Humanising the Future of Work podcast

Bonus episode 2: Purpose: Belonging - from comfort to connection to contribution

In this episode our speakers talk about the first of three paradoxes mentioned in this year’s trends report – Purpose. What does it mean to ‘belong’ in an organisation? How do companies balance their tech transformations whilst engaging with the workforce at human level, fostering belonging and individuality, while also prioritising wellbeing which has become an important differentiator for organisations.

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Payal Vasudeva
Human Capital

Payal Vasudeva is a Human Capital Partner in Deloitte’s Financial Services practice, and leads on Future of Work in the market. She regularly engages with senior client leadership teams on the ever changing implications this has on workforce and HR.

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Jackie Henry

Jackie leads the Public Sector business in Northern Ireland, is a member of the CBI Council and the public sector reform committee. Based in Belfast, she also fulfils the role of Senior Partner for Northern Ireland and is responsible for Deloitte’s business in the region.

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Host: Sam Shindler-Glass,

Speakers: Payal Vasudeva, Human Capital Partner, Jackie Henry, Partner and People and Purpose Lead

SS: Hello and welcome to the second podcast of the series where we’ll talk about the first of the paradoxes mentioned in this year’s trends report, Purpose, and the split caused by a tension between individuality that’s driven by technology and belonging that’s driven by people. The top two trends from this year are both in this section and I’m delighted to be joined by Jackie Henry and Payal Vasudeva.

Jackie is the people and purpose lead for consulting and Payal holds that same role for human capital. We’ll dive right into the first question. Payal, what does it mean to you to belong in an organisation?

PV: Thanks, Sam. When I think of belonging what comes to my mind is values. Is there a coherence between my value system and that of the organisation? I joined Deloitte last March and just as well it wasn’t this March because it might have made for a very different experience. But it was around the time that the organisation had started to embark on its purpose journey and that really spoke to me.

The whole intent behind making an impact that matters found a personal resonance with me is being purpose-led is becoming increasingly important to me at this stage and phase of my life. And that helped foster a sense of belonging. And I think that sense of belonging then really impacts the way you show up. You show up as your authentic self. There’s less need to self-edit in order to fit in.

You feel comfortable being yourself and you believe that you can learn and grow and feel supported to fulfil your potential. And I think this then also informs the collective, by which I mean we feel empowered to bring our own perspectives and abilities to a shared common purpose that unites us and that impacts performance. Belonging, in fact, alongside wellbeing, I think, was the number one trend this year in the AT report with 93% of responders agreeing that a sense of belonging drives organisational performance.

And, in fact, it was one of the highest rates of consensus that we’ve seen in a decade of the trends report.

JH: I’ll just build on that, Payal. Actually, I think you’ve touched on quite a few points that I would absolutely agree with there. For me, belonging and a real sense of belonging is when you feel really comfortable, when you’re comfortable to be yourself, you feel really supported in being yourself, and that your voice is heard. And then I think that [sound slips] everything really where you can move off and fulfil your potential.

And I think what’s really critical, and you said this, Payal, is that really clear organisational purpose and with that, the set of values. Importantly, that [sound slips] are true and that they are embedded in the depth and breadth of the organisation. If I think of Deloitte, a purpose is clear, it makes an impact that matters.

And then within values, for me, what really stands out is the value of caring for each other. And they really work for me. And that really helps me feel that I belong. And then to move onto the second point you mentioned of being heard, of showing up and being heard, I think that’s really important that organisations listen and that when they listen, also that they act on what they are hearing.

So, that’s absolutely key for me. And for me, I’d put that at the absolute core of our people and purpose agenda to make sure that we continue to shift things.

SS: That fits really nicely together because, Payal, you talked about showing up as your authentic self and, Jackie, about the importance of you being yourself within that wider organisational purpose. What do organisational initiatives, like a response to Black Lives Matter, mean to that sense of belonging?

PV: I think it’s very important for an organisation to be truly inclusive, for there to be the sense of belonging for all. And it’s important to galvanise at times of crisis, Black Lives Matter, which has served as a real awakening for the continued injustice and inequality that is so deeply ingrained in society. Our response, both as Deloitte, but also across organisations, needs to be visible, vocal, and actionable.

