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How can purpose reduce stress at work?

The world loses an estimated 12 billion workdays annually due to depression and anxiety. And its not getting better considering that stress levels at work have touched a historic high in recent times. Pa Sinyan, Managing partner-EMEA, Gallup tells us how a purpose-driven work culture can help solve this problem. Tune in.

We are today witnessing a historical global transfer of wealth from the older generations to the millennials and Gen Z. These generations are highly aware of their social impact and are not at all inclined to work without a purpose. To what extent do you see this happening with older generations?

When we look at our data from around the world, one of the things we have seen historically is that the older generation was more engaged. But that is starting to change. What we are seeing now is that people are engaged when they join the organisation and then that engagement to the company, to its mission, and its purpose falls over time. So, you have a sort of the honeymoon period in the first six months to maybe a year and it just keeps going down over time.

We are seeing that even though the older generation did not grow up in a world where expressing or seeking purpose was the norm, they too, are now in a position where they are seeing the value and have the same demand and desire to have conversations about themselves and about their purpose and not just about their work. So, it’s coming slower, but it’s absolutely coming even for older generations. We are seeing the same patterns.

When we talk about purpose, it’s not just the individual purpose that is in focus. Increasingly, people also want to understand the larger goal of the companies they work in, and they are really inclined to take or reject the employers based on their values. What is driving this change today?

The same thing that is driving the need for organisational purpose. You know we are seeing movements like ESG and Black Lives Matter. In Europe we see an even stronger focus on the environment and the Green party. All these movements together are really creating a more informed, more conscious, and more reflective constituency where young people really care about more than just getting a paycheck or just having a job.

A recent McKinsey survey reveals that only 15% of the frontline workers and managers agree they are living their purpose at work. And in comparison, 85% of the executives and upper management agree. That’s a massive gap, how can we bridge it?

Many organisations invest a lot of time and energy in articulating beautiful, cool, sexy, fun purpose statements. Then they put it on posters everywhere and they put it in their signatures. It's basically a marketing campaign to get that purpose out there to the people. Now, there's nothing wrong with that, but people don't feel purpose because you communicate purpose. Unless we engage with people on a day-to-day basis in a way that reflects that sense of purpose, people will not connect to it.

Regardless of what your company's purpose is, you have to make me feel that I am important. You have to recognise me for doing a good job, you have to take time to give me feedback when I don't do a good job, and you have to set crystal clear expectations for me, so I know why what I'm doing matters.

Where does this inability to take this into action stem from?

70% of the variance between how connected you feel to the mission and purpose is influenced not by the company mission and purpose statement, but by who is your direct manager. This gap exists because the people that we are selecting to lead and manage our people across the board, many of them do not necessarily enjoy doing this. They don't naturally have the talents to do this well.

We have asked almost 300,000 people around the world who are managers, how and why do you think you became a manager. The top two reasons across cultures are: One, “I was great in my non-managerial role before, so I was an expert”, which is a bad reason to become a manager because it has nothing to do with whether you are good at managing people or whether you enjoy engaging people. And the second reason was tenure, so “I was around long enough and eventually I had to get promoted too”. These are two reasons why people become leaders and managers, which don’t suggest that they are intuitively or inherently good at this.

There is a disconnect here and I think the number one sort of barrier in creating a sense of purpose is managers themselves and their ability to individualise, meet people where they are, and to paint a picture for people of why what they're doing matters.  

Would you have any good practical tips on what an organisation should do to bring more parity?

There are two levels at which organisations can do something. The first one is articulating a strong, compelling, and emotionally loaded purpose. The next thing is bringing it to life. And the best way to do that is through selecting managers who can give engaging feedback, who understand it is their responsibility, and then holding them accountable for the quality of day-to-day leadership and the purpose they create for people.

There are both structural and behavioural elements of getting that right. But the target should be managers, because they are the best possible levers to really drive that change.

I would claim that many of the managers are used to working with hard targets, perhaps, metrics, monetary targets, and such. For them, it might be seen as something soft, fluffy, and difficult to engage with what they are expected to deliver. Would you have any recipe on how to bring all this together?

To know the answer to this question and more, please tune into the podcast. Note: This conversation is abridged. 

In this episode
Atte Palomäki
Atte Palomäki
Executive Vice President Communications & Branding