People strive for a fulfilled life, they want to see purpose and meaning in it, and this has always been the case. However, the prolonged experience of fear, insecurity, isolation and grief associated with the pandemic has forced many to rethink their lives over and over again. Numerous studies show that when people think about death and other existentially difficult issues, they give more value to what gives them a sense of fulfillment and fulfillment, because a sense of meaningfulness of being reduces existential anxiety and helps to feel that they belong to something larger. and longer than your own short and finite life. This search for meaning influences how we behave at work and make decisions – including where to work.
Many take this opportunity to rethink how their work today fits into their lives. In a March poll, 26% of American workers said they plan to quit their current job and go in search of a new job when the pandemic ends. (Millennials are at 34%, and they are now the largest working generation.) Here are three ways leaders can support – and possibly retain – employees who are thinking about existential issues.
Don’t get hung up on salary
By focusing more on existential issues, employees can put meaning above money. The leader should look beyond wages and other material goods and think about what will help employees meet the need for meaning in life.
For example, in a recent survey, 60% of respondents said they would accept lower pay in exchange for more flexible work hours or the ability to work remotely. These formats are attractive to employees who are thinking about the meaning of life, as it allows them to spend more time with family and friends. Our research team found that the most common answer to the question of what makes people feel meaningful in life is: Close relationships with family and friends.
The manager can also “promote” an office culture that values the ability to disconnect from work, and seek to establish clear boundaries between work and personal life (for example, not email employees outside of working hours). It is becoming more and more difficult to maintain this balance, but it is all the more important to do it in the conditions of remote work. Research shows that constantly checking emails outside of business hours does not contribute to the emotional well-being of employees and makes them think about changing jobs. The more a manager supports people’s desire for work-life balance, the more likely they are to attract and retain employees, and the more likely they are to be happy and engaged.
In a post-pandemic world, when many employees will increasingly reflect on how the pandemic has changed their family life, it is especially important to take the time to find balance. Pew Research Center interviewed American adults about how the pandemic has positively or negatively affected their lives. The most frequently cited aspect hit by the pandemic was personal relationships: 41% of respondents said they miss family and friends. At the same time, 33% of respondents noted that the pandemic allowed them to spend more time with their spouses, children and the rest of the family. In other words, during the pandemic, many realized how important personal relationships are, because they understood what life can look like without loved ones around – or what it looks like when you have the opportunity to spend more time with them. After a pandemic, employees should be expected to place more value on time with loved ones.
Give your work more meaning
This does not mean that work is the opposite of the meaning of life. Vice versa. Work allows people to support the family they value so highly and contribute to the development of society. Research shows that people are more likely to be job satisfied and committed if they believe their work is meaningful. Therefore, the leader should strive to help all employees, regardless of their position, feel that their work serves an important purpose.
Describe each position in such a way that it is clear from the text how the role fits into the overall mission of the organization. Try to give employees the opportunity to participate in the formation of a list of job responsibilities and ways to implement them, as this increases the subjective significance of the work performed.
Gallup reports that one in three employees around the world agree that having a global mission and purpose for the organization helps frontline professionals feel that their work matters. The fact that the pandemic threatens the very lives of people has also increased the desire of employees to work in organizations that, in their opinion, benefit society and the world. Our research team found that the more motivated a person is to find meaning in life, the more importance they attach to socially oriented goals, such as helping the community. The leader should emphasize that his organization makes a significant contribution to the well-being of society as a whole in order to help employees align personal efforts with a larger mission. In a team or group meeting, take the time to discuss how your organization is making a difference through its mission and how all employees contribute to this process.
Work to strengthen working relationships
Too little time has passed to assess with confidence all the pros and cons of transferring a large number of employees to remote work; for this we need to do more research. For some employees, the pandemic has benefited a lot because, as noted earlier, it has enabled them to spend more time with those who are most important in their lives. However, this does not mean that there is no negative impact of teleworking on the sense of meaningfulness in life.
Polls show millennials are more likely to feel lonely than older generations. For example, a 2019 YouGov poll found that 30% of millennials often or always feel lonely, compared to 20% of Gen X respondents and 15% of baby boomers. The poll, which included members of the younger generation Z, shows that this social group is the loneliest generation on record. Another recent study found that young people were more lonely than others during a pandemic.
The remote work format seems very attractive, because in theory people can freely choose where to live, they may not waste time on the road and allow themselves more flexibility, but along with these opportunities there is a risk that employees (especially young ones) will feel a lack of significant social relations.
A leader should consider the potential long-term effect that teleworking can have on relationships, team building, and mentoring. Many employees find it difficult to perceive their work as meaningful if they do not feel connected with colleagues and the manager. Hybrid options that allow for some flexibility but do not negate a physical workspace help employees form and maintain strong relationships that help balance meaningful things in and out of the office.
If telecommuting becomes the norm, the leader needs to spend more than usual time creating opportunities for social interaction and mentoring. This can include organizing in-person collaborative events, creating a mentoring model that will help bring experienced employees and newcomers together, setting a time during which leaders and team members need to be available online to discuss projects, holding regular virtual team meetings, and using a dedicated team. Software for virtual workplaces that at least partially reproduces the social environment of the office.
The pandemic has caused many people to think deeply about what matters most to them and how to devote more time to activities that give meaning to their lives. The deeper the manager understands and supports the existential needs of his employees, the more specialists he will be able to retain in the company and the more benefit they will bring to it.
about the author
Clay Routledge is a leading expert in the field of existential psychology, professor of management at the University of North Dakota, research fellow at the Institute for Global Innovation and Growth. Sheila and Robert Celli, and a senior fellow at the Archbridge Institute.