How purpose can rejuvenate your staff

Post-Covid employees are evaluating work/life balance more than ever, with 65% rethinking their work life.

We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex world, filled with bewildering ambiguity and constant upgrades. Big Data algorithms and digital empires are part of our new reality. Covid has layered further complexity on top of this. Today we have higher anxiety levels and more people suffering from depression than ever. 

Employees need purpose at work

Nearly two-thirds of US-based employees said that COVID has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. And nearly half said they were reconsidering the work they did because of the pandemic. Finding meaning has become the quest of our time. 

study by Gartner Consulting found that post-pandemic, 65% of employees re-evaluated the role work of in life. More than 50% had started to question the purpose of their day-to-day job. The cry for meaning is echoing through the organisation up to the executive suites.

The Great Resignation is a local trend. 

Old Mutual found evidence that global movements such as the Great Resignation are also taking shape in South Africa. Also known as the Big Quit and the Great Reshuffle, this is a trend in which unhappy employees are voluntarily resigning. But if you think this is a purely European or American trend, think again. Look around you and see how people are looking differently at work. People are evaluating the value of work-life balance like never before. 

A study by BCG revealed that 85% of companies undertook transformation in the past decade – but 75% failed because hidden fears, insecurities and attitudes of the people involved were not addressed. A happy staff requires clarity of purpose and understanding of why they do what they do. The purpose at work has become the new frontier for building an engaged workforce.

We have a new pandemic. 

If Covid has taught us anything, says a McKinsey report, it’s that employees are hungry for the human nature of work. Employees are mentally drained. They want interpersonal connections, a shared identity and a renewed sense of purpose. They want to feel valued and have meaningful interactions. Every executive knows that job performance is directly related to job satisfaction –  and knowing one’s purpose is the modern-day criterion for job satisfaction. 

Eighty-three per cent of employees ranked ‘meaning in day-to-day work’ as their most important value, reports PwC. “Employees see purpose as a way to bring meaning to their work and understand the contributions they are making to the company, as well as society,” said says Chief Purpose and Inclusion Officer, Shannon Schuyler. Notice that PwC regards purpose at work as important enough to have a designated Purpose Officer. 

Poor mental health is affecting the bottom line

Someone working with you has poor mental health. Research by SADAG found that one in four employees have been diagnosed with depression, taking more than 18 days off from work due to the condition. 

Dr Renata Schoeman, a psychiatrist and leadership lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), says, ‘More than 40% of all work-related illness is due to stress, depression, burnout and anxiety disorders.’ 

Research by South Africa’s  HSRC on post-Covid mental health indicates that 33 percent% of employees are depressed, 45% afraid and 29% lonely. 

Dr Marion Borcherds executive manager for Health and Awareness at Transnet calls for greater attention to our nation’s psyche and workforce. 

In her address at the National Economic Development and Labour Council summit held in September this year, she stressed this point: ‘It is apparent that the country’s mental health burden has been amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic, and that workplaces could provide safe spaces to provide meaningful programmes and interventions.’ 

South Africa has the worst mental health in the world.

It gets worse. We may call ourselves the rainbow nation but the state of our nation’s mental health is not so rosy. Research in 2021 on the Mental state of the World, rated South Africa worst among 34 counties, ranking lower than war-torn Yemen, Iraq and the DRC. 

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) paints a similarly gloomy picture, reporting that suicide rates in South Africa rank tenth worst in the world. There are 23 known cases of suicide in South Africa every day, and for every person who commits suicide, there are at least ten attempts. 

Where does this leave us? 

We live in a new reality. Having a strong purpose makes people feel motivated and energised. Purpose creates mental resilience to handle stress better. Research indicates that meaning at work is the bedrock for a fulfilled life. 

All the above research points in the same direction: Employees need to find meaning in their daily tasks to stay fully engaged. Having a clear purpose at work instils commitment. Do you want engaged staff? Then give them purpose. Or watch them resign.

