Finding hope and purpose amid a crisis

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By Charlotte Jenkins

2020 so far has been a period of uncertainty and anxiety for many. Yet throughout all the changes that have occurred in how we behave, work and interact with each other, this current moment is an opportunity for hope and a chance to reset. It is a chance to unlearn our past bad habits, put the lessons we have learnt to good use and change the way we work for the better as we craft a new way of working.   

This includes questions around how we can design a future of work that centres purpose, potential and humanity. In Deloitte’s recent Human Capital Trends report, for example, wellbeing and belonging both emerged as the most significant trends. This is also reflected in our conversations with clients at HSM which highlight the importance of ensuring purpose is embedded when crafting any new way of working. Purpose will be the key to connecting people to something bigger than themselves and in helping them navigate the uncertainty that we are living every day.

Research by McKinsey (2020)[1] shows that those who feel they are “living their purpose” at work are four times more engaged and much more likely to sustain or improve their levels of work effectiveness – exactly what leaders need during a time of economic downturn. Yet this is often not communicated effectively by organisations, with McKinsey research showing that only a third of people believe their organisation connects their actions to a wider purpose[2]. So how can we make sure we grasp this opportunity, and ensure that we are building purpose-driven work in the future.

1. Enable a sense of belonging – from comfort to connection

Covid-19 was a stark reminder of the intangible link between a sense of belonging and organisational performance, with the Human Capital Trends Report finding that 93% of respondents believe feeling as though they belong increases performance[3]. The feelings of trust and psychological safety that emerge from feelings of belonging are key to minimising disengagement whilst also maximising motivation and performance.

But it is no easy task for leaders to nurture belonging, particularly with the lack of face-to-face interaction which has been heavily relied upon in the past. So, how can leaders create this sense of belonging in a virtual workplace? Our research at HSM has shown that the most important thing is to ensure that people are being treated fairly. This means being transparent about how and why decisions are made, engaging people in conversations about the trade-offs they face and providing managers with the tools to help them support their team virtually[4]. It is also particularly important during times of crisis for leaders to take the opportunity to demonstrate what impact individuals are having on the organisation’s goals as a whole.

2. Design work for wellbeing – living and performing at your best

Wellbeing, in all its forms (financial, mental, physical, social etc.), has been top of mind for leaders during Covid-19. The mass move to remote working broke down the boundaries that previously existed between home and office, creating an inability to switch off for some, and ultimately leading to burnout. For those with caring responsibilities, this has become particularly challenging. But for everyone, being unable to see loved ones and being in the midst of the worst health crisis of the century doesn’t bode well for our wellbeing.

This presents organisations with yet another crisis. As we face the worst economic recession since WWII, business leaders will need employees to be at their best – productive, motivated and high performing. This is not possible if half the workforce is burnt out and exhausted, working 12-hour days. More needs to be done to prevent this, and more than just opening a dialogue about wellbeing. As we reset and redesign the way we work in this new hybrid setting, we must embed wellbeing into every aspect of work – “fundamentally redesigning work toward outputs instead of activities”[5].

The key thing here is to give people the autonomy to tailor and personalise their role to fit what works for them – both with managing their mental health and caring responsibilities for example. Listen to your people to understand how they are being impacted and how their day-to-day can be adjusted to help them manage their energy levels. This will help employees to not only feel their best but perform their best.

We have all learnt a lot over the past eight months and the only thing left now is for action to be taken. We know there has been a lot of momentum and an acceleration of trends during the pandemic, but the key question is; how long will it last? For organisations, recovery and in some cases, potential for success post-pandemic depends upon the sustainability of the actions and decisions made by leaders. It is the choice between “returning to a post-Covid world that is simply an enhanced version of yesterday or building one that is a sustainable version of tomorrow”[6].


[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/covid-19-and-the-employee-experience-how-leaders-can-seize-the-moment

[2] ibid

[3] https://execed.economist.com/blog/industry-trends/what-does-future-work-look-after-covid-19

[4] https://realbusiness.co.uk/fairness-return-to-work/

[5] https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends/2020/covid-19-and-the-future-of-work.html

[6] ibid

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