EngagementCulture‘The Cycle of Renewal’: why purpose is core to business success

‘The Cycle of Renewal’: why purpose is core to business success

Unpacking the context and meaning of the ‘Cycle of Renewal’ with Wolfgang Seidl, partner and leader of workplace health consulting UK & Europe at Mercer

During the pandemic, employees around the world were exposed to significantly greater levels of stress as they adapted to isolation, new working-from-home rules, economic constraints, and general disruption to their daily lives.

Two years later and the multiple stressors which plagued the minds of employees show no signs of waning in the post-pandemic world.

The overall ability of employees to find and maintain resilience and productivity during this time inspired Dr Wolfgang Seidl to create ‘The Cycle of Renewal’. The concept is based on cutting-edge literature on resilience, and insights from positive psychology, and is comprised of several pillars aimed at helping businesses support employees through difficult times. It reinforces the idea employee well-being can increase engagement, resilience and performance and make employees feel like they belong by focusing more deeply on what drives and supports them.

HRD Connect spoke to Seidl about the purpose of The Cycle of Renewal, and its core components.

What is the cycle of renewal?

The Cycle of Renewal aims to meet people where they are and positively contribute to resilience and productivity. It is a guide to action and collective awareness that most of us are in the same boat and are looking for meaning again that could energise us. I have written it through the lens of helping individuals psychologically get back on track with their goals, objectives and purposes.

Why did you create it?

People are in limbo; they are bruised from the pandemic, lockdown, the conflict in Ukraine, and the cost-of-living crisis. We must not forget that health and wellbeing are also inextricably linked to financial well-being.

The concept was an attempt to lift people’s spirits without ignoring where they are; an acknowledgement that people are upset and potentially traumatised, but then also, so what, what can you do now?

Did anything or anyone inspire the concept?

One was Viktor Frankl’s (the Austrian psychotherapist incarcerated in Auschwitz) commentary. He said that when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

Adam Grant’s recent New York Times article also said the vast majority of people are now in a state of ‘languishing’, where they notice their brain fog and there is a loss of direction for some. The other two extreme ends on his continuum are ‘flourishing’ and ‘depression’.

So, in the vein of positive psychology, I set myself the task of helping people with where they are and moving on, rather than lingering.

Could you explain the core pillars of the cycle?

There are seven pillars. The first is Purpose, which needs to be described positively because we are much healthier when we align with a purpose that has meaning.

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This idea was core to Frankl, who developed the notion that meaning is the essence of what makes us thrive in life. He maintains he was able to endure the horrific experiences at Auschwitz because he was not focused on dying, he was focused on living afterwards.

Similarly, if we feel our job has meaning, and that our work transcends into something with a bigger purpose, then we will feel more comfortable. In addition, if that purpose goes beyond personal fulfilment – if it is something bigger – then we tend to be healthier and more engaged.

Purpose is really important, and it resonates with many cultures. For example, in Japan, they talk about ikigai, which means “your reason for being”. Steve Jobs translated it to mean “what makes your heart sing.” But whatever the purpose, it has to be identified by the individual, and not an organisational goal thrust upon them.

Healthier is the second pillar. Research is unequivocally clear that if we experience a high level of purpose, we are also physically healthier. People often think it impacts ‘only’ your psychology and emotional wellbeing, but people who live purpose-led lives tend to show better health outcomes in general and even live longer.

The third pillar, ‘Purposeful use of Time’, denotes that if we live a life guided by our purpose, we automatically use our time more intentionally. And choosing time consciously for most people also means connecting with others who share a similar drive or values, which leads to teamwork.

If I purposefully use my time, then I will have more control and autonomy over my time. This is essential because clever business leaders will be able to foster that type of organisational culture.

Control is the fourth pillar, and can be where tension arises.

Purpose undoubtedly makes us more productive and healthier. But we are only likely to be less stressed if control of our workflow is self-determined and not subject to external micromanagement. This is where tension can arise – you cannot have purpose without some autonomy.

Decreeing what your purpose should be, is unlikely to resonate. Having it assigned to you is unlikely to energise you or make you feel happy. A successful purpose, therefore, comes from a more sophisticated alignment between some control over your workflow and the overarching goals of the organisation.

The final pillars centre on ‘expertise’, ‘belonging’ and ‘values’. The former suggests that when people flourish while applying themselves, they will gain expertise.

I will become happier if I do more of what I do very well. If people use their personal and natural strengths, they are more likely to persevere and develop expertise, giving them more control over their work, which feeds into purpose.

‘Belonging’, the sixth pillar, notes that purpose-driven individuals seek out others who share their values and a sense of belonging will develop. I’m so glad we are having discussions about purpose but want to warn about purpose-washing as aligning the purpose of individuals with the overarching purpose of the organization is a more complex and caring process than just decreeing a purpose. It needs psychological safety – a culture in which people trust that their voice is being heard and where the team is open to interpersonal risk-taking and learning from mistakes, rather than brushing them under the carpet. That kind of culture leads to significant productivity gains as well, as the famous Google study has shown.

‘Values’ is the final pillar in the cycle before we return to purpose. If your values are aligned, you feel more yourself, more energised, and play to your natural strengths.

While there are many variables that can affect employee purpose and drive, there are just as many solutions and pillars that can be actioned to ensure a healthier environment where employees believe in their purpose.

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