A lesson by Socrates – techniques of Logotherapy

In this article we are going to expand on some of the tools and techniques that could be used in a coaching session. As an existential analysis that brings to awareness the Clients’ spiritual realities Logotherapy is future focussed emphasising the meaning in our life that is yet to be fulfilled. Our most powerful motivating force is the pursuit of meaning (more fundamental than the will to pleasure of power). We are hardwired to express, do more, create things and shake the world. We are strongly motivated to live with purpose and get frustrated when our quest for meaning is hampered.

Logotherapy recognise human existence in three domains of body, psyche and spirit. We see the client in totality, as a complete human being recognising all three dimensions and the tension that exists within those. Frankl speaks of a healthy noö-dynamism or spiritual tension. A conscious field between what one has already achieved and what ought to be done. Of what one has already accomplish and the new tasks that awaits, what one is and what one ought to become. We don’t thrive in tensionless states and flourish when we are striving for something worthy of our attention. In any Logotherapy session, the spiritual domain presents the strongest capacity for change. It is in the spiritual domain that we have the power to stand up for what we believe in. Not to be confused will-power, our spiritual power presents us with the capability to defy the odds. Referred to in Logotherapy as our freedom of will, the defiant power of the human spirit knows no boundaries. As Nietzsche said, “if you have a strong enough why, you will overcome any how”.

There are five primary techniques used in a Logotherapy intervention – the Socratic dialogue, Self-distancing, De-reflection, Attitude modulation and Paradoxical intention. Any of these techniques are likely to be more effective when the facilitator appeals to the clients’ spiritual integrity. In this article we are going to pick one technique, the workhorse of Logotherapy – the Socratic dialogue. In a Socratic dialogue the coach facilitates the clients’ discovery of meaning by calling on his spiritual knowing through provocative and challenging questioning.

Socrates (470 – 399 BC) claimed to be ignorant and typically started a dialogue using what is now called Socratic irony – by pretending to be ignorant and wait for some kind of explanation. Socrates would then listen to the explanation and deliberately cause confusion. Because he claimed to not know anything, he therefore didn’t have to teach anything. “I do know that I do not know”. He didn’t have (nor applied) positive knowledge in his dialogues but rather used negativity paradoxically. Socrates introduced the concept of irony and used this expensively in his dialogues. The most ironic question of all was probably posed during his sentencing when he suggested that he should be given a free meal and pay for the work he was doing.

Another of his concepts is “aporia” or being at a loss not able to answer and then to ask for a specific definition of something. His dialogues often didn’t end with any specific conclusion. Socrates would call into question what he sees in front of him happy for the dialogue to end without results. This he thought makes the listener self-active and reflective.

A good Socratic dialogue moves from the local to the universal and back. It moves between personal experience and universal truth with the emphasis on how something was directly experienced. Socrates tried to uncover true essence of the topic creating clarity between an idea and the real experience. He was constantly looking for contradictions and encouraged the individual to test the truth. A coach using the Socratic dialogue plays the role of a midwife whereby the client comes to the truth by themselves. By using leading questions, a client may come to a self-realisation.

Socrates proclaimed we each have an inner voice, a divine will (daemon) deep within. Like the oracle of Delphi, we each have an inner knowing. Frankl called this our pre-reflective ontological self-understanding – our wisdom of the heart. The Socratic dialogue is used in line with the core principles of Logotherapy recognising that deep inside the spiritual core of every human being resides a sense of knowing who we potentially can become and the motivation to discover what we are born to do.

Socrates suggested one should never pour information into a student, but rather extract from him what he already knows. Frankl believed it is the task of the logotherapist not to tell clients what the meaning in their lives are but rather to elicit the wisdom that is hidden within the spiritual domain. Extracting something that is unique to the client presupposes that we stay as close to the clients’ spiritual core as possible. We recognise success when the client experiences a meaning-moment which can range from a surge of positive energy, in body posture, a verbal expression, a reflective moment or an outright comment that they are experiencing a new insight into a situation at hand. The sensitivity with which this must be done is similar than the work of an archaeologist brushing away sand to reveal archaeological treasures that were already there. This is a reminder that meaning is not something that can ever be created or prescribed to the client. The client is helped to discover (or re-discover) his inner values.

