I would respectfully suggest that most people and their companies go about their day-to-day work without a strong sense of purpose. However, in achieving success and fulfillment it is absolutely critical for both you and the business you work for to seek an overriding purpose.
Research clearly shows that the finest companies are those that have a deep sense of purpose and employ people who similarly derive meaning from this purpose. This overarching sense of purpose drives everyone on a day-to-day basis and gives meaning to their work.
As Nicholas Pearce (Professor from the Kellogg School of Management) remarks: The 'why we are here' drives the 'what we will do to achieve this'. Unfortunately, most companies in today's highly competitive landscape are driven simply by profit maximization. The financial pundits would fall about laughing if as CEO you indicated that you weren't particularly interested in profits but in providing meaning to your employees (and to the firm).
Obviously, you need profits to be sustainable as a business to pay the bills, to grow and to withstand the inevitable financial ups and downs. But this should not be the main reason why the firm exists. A firm should have some underlying purpose and provide meaning to its employees.
Purpose is a Powerful Driver
Most companies tend to indicate that they want to stay in existence and keep making profits. And most people are in auto mode and tend to front up to work without asking what they are doing besides earning a dollar to pay the bills. This makes their commitment to a company fairly shallow.
But believe me - having an underlying purpose is an extraordinarily powerful driver for everyone and enables you to easily distinguish yourself from other organizations. Without wanting to use our training and education firm as an immodest example - our overriding purpose of providing useful practical education to our incredible students, is a hugely powerful driver and creates passionate staff who can withstand the inevitable ups and downs with every business. Every day we get a stream of student success stories - improved careers/successful projects which have given them and their community’s better lives and which authenticates our stated purpose. What more motivating can one get?
You have to Ask the Hard Questions
You have to ask the question as to whether you are in the right job where you have purpose and meaning. And then try and change the environment to provide purpose. Or maybe look at other opportunities especially if you are in an unpleasant culture which impacts on your quality of life.
A Job with Meaning isn't a White Collar one
A job with meaning doesn't have to be a white collar professional job. It could be anything ranging from a sewerage worker (e.g. keeping you in a disease free and safe environment no matter how poor you are) to an operator of a pharmaceutical plant (e.g. providing life to millions of people suffering from cancer).
Band Aids Don't Work
Simply adding corporate responsibility or community activities to a company's mantra or providing funding for people who are disadvantaged in some way, isn't a long term sustainable reason for purpose in your company. There needs to be a deep and abiding reason for existence and indeed, growth.
Ask the Company Employees
A good way of ascertaining whether the people and the company they work for has purpose is simply to ask them. And if there is no deep reason why they are working at a company besides collecting a monthly salary or some vague job satisfaction, it is unlikely that there is some deep purpose.
It is imperative that you provide the people you work with a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. And if you perceive that that a person doesn't fit here, it is possible that you need to counsel them about looking at alternative opportunities. Life is short and one needs to seize the moment.
Finally - Purpose Can Drive Profits
Many people have the misconception that you can only have a deep sense of purpose in your company when you are a Mother Teresa type organization providing the poor with care and support without any profits; but this is possibly missing the key point. Purpose will unerringly drive profits as you need to have a sustainable activity to continue to have purpose.
Yours in engineering learning