So, we all take individual and collective accountability for delivering and embedding change. And I think this sends quite a powerful message we are a community, that your voice will be heard and we won’t leave anyone behind. But I also think that we don’t have to wait for moments of crisis to act. We can, in our everyday, foster belonging and inclusion.

I think it’s in our micro actions and behaviours in the everyday that we create inclusive cultures. And one should not underestimate the powerful impact that that can have.

JH: I think, Payal, you’re right. We shouldn’t have to wait for a crisis to act, absolutely correct. I think if we go into initiatives, the important thing is they can only really drive belonging if they are honest and authentic, and of course, that they are layered from the top, and that they align to values. I think what’s important in terms of the honesty point is that you need to move off and be really clear in what you have done, what you have not done.

And then in terms of actioning, what you will truly execute, so that you can be held to account for that. I found the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter really difficult. I found that I felt really inadequate. And I felt inadequate because I didn’t understand enough of the issues. I could see and hear of the hurt and pain in black colleagues, but I just didn’t understand enough about what these issues were and where they were coming from.

But what I did understand, clearly, is that I didn’t have the answers and I didn’t understand. And what was really helpful was the generosity of colleagues at that time helped me understand the issues, to share their views with me and across the business, and to help us chart a path through.

We opened with those black listening sessions. Payal, you were part of those. And they were so powerful, but also, really challenging in terms of that point of what we had not, but what we have not done to support. So, in bringing that back, for me, some organisations at times of crisis, move quickly, actually, to try and say or do what they think is the right thing.

But what they need to do is pause and really understand what’s important to the people who are directly impacted before they move off. But again, going back to the point I opened with and linked to Payal’s point, we really need to do better on this al year round. It isn’t a point of having to wait until a time of crisis to act.

PV: I absolutely agree, Jackie. I think the listening is so important and with that, I think, comes the learning and the unlearning that goes along with it. And I hope that this continues to be an ongoing dialogue and journey that we’re on.

SS: What came through in both of your answers was that challenge of creating belonging and it hasn’t just arisen as a result of Black Lives Matter, but actually, COVID-19, more widely, has driven the challenge about how you drive belonging when people are working from home. So, how can organisations approach that challenge of making people feel belonging when they’re working from home?

PV: I think it’s been both amazing and encouraging to see so many activities just mushroom through this period of virtual working. From everything like cooking sessions, to Zoom dances, to quizzes and debates. And I think all this does foster a sense of community and belonging. In one of my roles leading on the future of work proposition in the market, it’s been quite something to witness how C-19 overnight changed our ways of working.

And the longer this pandemic continues, the more organisations and individuals will start to redefine their work practises. And we’re already starting to see that in how we have adapted and got quite creative. Recent surveys have indicated that on balance, a positive sentiment to home working and an increased desire by the workforce for greater choice and flexibility.

So, we can expect that our ways of working will be increasingly hybrid going forward. A combination of physical and virtual. And the challenge for organisations will be in making this a seamless experience between the two. I think employees have seen a more human side of organisations with leaders being more visible, showing genuine concern for their people.

And wellbeing has really taken centre stage with this heightened sensitivity that every individual’s circumstances are unique. And line management needs to be checking in on their teams more often to see if they’re doing okay. So, while we might miss our watercooler chats, so to speak, we have replaced that with some deliberate and real interaction by inviting people into our homes via our virtual offices.

And, in a way, I think it has also given us a whole new appreciation for, perhaps, those little things that we just took for granted when we were in the office. So, I think these practises now need to continue but with more deliberate communication and ongoing interaction to maintain that sense of community.

JH: I think that’s right, Payal. For me, the thing that really sited [?] what we did next in terms of looking after our people was, again, it went back to values and priorities for our people. And we’ve set our priority as wellbeing for our people at the core of our people priorities. As well as that, I’ve already mentioned the value we have of caring for each other.

