Practical Activist Q&A featuring Bea Boccalandro, VeraWorks
- Bluestone Staff
- April 4, 2023
Bea Boccalandro is a corporate purpose advisor and the author of Do Good at Work: How Simple Acts of Social Purpose Drive Success and Wellbeing (New York: Morgan James Publishing, 2021), which has received critical acclaim. Bea has been published in Harvard Business Review, The Boston Globe and other major publications; and has been featured on Forbes, FOX-TV and other media outlets.
As founder and president of the global purpose advisory firm, VeraWorks, Bea has two decades of experience helping to make customer interactions more human, products more inclusive, operations more environmentally sustainable and otherwise assisting businesses to be part of the solution to societal issues.
Looking for a way to make your work more meaningful? Here’s a free Purpose Generator tool from VeraWorks.
Here are some highlights of our recent conversation:
Q: Where did your passion for corporate social purpose and social responsibility begin?
A: Probably in the womb! I say this because my father, Tony Boccalandro, embodied the idea that all work was a platform for doing good. He was a transportation engineer, but his coworkers’ comments would make you believe he was a social worker. “When my wife’s pregnancy had complications, your father personally boxed and delivered my office so I could be by her bedside and not lose my job.” “Your dad stayed until midnight last week to help me with an urgent assignment, and I’m not even on his team!” “The only time Tony got angry at me was when I handed in a road blueprint that didn’t properly serve an underprivileged community.” At an early age, I understood that business could be compassionate.
Q: Tell us about the spark behind your book Do Good at Work: How Simple Acts of Social Purpose Drive Success and Wellbeing?
A: After giving a presentation at Toyota about ten years ago, I was walking to my car when I heard the pitter-patter of steps. A young man was trying to catch up. “Bea, wait! Can I ask one thing?” he said. I was surprised because, wanting to conceal that I had driven my German vehicle to Toyota headquarters, I parked in a remote lot. What was so important to merit jogging all this way?
Social purpose was. By social purpose, I mean making a meaningful contribution to others or society.
Jeff, the young engineer, noticed that the auditorium was hosting a gathering about Toyota “doing good.” He ignored his to-do list for an hour to crash my presentation. Upon arrival, he realized the meeting was for executives but figured he could blend in with the catering crew by standing in the back. He left the presentation with the question he now posed: “As a non-executive with limited authority, is there a way for me to make a meaningful difference at my job?”
Jeff’s question was the spark behind Do Good at Work. I quickly learned that Jeff was not alone. Most surveys show that about half of all workers, both in the United States and globally, feel deprived of purpose. Given how I saw my dad do good at work, I suspected I could help them. I’m happy to say that a decade of research showed I was right. Over 100 engineers, sales associates and other non-executives donning the pages of Do Good at Work have answered Jeff’s question with a resounding “yes!” Like my dad, they have adjusted their jobs to make a meaningful contribution to others or society, a practice I have dubbed “job purposing.” For example:
- An engineer hires and supervises two low-income high-school students to do office work in his department to teach them workplace skills and help them consider a college education.
- A parking attendant inspects tires and alerts the car owners if the tread is bald. Leroy combats highway fatalities with every car he parks.
- A work-at-home employee at a professional services business who competes in triathlons emails weekly tips to interested colleagues on adopting healthy behaviors. She’s helping people be healthier every week.
You get the idea. If a parking attendant and a teleworker job purposed their way to meaningful work, chances are anybody can.
A: Social purpose, again defined as making a meaningful contribution to others or society, isn’t misunderstood as much as underestimated. When we think of pursuing purpose at work, most think of it existentially, which involves finding our reason for living, and our deeply held why, our life’s purpose. As if that weren’t sufficiently difficult, there’s a second step: figuring out how to get paid to pursue our life’s purpose. This is a wonderful thing to do, of course. I admire Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. for making their existential purpose their day job. For most of us, however, this is infeasible.
Fortunately, job purposing is a viable path to igniting workplace purpose—for anybody. Amazingly, it generates the same benefits as living our existential purpose: a boost in meaning, health, happiness and success. It might sound farfetched that hiring underprivileged youth, alerting customers of bald tires and providing health tips to coworkers is so transformative. The research is clear, though. Numerous studies suggest that if the engineer helped his youthful hires with their college applications on a Monday for five minutes, his happiness would remain elevated on Friday evening. Job purposing is like a vitamin: Trace amounts do us a lot of good. Of course, if someone is inspired to go big with job purposing and has the authority to do so, all the better. Do Good at Work has plenty of examples of ambitious job purposing as well.
Q: Any major revelations or “aha!” moments when you were working on the book?
A: I experienced many “aha” moments while writing Do Good at Work. I want to share one that Bluestone Life— as an innovator in social purpose—and its stakeholders might appreciate. It happened when I was reading about the construction site of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1933. At the time, workplace safety was a fringe idea. Most construction workers had never even seen a hard hat or safety net. But the chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge, Joseph Strauss, insisted on implementing new safety measures for his workers, including a net spanning the bridge’s entire length of more than a mile-and-a-half and issuing hard hats. The safety net caught nineteen workers before they would have plummeted into the water with a 98 percent certainty of death.
Strauss refused to accept that inherently dangerous jobs had to remain so. His compassionate action, combined with similar efforts from many others, helped force an evolution in worker safety that we continue to benefit from. That same bridge-building job is seventy times less likely to kill us today than a few generations back. My Strauss-inspired “aha!” is that, historically speaking, radical improvements happen—and often. It’s challenging to be the first to implement positive practices, as Bluestone has, but it can change an industry. It can change history. So, keep up the good work!
Do you have a mantra or quote that you live by or that inspires you?
A: “Listen beyond the clamor of your wants for the whisper of the world’s needs.” My father said this to steer me toward a more joyful and fulfilling life, as I share in the first chapter of Do Good at Work. He was spot on. Every time I heed this advice, I upgrade my life.
The Practical Activist blog is created by Bluestone Life. At Bluestone, our life insurance empowers our customers to protect family, community and planet. A Certified B Corp and a member of 1% for the Planet, Bluestone is a transformative choice for social, environmental and financial systems change.
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