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Making a Difference: Purposeful Living

As July came to an end, we had another one of our monthly wrap-ups to connect the dots between all of our July guests and put into context what the theme of the month meant to us. July was centred around making a difference through how we live with purpose in both our work and personal lives. 

In the professional world, employees want a job with purpose. We discussed how the Mckinsey article addressed leaders and employers to help their teams find purpose through their jobs or be prepared to lose the best talents to companies that prioritise purpose. While we agreed that this wasn’t a new idea in the corporate world, Malar mentioned that it still isn’t common sense for many organisations. 

Malar brought up how companies have a mission and vision to bring a group of people towards a common goal or purpose. However, in practice, organisations tend to pick and choose how they want purpose in their employees to be demonstrated in the workplace. For example, leaders want to recruit people with passion, motivation and drive but ironically, their passionate emotions are not welcomed in the office as it’s seen as unprofessional. When someone with passion feels like their ideas aren’t being heard, they get frustrated but leaders aren’t willing to deal with those emotions that come with passion. Even though organisations claim to prioritise purpose and passion, are they really practising what they preach by supporting their talents through their emotions as well?

Since COVID, the urgency of finding purpose has increased exponentially. During the height of it all, people had to deal with loss, insecurities and sometimes even the death of a loved one. This life-changing event impacted our world and people’s mindsets and priorities changed. Retaining talents has always been a challenge for organisations but COVID amplified the risk of losing talents. The Great Resignation brought about a wave of people quitting their jobs because they realised their companies no longer fit into their purpose or didn’t care about their well-being. So now organisations are under a lot of pressure to recruit talents. But not just any talents talents that are dedicated to their jobs and work at their optimal performance. Leaders and organisations have to remember that when they find a talent who is willing to contribute to the growth of their company, it becomes their responsibility to take care of their well-being and ensure that their purpose is at the centre of their work. 

Guests of July

To tackle this discussion on purpose, Sharm and Malar invited three guests who covered different areas of the discourse. The first guest was Nirmala Suppramanian, Head of Household Financial Education at AKPK. Nirmala discussed financial wellness in employees and how money is attached to meaning and purpose. In the second week, we brought on Syahrul Azmi, Country Lead Learning & Leadership Development at Accenture Malaysia. He shared on coaching and the transformation required to help leaders become role models. Lastly, we spoke to Professor Dr Vinitha Guptan, Vice-chancellor at Saito University College on the purpose of education and how emotional connection is closely tied to education and leadership. 

Reflecting on our discussion with Nirmala, Malar highlighted how money plays a large role in our decisions. Many take on jobs because of the money they’ll make and even though money is such a central part of our lives, we are not educated on it in school. This is unfortunate because many of our unconscious habits get us into financial trouble. We look for purpose in our jobs to create meaning but when money holds meaning for many of us, it’s more imperative than ever for organisations to educate their employees on financial management so that they can make better choices. For example, when an employee gets a pay increment, they naturally want to upgrade their lifestyle but they may also fall into the trap of wanting more and never being fully satisfied. Financial literacy in the workplace leads to financial wellness and focused employees.

When summarising our conversation with Syahrul, Sharm mentioned how coaching is part of our day-to-day lives. Sharm shared her own experience of interacting with her close circle of friends. During their discussions, they share their challenges with each other and help one another, which is a type of coaching. Mentorship isn’t just tied to an organisation but it can be found in anyone that you’d like to emulate. Mentors also come and go at different stages of your life. Syahrul brought up an insightful conversation on how leaders also have a need to feel secure. Psychological safety even at the highest levels in an organisation contributes to successful coaching. We usually tend to ignore our leaders’ well-being as we assume that they feel secure but making that effort as an organisation to create security for leaders can boost their professional development and build a team at their optimal performance. 

As a leader in the education field, Vinitha showed us how education is tied to the sustainability of a project or organisation by hiring the right talent. However, Vinitha also shared how there are biases at play when recruiting talent as we already have an idea of what we’re looking for. This usually doesn’t include someone that is not fluent in English or doesn’t have a college degree. Unfortunately, this affects diversity and inclusion in the workplace which then makes us question the true purpose of education. To stay true to the purpose of education, organisations should reflect on their purpose and understand why certain talents are more suited to their company than others without preconceived biases. 

Why We Lose Meaning and Purpose

Our three guests of July reminded us how we can make a difference in our lives and others when we find our purpose. However, there are times we may lose our way and meaning in life. Malar brought up Johann Hari’s book ‘Lost Connection’, which touches on why some suffer from depression or other mental health problems. In his research, Hari found that declining mental health is caused by the loss of connections. COVID made us realise how the workplace conversations we had during tea breaks improved our well-being by relieving stress. Meaningful work and meaningful values keep us rooted in our purpose and having connections with people have proven to add value to our lives but when we get disconnected, it harms our inner peace.

Hari mentioned that another cause of depression is childhood trauma. Research has shown that a significant portion of toxic leaders tends to have a traumatic background. The best way to find meaning and purpose again is to heal through those events. Disconnection and depression can occur in various ways including disassociating as a central figure of an organisation or even moving from a country with lots of nature to a city environment. In more recent times, we can feel disconnected because of our inflating and challenging economy. Organisations have the task to link these external factors and connect them to the individual’s purpose. One way to start is by improving listening skills. Organisations and leaders need to have conversations with their people to learn what makes them tick and what is concerning them to understand how they can help build their meaning and purpose. 

Aligning the Purpose of the Organisation, Work and Outside of Work

We take part in various activities at work and outside of work and when we are involved in these activities meaningfully, our commitment to it and how we feel about ourselves change for the better. If you ever feel like you’re not up to another work day, your purpose can give you that push to get out of bed. For example, some parents find purpose in their children to get up and head to work. McKinsey breaks this down into three groups where we can draw purpose from the activities we do:

  • Purpose from organisation 
  • Purpose from work 
  • Purpose outside work

The first is purpose from the organisation where we understand how as individuals, we contribute to the organisation’s vision and mission. Second is the purpose we draw from the actual work that we do at our jobs. Some may know their purpose from work but struggle to figure out how their jobs make a difference in the organisation as a whole. Lastly, we have purpose outside of work, which can include volunteer activities, hobbies or even raising your children. Studies have shown that successful people tend to participate in various activities and choose to spend their time in activities that are meaningful and add value to them. 

The McKinsey Individual Purpose survey also showed some shocking data where 85% of executives and upper management agree that they can live their purpose in their day-to-day work while 85% of frontline employees disagree. This data is proof of why service sometimes fails. In this corporate environment, production is what is a priority to the organisation but they fail to realise that these disconnected frontline employees are the ones feeding the organisation and keeping it going for their senior managers. A metaphor to better understand this is to see the frontliners as the arteries that deliver blood to the heart (the organisation). 

Not only do connected employees keep the organisation going strong, but research also shows that people with purpose in their day-to-day work have higher energy, commitment, excitement and so many more positive qualities that are needed in high-performing teams that work at their optimal performance. Through our discussions and data that we’ve learnt, it’s almost obvious to organisations that in order to succeed, you should help your employees find their purpose. 


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