Four Ways to Turn Work into ‘Good Work’

Best-selling author Daniel Goleman highlights how employees can connect their jobs to their purpose.

Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body," is available now.

Here’s an all-too-familiar tale: someone took a cushy job with incredible benefits, but struggles to get out of bed, feigning enthusiasm while hiding a deeper unease every time they walk through the office door?

According to Gallup, around 70% of American workers are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work -- a somber statistic when you consider that, on average, we spend at least one-third of our life working.

While several factors contribute to an engaged workforce, purpose has shown itself to be one of the more powerful. A study by the consultancy Imperative found that purpose driven employees perform better across the board: they are employed longer, are more likely to get promoted, have stronger relationships with their colleagues, and are more natural brand ambassadors.

To initiate a journey toward greater purpose, try asking yourself the following questions. Writing down your responses can facilitate your thinking and lets you return to your answers later.

  1. What do I do best?
  2. What am I passionate about?
  3. What has meaning for me and fits my values?
  4. How often do my values support my work?

The alignment of strengths, passions, and values yields what Harvard psychology professor Howard Gardner calls “good work,” a coalescence of three E’s: work that is technically Excellent, personally Engaging, and matches your Ethics.

So those questions are a good starting point for thinking about where you do (and don’t) feel propelled by purpose. It also lets you see where the disconnect is. For example, if your values align with your work, but you find that your current role doesn’t correlate with your strengths and passions, you might pursue an opportunity to shift your responsibilities or role within your organization. If that’s not possible—or if you feel an irreparable disconnect between your own values and your place of work—you may want to sit with your responses and ask yourself, “Where could I pursue work that aligns with my ‘good’?”

Keep in mind that good workers don’t just use their knowledge to promote their own selfish interests. Instead, the good work enables them to have a positive impact on others. You might be an entrepreneur who finds purpose in creating biodegradable packing materials or you might be a mail carrier who builds a meaningful community through your daily route. After all, work and values can align in a variety of ways.

Consider what the world might look like if everyone were doing their own version of good work. Given the correlations between a sense of purpose and mental and emotional well-being, it’s safe to say, we would have exponentially happier employees. And given research correlating purpose with improved performance it’s also likely, we’d have more productive companies. Bonus: we’d have a better society.

Good work is a win-win-win.