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the power of purpose and personal growth...

By Dominique Richards

Over the last 18 months or so, COVID has presented us all with various challenges both in work and our personal lives.

It was back in the height of the UK lockdown (March 2020) that I began to ponder on what exactly was going to get me through the challenging time ahead. Initially, I (perhaps naïvely) thought “it’s ok, normality will be back in a couple of months” only to be met with the reality that there was no true end date in sight.

For the foreseeable we would be staying at home, unable to meet with family and friends, and leaving our homes only for an hour of exercise per day. I eventually came to the realisation that relying on this idea of ‘the return of normality’ was not going to suffice in getting me through it.

Off the back of this, in April 2020 I decided that I was going to use this time to focus on personal growth – investing my time in finishing the Psychology degree that I was completing at the time, as well developing my fitness, and fully immersing myself in my interests. Fast forward to March this year, some reflection time allowed me to realise that this focus on personal growth had offered me a sense of purpose (as well as giving me the chance to tap into my what my wide purpose was) and that ultimately this was what had enabled me to get through the challenges.

Whilst completing my master’s in work psychology, I became interested in how this mapped out in the workplace. I therefore decided to explore this within my dissertation to understand employees’ experiences of purpose and personal growth over the course of the pandemic within the workplace. This revealed some very interesting findings, both from existing literature but also from my own study.

Several studies in the area concluded that both purpose and personal growth are fundamental to the way in which individuals navigate life challenges and ultimately create happiness.

This is unsurprising when we consider Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl’s, emphasis on purpose within his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’.

Frankl noted that, within concentration camps, those with a strong sense of purpose were the ones who survived and concluded that meaning and purpose can make life worthwhile, even when enduring immense suffering. We can therefore see how purpose appears to play a key role in navigating the challenging times. So what about when our work isn’t aligning with our purpose?

Within my study, it emerged that during the times when work itself did not fulfil an individual’s sense of purpose, people often looked to other areas to fulfil their sense of purpose – both inside and outside of work. For example, some individuals reported joining internal networks or volunteering at food banks.

Purpose is also seen by many as a driver of personal growth as it motivates individuals to strive for their highest potential. Personal growth is particularly interesting in relation to COVID. Firstly, my research found that individuals who were able to consciously grow over the pandemic reported feeling more positive, whilst the opposite occurred in those who felt they had limited opportunity for conscious personal growth.

This is well-supported within wider psychological research, which has found that conscious personal growth is linked with improved wellbeing and the ability to view life challenges positively. We can therefore see that personal growth opportunities (through learning and development opportunities) may be an enabler in creating happiness in the workplace. Another interesting finding in relation to personal growth was around the notion of ‘post-traumatic personal growth’.

This captures the idea of positive changes experienced by people in response to a traumatic experience. In the case of COVID, this is essentially ‘silver lining’ effects that occurred in employees’ personal growth during this period. What became apparent from my study that nearly all participants felt that their resilience had increased significantly over the course of the pandemic.

Therefore this was deemed an area of (unconscious) post-traumatic personal growth. Interestingly, this was often coupled with an increased sense of purpose – giving further weight to the argument that a strong sense of purpose can increase our belief that we can overcome challenges.

So, what can we take from this in creating happiness in the workplace?

There are a number of key points to take from this, but to maximise the benefit and give some tangible means of applying the findings from my study, along with the wider research, I have provided some recommendations below. These offer some insight into how organisations may use the research to create happiness within the workplace.

In relation to purpose, here are some recommendations:

It would be beneficial for organisations to enable employees to explore their purpose and understand what this may be. Purpose is different for everyone, but it appears that having a sense of purpose can help us through challenging times and eventually lead to us feeling fulfilled and happy again.

Open and honest conversations with line managers about purpose can enable employees the opportunity to flag when their work isn’t aligning with their purpose. This offers the chance for managers and their direct reports to work together to better align their work with an individual’s purpose, as well as the opportunity to explore how an individual may fulfil it outside of their role. For example, through joining internal networks or even outside of work.

In relation to personal growth, here are some recommendations:

Individuals feel happier when they can consciously grow, it is therefore important to ensure that there are adequate learning and development opportunities in place for employees.

In many organisations, COVID resulted in L&D budget cuts and therefore reduced opportunity for conscious personal growth. However, it is apparent that during the ‘build back’ phase, organisations need to place L&D high on the priority list to ensure their workforce can engage in conscious personal growth (and therefore feel happy!)

Whilst budget may not be able to be allocated immediately, lots can be done prior to this to get employees thinking about their personal growth.

For example: Encouraging employees to think about the direction they would like to take their future personal growth, for instance what strengths would they like to grow? Are there any areas they feel weaker in that would benefit from some attention?

Off the back of the above, offering the opportunity to sign up to L&D courses/opportunities that will be going live in future. This may counteract the feeling of being ‘in limbo’ whilst waiting for opportunities to go live.

Hopefully these insights show how powerful both purpose and personal growth can be to employees in overcoming challenges and creating happiness within the workplace and the recommendations useful in kick-starting your thinking into how your organisation can tap into them moving forward.

Wishing you all much happiness,

Dom x

P.S. If you’re on the journey to creating a happier place to work to benefit from creating purpose within you or your colleagues work, we’ve got lots of tools, tips and ideas for how to do it!

- Get in touch for a chat about your challenges and goals - book a call today and kick start your journey to happiness at work -

- Explore our new F.I.T. series for ways to help create happiness and purpose by unlocking you and your colleagues full potential in key topics such as facilitation, leadership and storytelling. Book a date with us - check out our events page and book yourself on a free taster session or a workshop to discover more -

Always remember... don’t look for happiness, create it!


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