Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Robin Clair

Committee Member 1

Stacey Connaughton

Committee Member 2

Natalie Lambert


Higher purpose in one’s work can be defined as a driving force that extends beyond oneself that fulfills some larger need, goal, or hope and perhaps benefits others. This construct may have important implications for workplace motivation and engagement. A survey by Calling Brands (2012) found that 65% of workers would put in more effort for an organization with a higher purpose. Furthermore, a joint study by Net Impact and Rutgers University found that for 24% of the workforce and 45% of college students, “a job that seeks to make a social or environmental difference in” (Zukin & Szeltner, 2012, p. 12) or impact on the world – in other words, a job with higher purpose – would be worth a 15% pay cut. The same study also found that individuals working jobs where they felt this sense of higher purpose were twice as likely to be satisfied with their jobs. Thus, examining employee narratives about the higher purpose of their work may offer insight into how these individuals view their work, whether they are motivated by the higher purpose, or whether they find their jobs to be meaningful. These narratives may guide the individuals’ own thinking about the work they do. This study sought to gain increased knowledge about narratives of higher purpose in the workplace and to better understand how these narratives relate to motivation, supervisor communication of higher purpose, and organizational identification. The researcher collected narratives of higher purpose through an online questionnaire administered to 131 full-time working adults through use of an online system. These participants were contacted using a referral method in order to obtain a quota sample representative of the United States workforce based on U.S. Census occupational categories. A literature review led to four main research questions. Research question one concerned motivation and related themes: What motivators and subsequent themes are associated with work motivation? Research questions two through four concerned narratives of higher purpose: What themes exist in narratives of higher purpose? How are narratives of

higher purpose different when superiors communicate about higher purpose? and What forms of identification exist in narratives of higher purpose? Preliminary analysis on the sample and conceptualizations of terms revealed that participants largely differentiated between motivation, purpose, higher purpose, inspiration, and calling. This helped to conceptualize the term higher purpose. The data indicated that one can feel inspired to work without higher purpose, highlighting a difference between these terms. Additionally, participants who reported a narrative of higher purpose were more likely to consider their work their calling, though reporting a higher purpose did not guarantee that one’s work was one’s calling; thus, calling was also differentiated from higher purpose. Thematic analysis of responses from open-ended survey questions revealed findings related to each of the four research questions. In regard to research question one, employees reported being motivated to work by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, though intrinsic factors were more often elaborated upon and were also more often listed, especially for participants reporting narratives of higher purpose. The data also suggested a new categorization of motivators using the following division: intrinsic-internal/external and extrinsic-internal/external. Themes of narratives of higher purpose were identified in response to research question two and focused on a concern for benefiting others. However, the findings concerning supervisor communication of higher purpose, research question three, indicated that supervisor communication may have little to no influence on the content of individuals’ narratives of higher purpose. Additionally, the findings concerning organizational identification, research question four, were tentative, but they indicated that most participants holding narratives of higher purpose did not evidence organizational identification. These findings offer further conceptualization of a term that as yet hardly appears in the academic literature. Higher purpose was differentiated from other, similar terms, allowing it to emerge as a distinct construct meriting future research. Importantly, themes of higher purpose were revealed and analyzed, giving further nuance to the construct, which offers practical implications for employers hoping to create workplace engagement initiatives utilizing higher purpose. Another contribution of this work concerns the analysis of work motivation, which suggested an expansion of the standard division of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This division may yield more precise findings in analysis of future research on work motivation. This study provided insight into what motivators and subsequent themes are associated with work motivation, what themes exist regarding narratives of higher purpose, what influence supervisor communication has on the content of these narratives, and what forms of identification are present in these narratives. This area offers ample room for related research with potential to impact both employees and employers through practical application.