The Science on Purpose at Work

The empirical link between purpose and performance.

Steve Glaveski
4 min readMay 11, 2021


Many moons ago, the Roman philosopher-king, Marcus Aurelius, wrote that nothing should be done without purpose.

Nowadays, purpose in the workplace is in vogue, buoyed on by the influence of books like Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, as well as the relative 21st Century comforts we enjoy, prompting us to ask the deeper question about the meaning of work.

Once we’ve satisfied the lower rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we pursue self-actualization and transcendence. And in a time when it has never been easier to start your own business or to find a purpose-led company to work for, more and more people are asking this question.

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More Than Just “Woo”

For many conservative left-brain thinkers, it’s easy to write off the cult of purpose as yet another idyllic progressive world view, reduce it to a form of “woo”, and file it away under crystals and chakras.

But purpose at work is more than just a nice idea, and an emerging body of science is starting to support its significance.

A 2016 Harvard study on corporate purpose and financial performance provided empirical evidence that organizations that score high on purpose and management clarity (‘where we’re going and how we’ll get there’) exhibit superior stock market performance and Return on Assets (ROA).

A 10-year study run by the authors of Firms of Endearment, found that an index of 18 purpose-led companies outcompeted the S&P500 index’s Return on Equity (ROE) by almost 9 percentage points during the same period (13.1% versus 4.12%).



Steve Glaveski

CEO of Collective Campus. HBR writer. Author of Time Rich, and Employee to Entrepreneur. Host of Future Squared podcast. Occasional surfer.