Organisations have struggled to keep and attract workers during the Great Resignation, in part because salary increases and enhanced benefits have lost the power to entice workers the way they once did. The pandemic gave many people the time, space, and perspective to re-evaluate their careers, and they’re now seeking more than the usual perks to do their jobs. For them, the exchange with their employer feels empty. They want greater meaning from their work. They’re looking for fulfillment.
According to McKinsey & Company, the pandemic has led two thirds of employees to reflect on their purpose in life and re-examine the work they do.1 PwC found that fulfillment at work is just as important as higher pay when people considered a job change. In fact, 83% of employees said “finding meaning in day-to-day work” was a top priority for them,2 and 69% of employees would change employers for better job fulfillment.3 One out of three employees would even take a job with lower pay if it was more fulfilling.4
Let’s take a moment to clearly define fulfillment. For the purposes of this report, it’s a feeling of contentment or completeness that comes from the accomplishment of our most important goals or the attainment of our highest personal aspirations. Fulfillment occurs when we identify strongly with a purpose and connect to others in meaningful ways.
So why aren’t employees fulfilled in their current jobs? Three big reasons: Not enough challenge or growth, not feeling appreciated or connected, and a lack of ownership or impact. A deficiency in any of these can prevent people from experiencing fulfillment at work.
In our 2022 Global Culture Report, we learned how autonomy, mastery, and connection are vital to creating peak employee experiences. When organisations meet these three psychological needs, employees feel an increased sense of ownership, belonging, and usefulness, which leads to higher levels of engagement and great work. Conversely, when these three needs go unmet, feelings of conflict, isolation, and failure all increase.
This year, our research uncovers just how important it is for people to experience autonomy, mastery, and connection in order to be fulfilled at work—and how organisations can actively meet these psychological needs for employees. Autonomy is more than getting to choose which days each week to come into the office. Mastery goes beyond moving up a career ladder of promotions. And connection requires deeper communication than talking to your team on Zoom. To help employees find fulfillment in their work, organisations need to consider employees more holistically. They need to embrace employees’ passions inside and outside the workplace, create environments where employees can be their whole selves, and enable them to succeed in all aspects of their lives.
Bad news first: Nearly one third of employees are unfulfilled in their jobs. And unfulfilled employees are less likely to promote their organisations or help their organisations succeed, and more likely to leave.
The remaining two thirds of employees do find some fulfillment at work, and nearly half of them report their jobs give them a high sense of fulfillment. This translates into better odds for above-average job satisfaction (+526%), promoting the organisation to others (+297%), high satisfaction with the employee experience (+578%), and wanting to stay with the organisation for another year (+90%). Meanwhile, the odds of burnout significantly decrease (–66%).
Highly fulfilled employees also plan to stay at their organisations three years longer than unfulfilled employees.
Our research identifies four main levers that influence employee fulfillment:
It’s important to note that all these levers incorporate and build on the psychological needs of autonomy, mastery, and connection (detailed in last year’s report) that create peak experiences. Those peak experiences dramatically improve feelings of overall fulfillment in the context of our everyday employee experiences.
Figure 5. EMPLOYEE FULFILLMENT
The four factors of fulfillment incorporate and build upon the the three inherent psychological needs
of autonomy, mastery, and connection that result in meaningful and memorable peak experiences.
Figure 6. EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCES IMPACT FULFILLMENT
Peak and valley experiences have a dramatic effect on employee fulfillment in positive or negative ways.
Yet success in these four areas is a struggle. Less than one third of employees feel they have a firm grip on any them. To help employees find fulfillment, organisations need to rethink how they support their people in each area.
For example, balance is not simply dividing time equally between work and personal activities. It’s often a sliding scale that changes based on the needs of the employee, sometimes daily. When organisations create a culture where employees feel supported and empowered to balance their work and personal needs because they have some control and autonomy over their time at work, they’re more likely to feel a greater sense of fulfillment in their jobs.
Similarly, to build a sense of connection and belonging at work, leaders must go beyond typical teambuilding activities to nurture a sense of inclusion and create a strong, supportive community within the organisation’s larger culture—connecting employees regularly to purpose, accomplishment, and one another.
