What is the Purpose of Work in the Future?

In this article, we delve into the provocative question about the evolving change in the purpose of work. I know this is rather esoteric but a serious question that technology will demand that we answer in the coming decade.

Those that follow me appreciate that I work to establish cutting-edge organizations where people do what others never thought possible. That demands a paradigm shift in our thinking.

Because this question is so esoteric, I cannot tell you what the answer is, should or will be. Instead, my role is to stretch your thinking by asking the provocative question and guide you in your thinking.

The Changing Purpose of Work

For centuries we have exchanged work and time for food and shelter. For almost everyone, that was how the world worked. If we didn’t work, we didn’t eat.

“For centuries, human beings have filled their days by working: trading their time and sweat for shelter and food. We’ve built deeply entrenched cultural values around this exchange, and many of us have been conditioned to deprive our sense of self-worth from the act of daily work.” (Lee, AI Superpowers, 2018, p. 21.)

What happens when we no longer need to exchange our work for food and shelter? This is a fundamental question for any society. How will we provide value if we are not earning a wage?

Lee predicts this will create a personal and human crisis as we suffer the psychological loss of our purpose.

My Reaction

I have to admit, this unnerves me because AI could replace what I do. It will likely take some time, as Lee admits, but once machines can identify the patterns, they can provide the best answers. Those of us in business and executive coaching can be replaced.

Warehouse jobs are already being performed by automation and robots. Transportation is on the verge of switching to driverless technology. Algorisms are being developed to replace mortgage workers and even paralegals. Even higher level jobs, like executive coaching, will be threatened to some degree. with disruption. It won’t happen all at once but in stages.

This unnerves me and it should. What will I do to provide value?

Possible Solutions

That is a difficult question. As a country, some are already proposing a Universal Basic Income? That might provide for the basics so we don’t starve to death or end up homeless. But my question goes deeper. If that happens, what value do those people displace find without working?

I don’t want to enter into a political debate or a discussion on entitlements. Instead, I want us to grapple with the concept of purpose in our current jobs and in the future.

Answering this question is critical to an engaged and happy workforce. Even more than that, finding a purpose makes life far more interesting, fun and rewarding. Let’s look at three things you can do.

First, Gallup’s 2017 report on disengaged workers reported that only 4 in 10 workers agree that the company’s mission was important. They indicated it should be important but they didn’t think their company was doing important work. That implies that one way we can find our purpose is to work for an organization that we believe is providing a valuable service.

I know this one is a challenge for many. They just need a job. I get that. But many times we don’t have what we want because we have gotten comfortable and quit asking. Finding our purpose requires asking until we get the answer we want.

Are you working for a company that you believe provides a valuable service to the world?

Second, Ulrich, in The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win states that individuals “find meaning when they see a clear connection between what they highly value and what they spend time doing.” How are you spending your time? Is it in a job that you find valuable?

Again, many times the job may be available but they don’t know you are interested because you have never asked.

Are you willing to ask for what you find valuable?

Third, what purpose are you finding in what you do away from work? If you are spending your time raising a family, that is a very honorable and rewarding purpose IF done with the right attitude.

Unfortunately, many are simply tuning out. They are not finding something they love to do or finding joy in what they do. We can change our attitude to find our purpose in what we are doing right now.

What attitude are you bringing to your time away from work?

The secret to finding purpose in the future must go beyond merely earning a wage, trading time and energy for food and shelter. Look inside. We will enjoy our jobs and leisure time much more when we change our attitude, realign our thinking and make a difference.

This is such an important topic that we will discuss it further in the coming posts.



Loren Murfield, Ph.D.


I work with leaders and organizations to think bigger and reach higher to find breakthrough success. This is a process that I can help you learn. One of the ways I help clients is by guiding them through my Disruptive Opportunity Challenge.  Begin the process today by contacting me.

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