Frankl felt that the spiritual core can never become sick but can become buried, disconnected from the psyche. That is why we need to not only work on the conscious level but also with the subconscious intuitive knowledge of the client – self-knowledge as well as knowledge about life.

Clients come to us when they are in crisis. The nature of the crisis in Logotherapy is understood as a crisis of meaning and the clients’ intuitive spiritual self-knowledge to grasp meaning. Logos (meaning) is greater than logic. In other words, we cannot always logically reason out for ourselves why something has happened. Meaning always happens in the dance between self and life. Between what is, and what ought to be according to the moral guidance of what is right.

Like the other logotherapeutic techniques a Socratic dialogue requires a lot of improvisation and intuition. There are many ways to probe a clients’ unconscious and hidden knowledge about personal meanings. Consider the following:

  • Recall of past meaningful experiences
    • Dream interpretations that focus on unconscious hopes and wishes rather than on repressed traumas
    • Guided and unguided fantasies to reveal what the client considers meaningful
    • Meaningful experiences of people the client considers to be role models
    • Recall of peak experiences showing that life does have meaning

The Socratic dialogue uses five guideposts to probe the areas in which meaning is most likely to be found:

  • Self-discovery: The more you find out about the real you behind all the masks you put on for self protection the more meaning you will discover.
    • Choice: The more choices you see in your situation, the more meaning will become available.
    • Uniqueness: You are most likely to find meaning in situations where you are not easily replaced by someone else.
    • Responsibility: Your life will be meaningful if you learn to take responsibility where you have freedom of choice and if you learn to not feel responsible where you face an unalterable fate.
    • Self-transcendence: Meaning comes to you when you reach beyond your egocentricity toward others.

To uncover meaning moments from the past the coach could ask some broad questions such as:

  • What works or projects have you done, or what goals have you achieved by using your talents and skills which you are proud of? Maybe some of these touched others in a meaningful way. Tell me about times like these.
    • What great and meaningful experiences have you had in your past – like little gifts have you received from life – through your relationships with loved ones, your culture, from nature or maybe even your religion? Think back and tell me about them.
    • What hardships have you withstood in the past – where did you take a stand which left you feeling stronger and better than before? Moments which were a test to your courage and perseverance? Tell me about times you were victorious in the face of adversity.

Depending on the particular situation a coach may want to de-demonise a life-crises by using imagery.

  • When discussing death: The Grim Reaper makes us two promises. I will come to you all, and I will come in my own time. How does this impact on your life? How does it impact on your relationships with your loved ones? Death closes doors. Are there any closed doors in your life? Death takes away. Look around and see what you are left with after he has taken it away. What do you see?
    • In case of guilt: If guilt had a voice, what would it say to you now? You have made a mistake and the seeds of guilt were planted in the past. How may it bear positive fruit in the present and in the future?
    • In case of pain and suffering: They say that diamonds are forged under pressure, gold is extracted through the intense heat of a furnace. Might anything good come out of this situation you are in? What hidden treasures could be uncovered by this experience?
    • Dealing with great setbacks and bitter disappointments: You say this problem is like a mountain in front of you – but is it not so that the most beautiful meandering rivers flow around mountains. Unstoppable. How will you not be stopped?

Socratic questions in a Logotherapy session work towards logos (meaning) and do not rely on logic. Through provocative questioning, seemingly walking with a white stick, the coach prods around in the discovery of meaning. Pointing towards the intuitive wisdom of the heart this technique can bring the client to self-realization and a new understanding of the potentialities and responsibilities that exist. After any Logotherapy session the client should leave with hope and responsibility. The building blocks of a new outcome are the belief that it is possible and the resolve to take action.