So, we put people, then, at the front and centre of our COVID response and then that really allowed us to centre around that and site ourselves around that mixture we’re putting the wellbeing and care of our people at the heart. And then from that, we were able to talk to our people, getting back into what I’ve said so far on listening.

So, listen to our people and talk to our people about the ease of working from home, of how they felt staying connected might work for them, of what staying connected meant for our people. And, again, as we moved through the early weeks and into months of COVID-19 lockdown, I think that was really important. It was also really important, again, to talk about how people felt vulnerable over that time. Isolated.

And, again, as I’ve said, we know that many people were working in very complex home circumstances where their working environment wasn’t entirely appropriate in the early days and how we could really better support them. All of that created that better sense of connection and alongside that, the things we’ve put in place that, Payal, you’ve mentioned in terms of new ways of working.

Zoom watercoolers, Zoom coffees, and all of that. At the core of it, for me, was honesty and having that come through from our leaders in the business. We were talking about where they had issues in staying connected or issues with complex home circumstances with kids out of school, etc., as an example. And again, in terms of staying connected, another aspect for me that worked really well in Deloitte is when we asked all of our people leaders to check in with our people and to do that really regularly.

And, of course, then ask our people in surveys to come through and give us honest feedback on what we could do better to better support and communicate with them and help them stay connected. So, it’s been incredible learning, but a really interesting time and lots that we will pull through and continue to in our business in terms of new ways of working and our wellbeing programme as well.

SS: Thanks very much. And we’ve framed the challenge there around how you create belonging. And actually, it’s part of a broader challenge about how you create purpose in an organisation, particularly in a dynamic and difficult world that we live in today. How can organisations be purpose-led in a world of increasing political polarisation?

PV: That’s a great question. I think that now, more than ever, we need to connect on our similarities rather than focus on our differences. This pandemic has been a great equaliser on a lot of levels as we’ve all gone through a range of emotions as a human race through this period. And while some have been more impacted than others, no one has been unaffected.

It has also reminded us that people are motivated at the highest levels when they can connect their work contributions to a greater sense of purpose and mission. When they understand how their unique talents, strengths, and contributions are making an impact on larger goals. And we’ve witnessed this over this period with meaningful work driving productivity, innovation, and community.

A great example of that was Sainsbury with Feed the Nation as their mantra. And we’ve seen amazing cross-industry partnership and collaboration, things like designing and building ventilators. So, I think we have an opportunity now to be increasingly purpose-led by creating some clear connections across individuals’ jobs, team objectives, and the organisation’s mission, and to strengthen that purpose link [?].

JH: I think, Payal, to build on that, I would say that in a complex world with pandemic and political polarisation, actually, if you don’t have that very clear purpose-led core to the business, you’re just not going to stay in the game. It is massively important to organisational sustainability. It’s massively important to your clients, customers, and also your people. I know that there are many other respectable commentators who agree with that point.

I think it is that point of being clear in your purpose and then staying really clear and true to that. But importantly, you need to make sure that you have purpose embedded in the absolute breadth and depth of the organisation. And then it’s that North Star for your people and for your decision making, that you stay really clear, authentic, and true.

So, it’s also about making sure that you provide the environment that I’ve talked about of a real listening environment where people can have their voices heard and have their views respected. And then that does crate a great environment for views to be exchanged and us all to be educated on different viewpoints and points of difference.

SS: Thank you very much. We’ve talked about how that’s all about integrating purpose right into people’s jobs all the way down. And the trends this year also talk about the importance of doing that with wellbeing. So, how can organisations make the shift from wellbeing initiatives that we’ve seen in the past to actually integrating wellbeing into the flow of work itself?

PV: Sam, I think that C-19, again, has just put wellbeing front and centre for organisations, so physical, mental, and financial security became paramount. And organisations have prioritised wellbeing of their employees and shown a degree of humanity and transparency in their leadership styles that I think has been more pronounced than, perhaps, wellbeing initiatives in the past.

If I cite our future of the city survey, wellbeing seems to have improved during this period of home working for the majority. However, nearly a quarter reported the opposite. And I think that when it comes to wellbeing, we have to look at it in totality as we cannot have 25% of our workforces struggling with their wellbeing. And I think we have an opportunity now to fundamentally redesign work towards outcomes instead of activities, with wellbeing, as you say, embedded in work design with an increased focus on work life balance.

