Why working with purpose beats burnout
“It doesn’t matter how hard I work, I just don’t seem to be making a difference. Any difference I do make, just doesn’t seem to be enough. I can’t see the point”.
These are the words I typically hear falling out of your mouths during calls at the moment. They indicate from our research, the increasing emergence of one of the 5 key factors that are known to exacerbate burnout — a lack of purpose.
Another way to look at purpose is by asking — “What is the point”? What’s the point of doing this? What is the point of being successful? What is the point of this team existing? When we have clarity of purpose (the point or the why), we create meaning and alignment.
There are some significant advantages to getting purpose right and understood by all. Research conducted during the pandemic found that people who say they are “clear on and living in alignment with their purpose” report levels of well-being five times higher than those who say they aren’t. Moreover, those who are driven by a sense of purpose are four times more likely to be highly engaged.
To put this into perspective, highly engaged teams outperform disengaged teams but up to 21% according to Gallup. In 2022 and beyond, helping people reconnect with purpose and find meaning in their work will be a top task for leaders looking to make a difference in engagement, recruitment challenges, retention, productivity and bottom-line performance.
What does purpose look like in real life?
During our research about purpose, we conducted an experiment. We asked two teams to seek sponsorship for a veterans charity whilst completing a 5km run. The first team was shown the logo of the charity and its website.
The second team was connected on a zoom call with the veterans the charity helped who shared stories of how their lives has been changed after the charity started helping them. They were all given a picture of the people on the call. We also provided them with continuous updates about the activities and progress of those people — good and bad.
And which team do you think raised money? That’s easy — team two. But how much more? This is the surprising one — it was 8.3x.
This simple activity demonstrates clearly that when teams truly and personally connect to the purpose in front of them, they create magic.
The impacts of doing nothing:
Medics don’t burn out because of the long hours. It’s the feeling that despite their work, there’s no point to it all. They’re just going to keep seeing sick people. In huge numbers. Burnout in managers results from the disconnect between wanting to make a significant impact on the employees they lead and the customers they serve, whilst not having the power or resources to do so. We talk a lot about this in WoW Labs about Trust too.
It’s a simple correlation. A lack of purpose creates a lack of clarity and certainty, which puts our minds into a state of stress. This is magnified when we increase ambiguity — as has been the case for the last couple of years.
We’ve also found that there is a significant disparity between senior leaders and front-line workers when it comes to purpose. While 85% of executives in a recent study said they were living their purpose at work, just 15% of front-line workers felt the same way. There is a relatively linear decline of the link to purpose as we cascade through organisational structures and there is more than likely a gap in your organisation too. When your employees aren’t clear on the purpose of their role or aren’t able to achieve it, there can be consequences.
Organisational disconnects at every level:
Interestingly only one-third of respondents to some recent McKinsey research believe their organizations strongly connect actions to purpose. Most organisations are operating in a reactive state which lacks purpose or they have not sufficiently connected their employees and potential employees with the agreed purpose. This also makes your brand less attractive to potential employees, who are actively seeking purpose-led organisations.
Another area we noted as an issue is when the purpose of the organisation is misaligned with an employee’s personal purpose, and the organisation is demanding they compromise to conform. Remember that a lot of people’s “reason for being” is strongly related to their job so living in a state of “purpose conflict” isn’t healthy. This can especially occur with shift workers, or where work-life balance is challenged because serving customers has to come first.
So how do you build purpose-led teams? Try these ideas:
- Ask your team what’s the purpose of what they do, what we do, and what we all do as a company. See what they come up with and how much their answers differ. Then work together to create one purpose statement everyone can agree on.
- Hold one on one purpose conversations with each team member and discover what their personal purpose is. Find the thread to connect to the team purpose.
- Repeatedly find ways to communicate purpose in different ways. Bring purpose to life. Share stories (through video or town halls) of colleagues who are embodying self, team, and organisational purpose.
- Link employee-directed communications with your organization’s “why”. As you make changes in how the business operates, consistently link the changes back to your purpose.
- Offer recognition for behaviours and actions which align with the team’s purpose. Now is the time to celebrate and create role models of those who are living their purpose and reinforcing the actions which lead to others seeing the way.
Working on purpose is not an easy task, but it is one that consistently makes a difference when the ball starts rolling for teams who want to list performance and reduce burnout.
In the WoW program, we take nebulous concepts such as trust, connection, engagement, and purpose, and help teams to understand them and explore them in conversations that make a difference.
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