Purpose During a Pandemic

The coronavirus has put a spotlight on which employees feel taken care of or connected to something bigger, says best-selling author Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and co-developer of the Goleman EI online learning platform, is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, is available now. 

In the past three months over 20 million Americans have lost their jobs -- grim numbers in a health pandemic that has yet to see a vaccine. No one can say when this crisis mode of working will come to an end.

Meanwhile, what of the employed? How are they doing as they continue to work during this time of upheaval and crisis? Is working from home, not the office, going to become a new normal?

To monitor the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers, the American Medical Association created two surveys aimed at helping organizations track stress levels, identify fears, and develop support systems to help employees maintain a general sense of well-being. Between April and May—as the coronavirus pinned us down at home—the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences collected 800 responses from health care workers to one of these surveys.

Their finding: even though these physicians and other health professionals were concerned with the supply of protective equipment and their ability to keep their families safe while providing COVID-19 care, 57% felt that this crisis had increased their sense of meaning and purpose, reconnecting them to the reason they had embarked on this career path to begin with.

This might explain why so many healthcare workers have continued to show up on the frontline over the past three months. After all, purpose bolsters employee engagement.

There’s another important piece around purpose and employee engagement. Not only does engagement depend on the degree to which we serve something more meaningful, but it is intricately connected with how invested we feel our organization is in our growth and wellbeing.

Some organizations might think it’s an odd time to focus on employee engagement. After all, in this depression-type economy aren’t people just happy to have a job?

But, as others have pointed out, now is the exact time to focus on engagement. There’s nothing like a high-stress pandemic to illuminate where employees do or don’t feel taken care of and, better, connected to something bigger.

Also, no one can be entirely sure this period of remote working will ever really be over. Businesses who reopen today may close again next month. At the same time, more than half of at-home workers say that even as schools and workplaces reopen, they would prefer to keep working from their living rooms at least part of the time.

Research from Gallup illustrates the complex relationship between engagement and remote work: those with some remote work options report the highest levels of engagement. For those who are forced into being in the office or at home 100% of the time, engagement declines. 

This crisis has us asking all new questions about purpose. As we navigate openings, closures, and tumultuous world events, how do we keep the employed connected to a sense of meaning? And if people can connect to something bigger, how do we ensure we care for them in a way that allows them to actually serve their bigger vision?

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification.