What a tumultuous time the past two years have been! The pandemic-era (which we are still in) has been a massive, rapid-paced experimentation with new ways of working. It has brought about a profound shift in how we think about work and the future. There are still many open questions and evolving data. We have written an article series covering some of the emerging trends that we’ve categorised as ‘Purpose’, ‘People’, ‘Process & Policy’, and ‘Polarisation & Activism’. Plus, we share reflection questions on what these shifts might mean for DEI in your context during this highly ambiguous, fast-changing time.

This is the article covering the PURPOSE trends. You can also read the other 3 articles (PEOPLEPROCESS & POLICY, and POLARISATION & ACTIVISM) on the Inclusion Nudges blog, as well as the full article.


Since the onset of the life-shaking pandemic, many people are seeking their personal purpose and questioning how that aligns with their work. One U.S. survey revealed that nearly 2/3’s of respondents were reflecting on purpose due to the pandemic experience. Some of the looming questions are

Is this job worth it for me?
Is it how I want to spend my energy and time?

The implicit work model of making huge personal sacrifices for career growth is being altered with this new anchor of more purposeful work. A global survey in August 2021 of employees found that nearly 60% have left or are planning to leave their jobs to find another role that is a better fit with their personal values, while 50% are seeking roles that offer an improved lifestyle. These motivations are much stronger for leaving jobs now than wanting higher compensation and/or career growth which were common exit reasons in pre-pandemic times. Additionally, this purpose-driven shift cuts across generations. In the U.S., millennial workers were 3x more likely to be re-evaluating their work. While in the U.K., the number employees over the age of 50 who are taking early retirement since the start of the pandemic has more than doubled. While not all job exits are solely due to a lack of purpose, it surely has become an important consideration.

The lockdowns brought to the forefront how pre-existing work models limit fulfilling purpose, making it even more apparent the cost of unequal, biased workplaces. For example, it has been well-documented that many women experience dual work burdens in the professional and domestic spheres of life. That isn’t new news, yet it still didn’t drive massive work redesigns. Now, with the pandemic-era work experience, there has finally been an unavoidable, stark realisation of that for many people.

The old way of working simply isn’t working to support a healthy, connected, and fulfilled life.

Something has got to go. For many women with caregiving responsibilities, there has been significantly higher rates of burnout and resignations from work. Globally during the first year of the pandemic, women’s employment declined by 54 million, or 4.2% while for men the drop was 3% globally. While not all were voluntary resignations, it does demand an immediate response to create healthier work models for all employees, and especially for women, so we can better integrate our personal purpose with work and life in a holistic and sustainable manner moving forward.

When purpose is a primary consideration in work, employee engagement increases. But there is often a gap between knowing and doing. Research in pre-pandemic times, revealed that nearly 79% of business leaders acknowledged the importance of purpose, but only 34% actually used the organisation’s purpose when making decisions. Furthermore, many struggle to facilitate a work environment that stimulates employees’ feelings and experiences of purpose (also beyond the purpose of the organisations where they work). We could have continued along this path of the intention-action gap on purpose, but the pandemic experience has drastically shaken up how many people are viewing the purpose and meaning of their work—and this has implications for employees, managers, leaders, stakeholders, organisation, and society.

Reflective questions

  • Is it expected of you and the leaders in your organisation to be frequently communicating about the organisation’s purpose? If not, is there support to learn how to do this?
  • Is it psychologically safe for all to speak about purpose at work?
  • How do leaders learn about their staff’s experiences with achieving a fulfilling purpose at work?
  • How is purpose used in daily work? Is it part of career development discussions, employer branding, communications, team formation, decision-making, innovation, community engagement, etc.?

Closing Notes:

Thank you to Barry Phillips for inviting Lisa to give an HR Master Class as part of Legal Island’s support for DEI change makers. In that September 2021 session, Lisa presented some of these pandemic-era research trends and led a discussion on what it could mean for DEI.

We hope this summary of research on emerging workplace trends from the pandemic-era has sparked new areas to reflect upon as you focus on DEI and inclusive leadership in your organisations. If you would like to engage us for advisory consulting, coaching, and speaking, please do reach out to us at contact@inclusion-nudges.org

These Inclusion Nudges can support reflection:

The Speech Bubble Intervention in The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook, Inclusion Nudges for Motivating Allies, & Inclusion Nudges for Leaders

Telling Employees’ Stories for Inclusion in The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook and Inclusion Nudges for Motivating Allies

Realising Monetary Loss of Diverse Consumers in The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook and Inclusion Nudges for Motivating Allies

‘Why Not?’ Inclusion & Diversity in The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook and Inclusion Nudges for Motivating Allies

Want to read more? See these other blog articles:

SERIES: The Pandemic-Era Shifts in Work & DEI: Read the other 3 articles in this series (PEOPLEPROCESS & POLICY, and POLARISATION & ACTIVISM), as well as the FULL ARTICLE.

Stakeholder Inclusion – The Power of Speech Bubbles
Ally Through Empathic Perspective Taking
Ask Lisa & Tinna: How Can We Ensure Intersectionality is Best Reflected in KPIs