Finding purpose in the workplace: An equity perspective

December 20, 2022 · NCQA Communications

By Neepa Patel, CEO of WellRight, and Vanessa Guzman, president of SmartRise Health

American workers are starting to expect more than just a paycheck from their employers — they’re searching for a purpose.

In fact, 70% of employees say their sense of purpose is defined by their work, according to McKinsey research from August 2020.

Feeling a sense of purpose is one of the six dimensions of whole-person well-being and contributes to all aspects of health. As Sara Martin, CEO of WELCOA, said in a recent webinar: “If you can tap into someone’s individual, higher-level ‘why’ and remind them of their purpose, people will naturally align themselves with health promoting behaviors — better eating habits, more exercise, and better social behaviors for well-being.”

Not only does purpose contribute to personal wellness, but defining and instilling a sense of purpose can also improve business performance. Deloitte’s 2020 Global Marketing Trends (PDF) report shows purpose-oriented companies have 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% higher workforce retention than those that are not.

That’s why businesses need to incorporate purpose into their holistic workplace wellness programs. They need to define their larger purpose — what good the company does for society — while helping their employees develop their own personal purpose. Ideally, the two are intertwined, so employees perform job functions consistent with their beliefs.

And if employers want to successfully have their employees live their purpose at work, they must focus on equity.

Building purpose on equity

According to McKinsey research, there is a stark inequality between how many executives and upper management (85%) and frontline managers and employees (15%) believe they’re able to live their purpose in their work.

That difference may stem from many factors. Baseline work needs to be done before organizations deploy resources to identify value systems and enable employees to tap into their own purpose as well as their organization’s purpose. For example, when employees are overworked or underpaid, finding a purpose is likely not a priority. It’s unfair to ask people to tap into their higher purpose when they are living paycheck to paycheck.

Additionally, executives and upper management often receive more training, greater communication, and more paid time off than frontline workers. Those are key factors to feeling connected to a company’s purpose and having the agency to develop individual purpose.

Wellness program offerings can level the playing field in this area, so all workers have the resources and opportunities necessary to feel fulfilled. Some of those resources may include self-awareness coaching, assistance or reimbursement for upskilling, or paid time off to volunteer, so employees can give back to the community in a way that speaks to them. Managers may also need specialized training to feel connected to their company’s values and pass that on to their teams.

All of these offerings can instill a sense that everyone in the organization, from upper management to frontline staff, is in a position to be a leader and live their purpose in the workplace. When everyone is empowered and engaged in their purpose, it creates an environment of trust and growth.

This may seem like big and difficult work, but purpose is what ties wellness together. When organizations invest in creating a culture rooted in purpose and provide equitable opportunities for employees to contribute to it, it will lead to a healthier workforce eager to reach business goals.

This concludes our series on how employers can address equity issues that appear in each of the dimensions of whole-person care. What are you planning to incorporate in 2023? Share with us on social media! Follow Neepa and Vanessa on LinkedIn.

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