United vision

How to empower employees through a shared sense of purpose

Tactics to build a compassionate and high-performing workforce
How to empower employees through a shared sense of purpose
Graphic : Rawpixel.com ( Shutterstock )
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

According to the American Psychological Association , 81% of individuals would look for workplaces supporting mental health when seeking future job opportunities. But while many companies have increased support for employees’ physical, mental, social, and financial well-being, they are focusing more on remediating symptoms rather than resolving the actual causes of employee burnout . And that’s partly due to a wide perception gap, with some leaders still not in tune with how their employees really feel.

A recent global report from Workday Peakon shows that workers in industries such as transportation, government, and healthcare are particularly at risk of burnout. Industries with increased levels of burnout risk, including energy & resources, consumer, and non-profit, saw declining employee survey scores across the three key burnout risk indicators: employee energy levels , fulfillment at work, and team member connectedness .

Amid telltale trends such as the ongoing Great Resignation and quiet quitting , it’s clear that many organizations place too much expectation and pressure on their employees without ensuring all their needs are met. Unfortunately, this sets companies back when they need their people—their most important asset—to be engaged and productive.

The good news is there are many tangible and often simple things all organizations can do to help reduce the risk of burnout before it’s too late.

Cultivate a more compassionate work culture

While the pandemic and other societal issues in recent years have helped drive a more employee-centric mindset, the 2022 levels of burnout risk show that more still needs to be done to help nurture inclusive, supportive, and compassionate work cultures. For example:

  • Create a centralized caregiving resource for employees: We know that amid the return to offices, many caregivers face a more significant burden given the upheaval in routine. Centralizing all caregiving resources into a single hub can prevent employees from wasting precious time searching for benefits or eligibility guidelines. Workday created a Global Caregiving Hub, which includes services and resources to support caregivers at different life stages and events, from family planning to caring for those with special needs or chronic illnesses, supporting elderly loved ones, and even caring for pets. People leaders should continuously market these resources to ensure they reach everyone. And, if feasible, simplify the eligibility and submission requirements for specific programs, standardizing the process across as many locations as possible to make it even easier for employees to take advantage of them.
  • Encourage employee support: Another way to make resources and support more accessible is to create a dedicated channel or mental health employee resource group (ERG) that provides all workers with real-time guidance, direction, and support.
  • Drive open dialogue: Open dialogues can be difficult because employees may worry about being judged or facing potential repercussions. To encourage transparent dialogue, managers should ensure that all employee feedback is heard, valued, and respected. Leaders can speak openly about the employee trends they’re seeing, take positive and rapid action, and share the progress made. At Workday, we use our intelligent listening platform Workday Peakon Employee Voice, which gives our employees a confidential platform to share honest feedback about their experience, expectations, and health and well-being. Managers can then use these insights to take meaningful actions and respond to feedback in real-time. This allows employees to feel heard on important topics, from returning to the office to needing more learning and development opportunities.

Empower people leaders to solve problems directly

Information is power. That’s why mitigating burnout starts with listening to your people and meeting them where they are. But some leaders may need training and support to quickly spot the signs of burnout risk and act upon it. So here are some ways you can empower them:

  • Be stress aware: Train your people leaders to be alert to signs of stress among your team members, such as a change in energy levels, sudden withdrawal, a lack of interest, a pessimistic outlook, difficulty coping, frustration, or lower performance levels. If team members show any of these signs, encourage managers to be sensitive and understanding and not to pressure them to discuss anything they don’t want to. At Workday, we offer enablement tools such as on-demand courses in Workday Learning, so our people leaders can learn the skills to have conversations around mental health with authenticity and empathy in the workplace.
  • Give managers the power to act: Ensure that people leaders are not only able to authorize time off requests for well-being or personal reasons with ease but that they’re empowered to drive team strategy and prioritization and that they’re equipped with the knowledge to direct employees to the appropriate benefit or internal communication channel as needed too.
  • Set an example: One solution is to encourage all managers and people leaders to use any available time-off benefits or hybrid work opportunities themselves. This way, they actively role model and promote this positive behavior to their teams.

Create a shared sense of purpose

Employee engagement and all round success come when employees are collectively aligned around an organization’s purpose, mission, and values. Not only do employees want to feel like they matter and are connected to where they work, but they also find meaning when they can see their positive impact on others and the organization. Actions to help drive this include:

  • Explain the bigger picture: It’s important to share how and why an initiative or strategy aligns with the company’s overall mission and vision and how each team’s work contributes to this. Employees are more likely to buy into a strategy when they know the thinking behind it and how their work plays into it. Workday’s purpose is to “inspire a brighter work day for all,” which drives our interactions with all our stakeholders—employees, customers, the communities in which we live and work, society at large, partners/suppliers, and shareholders—and helps us show up for each other every day.
  • Quality over quantity: Focus on your employee’s performance at work, not the number of hours they spend working. If an employee feels their value is only related to the quantity of time they spend working, they’ll stop focusing on what matters: the quality of their work.
  • Prioritize education and upskilling: Ongoing skills development and having a continued sense of growth helps employees feel fulfilled and satisfied at an organization, helping mitigate burnout risk and drive overall long-term engagement. At Workday, we encourage our employees to get involved in gigs, which are short-term opportunities that enable them to learn new skills, make new connections, and gain broader experience to help them on their career journeys.

Above are just some examples of positive actions that can be taken to help mitigate burnout risk. But one thing is clear; inaction is not an option. According to the World Health Organization , anxiety and depression already cost the global workforce up to one trillion dollars in lost productivity each year. And after the events of the past two years, employees are no longer willing to stay in negative work environments. So with more economic challenges on the horizon, leaders must tune into how their people feel and take action to prevent burnout. Investing time and attention in people isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the best thing a company can do for its bottom line too.

Phil Chambers is the general manager of Workday Peakon Employee Voice and co-founder of Peakon, which Workday acquired in 2021. Before Peakon, Phil was the chief technology officer and head of product and technology at some of the most successful start-up businesses, including Gumtree, Qype, and Podio.