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Creating a sense of purpose in a hybrid workplace

The Great Resignation, which some are now calling ‘The Great Reflection’ has shown that employees today expect more out of their jobs and that they are no longer willing to compartmentalise their work as separate from the rest of their lives.

Whilst purpose - a sense of direction, intention, and understanding that the contribution we are making is impactful - is personal, organisations play an important role in how we express it. A recent McKinsey research suggests that 85 percent of people feel they have a purpose, yet only about 65 percent of them believe they can articulate that purpose. The same research shows that about 70 percent of people say they define their purpose through work, with millennials most likely to see their work as their life calling.

The Great Reflection

On average, we spend 90,000 hours on the job over the course of our lives, so it’s no wonder that nine in ten workers would take a pay cut if it meant having the opportunity to participate in more purposeful work. The pandemic has been a catalyst to elevate personal purpose and values, and a recent Gartner survey of more than 3,500 employees around the world in October 2021, confirmed that 65 percent said the pandemic had made them rethink the place that work should have in their life.

Pay will always be a factor but it is far from being the only motivator. People are motivated when they feel valued and create impact. Employees want acknowledgment, growth opportunities and to feel valued, trusted and empowered and they increasingly want to bring their authentic selves to work. The Gartner research also shows that a human-centric approach, which provides people with more control over their work and work environment, also makes them more productive, however it requires employers to rethink their approach, from making hybrid work models human-centric, not location-centric, to providing employers with flexibility to balance personal needs and autonomy to achieve the desired organisational outcomes.

Purpose is not what we do, it’s how we do our job and why—the strengths and passions we bring to the table, no matter where we are seated. The degree of meaning and purpose we derive from work is probably the most significant difference between a job and a career. Psychological research has consistently shown that when employees feel that they belong to, they will not only tend to perform better, but also experience higher levels of engagement and well-being. On the other hand, a lack of belonging will increase the risk of alienation, burnout, and underperformance.

The importance of shared purpose

Shared purpose and culture have always been key to organisational performance, but they are particularly critical in a hybrid setting. When people are in the office, they can feel the energy of being together and experience a sense of common purpose by running into colleagues and chatting about strategy, customers or what’s new with the company. However, when working remotely, whilst they may still experience this virtually, it is significantly reduced.

It is therefore essential for leaders to be intentional about articulating the purpose, discussing the big picture of the overall goals, and ensuring people feel their work is uniquely connected and necessary to the success of their team and the entire organisation. Teams need to understand how their work connects and intersects, and they need to be reminded frequently of mutual dependencies because these are less obvious if people aren’t in the office together. To create a sense of shared purpose, organisations need to foster belonging in their employees, and leaders need to act as advocates if they want to retain their employees. And that, in fact, is much more challenging than attracting new talent.

At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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