A rebel’s path to fulfilling work

A rebel’s path to fulfilling work

It’s probable that right this moment…

  • A valet parking attendant is inspecting tires and, if any are bald, will alert the car’s owner.
  • A fitness-loving construction inspector is writing an internal blog to help her colleagues adopt healthy behaviors.
  • A safety officer at a chemical manufacturing plant is telling workers that the company will donate $10 to the food pantry every day the team has no safety violations.

These charitable acts aren’t listed in their job descriptions. These workers are rebels.

They are, however, happy and industrious rebels. Research conducted by Yale’s Amy Wrzesniewski and University of Michigan’s Jane Dutton finds that workers who shape their jobs to be more purposeful are more engaged than their docile colleagues. “It’s a way to ‘dig’ my job. People are so grateful…and it might save them from a nasty crash” explains the valet attendant. The safety officer, who works at a global firm, also says it improves his work experience. “My job is now more enjoyable because I know several struggling families will have food through the dark cold winter… and, as a bonus, our plant’s safety record is now among the best in the company.”

Most us don’t realize that working for a purpose beyond our own wellbeing makes us happier and more productive, but academia has known this for years. Indeed, the Job Satisfaction Index by The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen finds that purpose not only drives job satisfaction, but is the most important driver.

By helping to combat traffic accidents, unhealthy behaviors, hunger or any other societal ills through their work, these rebels are applying a management practice called “job purposing.” Whether we inspect construction sites or manage an R&D division, job purposing enamors us to our work.

Ready to rebel?

If you are like many who attend my presentations, you’re interested purposing your own job but don’t see how. Don’t worry. This just means you’re a normal early 21st-century human thinking in the customary early 21st-century way.

After the fact, the job purposing of the three rebels seems simple and logical. Dreaming up concrete ways to ignite purpose in these jobs, however, was neither. Indeed, the valet attendant told me “I worked here for over a year before I had this idea. Not sure why I took so long.” I know why he, and all of us, take “so long” to job purpose. Conventional thinking.

Here are the steps to generate your unconventional, and practical, job purposing idea:

Step 1: Select one job task. The essence of job purposing is doing a work task in a manner that increases its positive impact on social causes or others. It might sound simplistic, but don’t underestimate the transformative power of a little purpose. Wharton professor Adam Grant found that increasing such “task significance” dramatically improves work productivity — in some cases by more than 400%.

Start with the most core job task to your job. This is the task that takes up the largest swath of your work year. If you deliver packages, your most core task will be likely be driving. If you’re an accountant, your most core task might be responding to email.

Step 2: Play loud upbeat music. OK, this step is not vital, but it might stimulate creative thinking. Why does this matter? Job purposing requires that we entertain concepts that were formerly absurd. It’s essential, therefore, that you unhinge your thinking.

Establish an environment that helps you break from ordinary workplace logic. If playing Phish at full volume doesn’t free your thinking, consider a beautiful view or glass of wine.

Step 3: Explore options for conducting the task in a way that has a greater social impact. Set a timer for seven minutes. Now write down every idea, no matter how delusional or deranged, that comes to mind in response to these questions:

a. How might you contribute more to customers, team members or others you interact with as part of this task? (If you don’t interact with anybody as part of the task, skip this question.)


  • The valet worker, above, helps customers avoid traffic accidents.
  • The construction inspector, above, helps work colleagues be fit and healthy.
  • As part of their sales call, many HP sales representatives help their business clients set up recycling, reduce solid waste and otherwise become more environmentally sustainable.

b. How might you redesign the task so that it’s more charitable?


  • The Aetna HR department scrapped the information booths they set up on college campuses during recruitment visits in favor of blood drives. By doing this, Aetna shows its values, as opposed to merely talking about them; students get the opportunity to contribute to the health of others; and individuals needing blood to restore their health are more likely to get it.
  • An instructor at KPMG eliminated the dry case study in his new-hire accounting class and, instead, invites nonprofit partner representatives to present their accounting challenges to students, providing these nonprofits free financial services.
  • Many FedEx drivers in Florida have attended The Nature Conservancy’s training on identifying invasive species of snakes and are, therefore, not only drivers in their day job but also “Python Patrollers” who help to rid the Everglades of an environmental menace.

c. How might you otherwise sprinkle some charity into the task?


  • An art school owner writing her newsletter promoted civic involvement by offering a free class to anyone who voted in the presidential election.
  • Every time an independent consultant closed a sale, she donated $100 to one of three nonprofits, per the selection of the new client.
  • A leadership trainer at a Fortune 500 company offers open slots to staff of local nonprofit organizations.

Rotate through the three questions as quickly and as many times as you like, but don’t stop jotting down your unedited stream of consciousness until the seven minutes are up. If you hit upon a brilliant job purposing idea, circle it and go back to the jotting down ideas until the timer rings.

Step 4: If needed, choose a slightly less core task and repeat step 3

If you’ve generated a promising job purposing idea, you’re done! Start fleshing out and piloting your idea. If not, select another job task and repeat step 3 (do this with five tasks or until you get dizzy, whichever comes first). Consider first common tasks, then move to more episodic tasks.

Step 5: If needed, brainstorm ways to bake a little charity into non-job related workplace experiences

If you have a viable option from steps 1-4, you’re done! Otherwise, explore ways to ignite social purpose in workplace experiences that you can influence but that fall outside your specific job — such as trainings, staff meetings, or annual retreats.


  • Antis Roofing enriches staff meetings with charity. At each staff meeting, the company honors one employee for exceptional work performance with a charitable giving card that the honoree donates to the nonprofit of their choice. at the following meeting the former winner shares to what cause they donated to and why. “This simple step has transformed our culture” according to Founder and CEO Charles Antis. “It’s difficult to stay dry-eyed at many meetings as team members share why they care deeply about their cause of choice. We are getting to know each other at a beautiful new level. Who knew it could feel this effortless for us to feel so connected?”
  • Instead of standing around slurping punch at the annual holiday party, why not turn the entire event into a service project that serves a meal to the homeless or builds a home for a single mother?
  • Many companies include a service event, where participants repaint a school or clean up a trail, in their retreats or meetings.

Step 6: If needed, ingest chocolate or single malt scotch and contact me

If you’ve completed steps 1-5 and still don’t have a promising way to purpose your job, don’t panic. Eat, drink, work, hike or otherwise do something different. Let your brainstorming efforts lay for a few days. You might have a “Eureka!” moment and realize, as you’re taking a bath for example, that the answer is right in front of you. If not, contact me.

Be a proud rebel

If you’ve read this far, you’re a pioneer. Your interest in promoting social good through everyday work makes you a bright spirit in what can be a darkly skeptical corporate landscape.

Don’t think, however, you are alone in this pursuit of workplace purpose. Rebels like you are an emerging force. In fact, the world has invented a term for you and is beginning to value you. Specifically, you are a “social intrapreneur” (“intra” to denote doing social good work from within the company) and Forbes Magazine has named you “most valuable worker.”


This post was originally published on LinkedIn on the post date and reposted here in January 2018 when this site launched.

Learn more about Bea's book, Do Good at Work.

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