Organisations should also provide paths for employees to grow, even if pay increases and promotions are unavailable. Mentorship, tuition reimbursement, and special project assignments can all help employees master skills and feel that they’re making progress.
And finally, people can greatly expand the meaning they take from their work by connecting to the organisation’s purpose. This requires leaders who consistently communicate it and help employees see how their work makes it possible.
One final insight that underscores the importance of employee recognition: The feeling of appreciation is a fundamental need that enhances all four fulfillment factors.
For employees to find balance in their lives, leaders and the organisation must give people a say in how they work, as well as what work they do.
Establish policies, practices, and expectations that support balance. Ensure employees have opportunities to take time away from work without feeling any pressure, guilt, or obligation to work during their time off. If possible, provide flexibility in where and when employees do their work. Ensure senior leaders communicate the importance of balance and make it a normal, natural part of the culture.
Dow, the materials science company, knows that where work gets done is secondary to how work gets done. And it gives its people a lot of autonomy.
Through the “Design Your Day” program, employees can co-create their ideal work schedule with leaders according to their roles, responsibilities, and personal preferences. Dow aligns such programs with its DEI efforts to ensure employees feel valued, not just for the work they do, but for who they are. This includes giving more flexibility to employees in all types of life stages and circumstances, including those raising small children. Alexander Doll, Director of Public Affairs Sustainability in Dubai, says, “Our global focus on ‘bringing your full self to work’ and ‘design your day’ is not just a tick-the-box corporate program. It’s a genuine effort to make our lives easier.” 5
Build a strong sense of community at work and provide ways for employees to connect with each other and with their leaders in meaningful ways.
A good place to start is networking and socialisation opportunities during work hours. Highlight a sense of community through shared values, goals, and purpose. Train leaders to get to know employees individually and show appreciation for their unique contributions.
Then go beyond work-related matters. Learn people’s interests and passions outside of work. Give them opportunities and time to pursue these interests, both individually and with others in the organisation who share the same passions. Enable them to develop their personal lives and find balance. This encourages employees to bring their whole selves to work because they’re treated as more than cogs in the machine. Employees will feel a sense of belonging and connection for who they are, not just the work they perform.
American Airlines is in the business of connecting people. But even as planes sat grounded and people stopped traveling during the pandemic, the company still kept their employees connected, whether they worked at the airport or at home.
American aligned every employee back to its purpose: Caring for people on life’s journey. (Even if that journey is during a crisis.) It also used recognition to help employees continue to feel part of the American Airlines family. Even furloughed employees retained access to their recognition tools and learning programs.
Leadership at American communicated frequently and transparently, encouraging everyone who kept their airline going. These efforts to build meaningful connection with each other helped employees feel appreciated, valued, and ultimately more fulfilled. According to Beril McManus, Senior Manager, Recognition, Events, and Engagement, “It’s a family here at American. You have each other’s back, you’re taking care of each other, you’re helping people in the good times and the bad.”6
Growth is not limited to pay increases and promotions. It’s critical for leaders to open avenues for skill development, networking with peers and leaders, and consistent opportunities for coaching and mentorship. A few suggestions:
Your organisation may have a clear purpose, but do your employees know it? And do they identify with it?
If necessary, refine your purpose and communicate it often. Connect employee and business goals to it, and use public and private recognition to showcase how employees contribute to it.
Equally important, encourage leaders to learn what employees need to extract meaning from their jobs. Help employees define and accomplish goals that are personally meaningful to them.
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital improves both the lives of its patients and its employees through a culture of respect and the purpose of providing high-quality healthcare.
It connects its people to the culture and purpose through employee recognition, and its recognition program, “Everyday Amazing,” celebrates all the amazing work employees at NYP do. The program includes appreciation stations that hold notecards and treats, and a mobile app that makes it easy to appreciate each other and remember to create powerful moments of respect and care for patients and families. NYP’s purpose and culture has helped make it one of the top hospitals in the country.
“Healthcare is a very rewarding business, but fundamentally it’s a tough business,” says Dr. Laura Forese, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President at NYP. “We can see tremendous amounts of burnout. One of the things that we know will really combat that is when people feel appreciated.” Appreciation and connection to purpose help build fulfillment for NYP employees.7
Finding Fulfillment Sources
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