Because as we all know, the boundaries between the two, I think, have been further blurred through this period. And then leveraging technology to provide ways in which we can connect with each other seamlessly, as well as focusing on developing the skills needed to navigate the new normal as it starts taking shape. And while a host of tools are valuable, like wellbeing apps that may remind you when to take a break or when to get up and exercise, I think it’s equally important about how we show up in our daily interactions.

Checking in on each other, having a genuine interest in each other’s wellbeing, making the right support channels available, that can’t be a one size fits all solution. It has to be tailored to individual need. And I think that here, even line manager and team lead capability really comes to the fore, to be able to manage an environment where, like I said previously, we start seeing more hybrid ways of working, partly physical, partly virtual.

And then I think from an employer’s perspective, this is equally important. Because work related stress, anxiety, depression can cause absences and turnover. And conversely, a positive and motivated workforce contributes to business performance. So, I think it’s truly a win–win here in terms of looking at wellbeing programmes, making them integral to just how we work.

And I just see this coming into more and more prominence now because of almost the shared experience of what we’ve been through over the last few months.

JH: Well, Payal, that’s exactly the issue that we have been grappling with in the people and purpose role that we have. To really try and pull through wellbeing from being an initiative to be at the very core of how we’re designing our work. When we both started in our people and purpose role back on 1st June of last year, that’s what we had. We had a good, solid wellbeing initiative, but one that was only really accessed by a very small proportion of our people.

And the big challenge, as you know well, has been us trying to really embed wellbeing into the core of our work and designing our work, indeed, around our people’s wellbeing. So, I guess, what we’ve managed to achieve so far is opening that wellbeing programme to all of our people, making it accessible. I think one of the positives of C-19 and home working has been that we have put a lot of our content online, opened those to all of our people, and running a lot of that through Zoom sessions, which have made it much more accessible to many of our people.

But importantly, the real key is the designing our work around our people’s wellbeing. We’ve now got frameworks that we are rolling out to our projects to try and do that. But it is early days and we’ve much to do on that. Alongside that, we do the things you’ve mentioned, Payal. We have our apps, we have our happiness index where we’re really trying to get a regular pulse on the wellbeing of our people.

But I think that us, like many organisations, we have much to do on this, but we’ll continue to work hard, won’t we?

PV: I think, Jackie, as you were saying and just thinking about the diverse things that we’ve touched on so far in this podcast, for me, it’s really emphasised again how deeply integrated all these dimensions are when we start talking about belonging, and purpose, and wellbeing, and inclusion. And I think the way we have framed our agenda and continue to drive that forward this year, it’s very much about all those components really sitting together and working in tandem.

SS: Excellent. We’ve talked about loads of different elements there from work life balance to the technology, and the trends report has talked about similar elements and things like giving workers more autonomy in how they do their work, which actually presents a huge number of people who are potentially responsible for this. So, where should wellbeing sit in an organisation and who’s responsible for it?

PV: I think this isn’t something that is just business or HR. It is actually everyone. It needs to be a collective agenda that is championed right through the organisation. I think wellbeing comes to life when it is integrated into the way we work and we all take responsibility for it. Not just treat it like a programme that is for someone else to deliver on.

I think wellbeing is going to be one of the key talent metrics going forward, to measure the health of the business. I also think employees will have a higher revised set of expectations from their employers when it comes to wellbeing.

JH: I think it absolutely needs to sit across the entire of the business. It just cannot be that initiative sitting to the side. We’ve got to find it in the core of how we do business and how we support our people. I think that it’s going to be the differentiator for organisations coming out of C-19 and of their future sustainability, it is that important.

SS: Excellent. Thanks very much, both. Unfortunately, that’s all we’ve got time for today, so thanks very much, Jackie and Payal, for your time and for a very thoughtful discussion. And thank you, everyone, for listening. We look forward to seeing you next time where we’re going to talk all about potential.

Read the related blog post here.

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