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Are We Thriving at Work Yet?

Levels of engagement and satisfaction in the workplace are at an all-time high. Hurray! In 2023, a whopping 23% of employees reported having a healthy relationship with work according to Gallup [1], rebounding above the pre-COVID-19 level. But is 23% truly a cause for celebration?



Despite reaching an all-time high, the bigger issue at hand is that the large majority of people still lack engagement in their jobs and/or have an unhealthy relationship with work [2].


We asked more than 15,000 people across 12 countries how they feel about their work and what their expectations are moving forward […] just 27% of knowledge workers feel they have a healthy relationship with their work. That’s a big problem — for people and for business. Because no company can succeed long term without a motivated and engaged workforce.
Enrique Lores, CEO of HP

This consistently low level of engagement has been a concern throughout the 21st century, prompting us to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that contribute to employee well-being and fulfilment in the workplace.


1. Why do we expect to find meaning at work?


Traditionally, the search for meaning and belonging was fulfilled by organised religion. However, societal changes shifted this quest to the workplace. More and more individuals seek purpose and fulfilment in their careers, as they reassess their priorities and reconsider their life choices [2]. The workplace has become a hub for personal growth, connection, and a sense of belonging.


2. What are the benefits of workplace engagement?


Finding meaning and purpose in work has significant mental health benefits. It fosters a sense of fulfilment, satisfaction, and overall well-being. On the other hand, disengagement and lack of meaning can lead to burnout, apathy, and negative social externalities [3]. The decline of religious practice and the increase in personal and professional stressors have further complicated people’s ability to find meaning in their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges, prompting individuals to reconsider their values and behaviour [2], not to mention, from the other side of the table: Gallup estimates that low engagement costs the global economy $8.8 trillion. That’s 9% of global GDP.


3. How do we address the challenges of finding meaning and belonging at work issue?


To address these issues, it is imperative to understand the human desire for meaning and belonging. Effective people functions and coaches play a crucial role in helping individuals navigate these challenges, providing a safe space to explore thoughts, feelings, and unfinished business. They assist in reassessing priorities, connecting with blind spots, and developing new strategies for leadership. They create the “new confessionals”, guiding individuals towards a more meaningful and fulfilling work-life experience [4].


Organisations also play a vital role in creating meaningful and fulfilling work environments. By aligning their vision, values, and mission with employees’ search for meaning, organisations can cultivate a sense of purpose and belonging as long as they deliver on the promise. This involves recognising employees as human beings and accepting shared responsibility for their well-being and personal growth [5]. The goal is to design a workplace culture that offers intrinsic meaning to employees, where they feel they belong and matter even when the going gets hard. By doing so, organisations can improve employee engagement, well-being, and overall performance [6].


The bottom line is that the journey to thriving at work requires an understanding of the human desire for meaning and belonging. It calls for a shift in perspective, where work is seen not just as a means to an end, but as an opportunity for personal growth, fulfilment, and connection. Through the guidance of coaches and the creation of meaningful work environments, individuals and organisations can navigate the challenges of the post-pandemic workplace and foster a healthier relationship with work.


References


  1. State of the Global Workplace. Gallup 2023. Link

  2. HP CEO: The World Has an Unhealthy Relationship With Work. Link

  3. Harvard Business Review: Meaning is the new money. Link

  4. Work Pray Code: When Work Becomes a Religion in Silicon Valley. Link

  5. Belief in God Dips to New Low. Link

  6. Where Americans Find Meaning in Life. Link

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