater good of the world.  If it is a startup they are proposing, students will always have some social purpose, if not embedded into the actual business idea, then as a goal outside of the core purpose of the new business. They may want to build better tools or services to improve health, use discarded materials in new ways, or redirect some of their profits into areas for which they have a concern. If you are looking for trends, this is one. No longer is capitalism in its purest form an acceptable pursuit. Now, our future Bezoses and Winfreys will insist on more than simply making money to gauge if they are living a successful life.

There is research that supports what I’m finding in the classroom. A 2016 Fidelity Investments study of millennials revealed that about six out of 10 would opt for an “improved quality of work life” which includes “purposeful work” over high pay. In fact, the respondents said this was worth $7,600 per year to them. More recent studies of Gen Y and Z indicate that businesses have some work to do to convince them that they are contributing to the greater good. In The Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey it is reported that, “like millennials, fewer than half of Gen Zs see business as a force for good in society. Still, the underlying data suggests that negative feelings toward business may be turning a corner.”

This leads me to an idea that possibly we all could benefit from: We each should reframe our work as our mission. Businesses certainly have a mandate for corporate social responsibility, but as individuals we should also accept a responsibility to making our work time meaningful. Everyone at work can be part of the social solution—and the boss doesn’t even have to establish this goal, we can do it ourselves. What if we all became very intentional in making our workplaces and spaces more welcoming and supportive? We could make it our personal mission to lead with empathy, not only with our coworkers, but with our supervisors too, and the customers or clients.

Really, for anyone we have an interaction with, we could purposefully try to make it a better day for them. And, for environmental concerns, how about if everyone contributes to recycling efforts? Make it a team event and even cheer when someone “makes a basket” in the water bottle recycling bin. An idea related to redirecting some of the profits to help others, we could revive the old “Penny War” game and ask management if there is a budget to match what the team raises.

These are simply a few quick ideas I came up with while writing this article. If everyone of us decides that our work will be our mission field, we can come up with hundreds of ways to create meaningful work for ourselves, and possibly satisfy the latent needs of our co-workers too. Imagine the culture shift! And our Gen Y and Z colleagues should be much happier. The result: more satisfied individuals on stronger work teams and more retention. A win-win! The Deloitte survey I mentioned earlier says we better get on it:

Many among these groups, though, are tired of waiting. They want a better planet, a fairer system, a kinder humanity—and they’re ready to help make that happen, with small steps today giving way to giant steps as more millennials and Gen Zs assume positions of influence throughout society. (Deloitte 2021)


Becky Bocklage serves as director of Columbia College’s Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship.