How to Prevent High Performer Burnout and Keep Your Workforce Engaged

Have you checked on your top performers lately? It turns out, your most engaged employees are at high risk of burnout and turnover.

According to a study by the University of Cambridge, companies “risk losing some of their most motivated and hard-working employees due to high stress and burnout—a symptom of the “darker side” of workplace engagement.”

Employee burnout is marked by physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion combined with self-doubts about their competence and the value of their work.

In this article, we’ll discuss how managers can recognize and take steps to prevent burnout:

1. Learn employee burnout signs.

Do you know what burnout looks like? Half the battle is knowing what to look for so you can intervene early and mitigate the risks.

Be on the lookout for signs of burnout on your team:

Exhaustion or difficulty sleeping
Lower productivity
Mistakes and forgetfulness (e.g., sloppy work or missing meetings)
Higher rates of illness (more sick days)
Absenteeism, lateness, or plans to leave the company
These indicators are especially significant because they are so out of character for your top performers. Pay attention to these signs so you can reach out to your employees early and address the root issues.

Pro Tip: Teach your team members the warning signs of burnout too. You won’t always be able recognize burnout until it’s too late. Encourage employees to reach out to you when they are struggling so you can address the issues together.

2. Assign fair workloads.

Organizations have a tendency to assign heavier workloads and responsibilities to their best performers. And it makes sense—top workers have proven capable and reliable, so extra work or more important responsibilities can be trusted with them. But this tendency can lead to overloading and overworking your best people.

Pay attention to how you are delegating and balancing workloads across the team. For larger teams or cross-functional and remote teams, it can be difficult for leaders to have clear insight into the work people are doing day-to-day. That is why regular team check-ins, one-on-ones, feedback systems, and project management tools are so important.

Make sure your team is properly staffed to accommodate the amount of work required. Clarify performance goals regularly and revise as needed to meet business requirements.

When managers keep a pulse on the amount of work distributed among teams and check-in regularly with their employees, they are better able to keep workloads balanced and fair for everyone.

3. Provide proper training.

If employees aren’t clear on how to do their job, they will quickly become frustrated and stressed. Give your employees the training and tools they need to succeed.

Review your onboarding process and work processes to make sure the way you do things now is effective and efficient. Get feedback from employees to identify gaps in training or opportunities to improve current workflows.

Evaluate your employees’ roles to ensure their responsibilities and job expectations align with the job description and employee’s skills. Make sure your team understands the processes, standards, and technology to get the job done and make ongoing training and development a priority.

4. Create a feedback culture.

Feedback is one of your most powerful tools as a manager. Feedback from your employees allows you to hear directly from your team what is working well and what isn’t so you can get insight into the issues or employees that need attention.

Burnout thrives in isolation, so make sure you are connecting with your employees regularly for team meetings and one-on-ones. Check-in meetings let you touch base with your employees to:

One-on-ones give you an added layer of insight into each team member’s performance, workload, and general wellbeing so you can identify signs of burnout early and address concerns before they become a problem.

When you build a feedback culture, employees will feel more comfortable communicating with you when things aren’t going well. Plus when people feel heard and listened to, they are more likely to be engaged at work.

Pro Tip: Use employee engagement surveys to identify who may be most at risk for burnout so you can develop an action plan to intervene and support your employees.

5. Prioritize and enforce work-life balance.

One of the best ways to reduce stress and combat burnout among your workforce is to promote a healthy work-life balance.

Here’s a few ways you can support work-life balance in your office:

Value vacations.
Vacations are an important break from the daily grind and help people de-stress. Make sure your employees have PTO and are actually using it. Limit how many PTO days roll over so your team is incentivized to use up their time off.

Encourage mental health days.
Encourage paid mental health days too. If you notice an employee is particularly stressed or tired, give them permission to take a day to recharge.

Offer flexible schedules and remote work options.
Incorporate remote work options and flexible scheduling if your business allows for it. This will give employees more autonomy over how they do their work so they can work in a way that meets their needs without added stress around their calendars.

Set clear boundaries.
In today’s “always on” world, it’s easy for employees to over-work themselves. Protect your employees by setting clear boundaries around work hours and expectations and model that behavior yourself. For example, if you want employees to unplug after work, make sure you aren’t answering emails at 10 p.m. This gives your team permission to disconnect until they’re on the clock again so they can have a healthier balance between work and home.

High employee engagement is a great goal, but it can come with side effects like burnout if managers aren’t careful.

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Six Ways to Avoid Isolation Fatigue While Balancing the Demands of Remote Work

Covid-19 has confronted businesses and employees with the acute challenges of remote work, underscoring the need to provide the right tools, planning, and support to ensure people stay healthy, connected, and productive. Managers are focused on working with employees to ensure the right infrastructure is in place, not just in technology but also in the way they set up expectations, processes, and priorities.

Of course, if remote workers lack the right tools or access to information, they’ll feel disconnected, disorganized, and disengaged. So it’s been vital to put in place the right tools, from computers, microphones, and cameras to the right software and apps. To create a productive ecosystem, employees also need easy access to group and shared drives and a plan for setting up team goals, deliverables, and timelines. Sharing schedules and documenting team members’ preferred working hours are also important.

But working from home is the new reality for many people. It’s not just equipment and process that are needed; employees are confronting new issues around feeling disconnected from the office while facing new pressures at home. So leaders need to think about new ways of helping workers manage expectations around both office and family.

This means managers must be realistic about the challenges. Working at home may mean more multitasking. Some employees may be less productive, so encourage employees to set achievable daily tasks and goals. If those go well, gradually make the goals more ambitious. Get employees to agree on workloads, projects, and priorities with their manager and communicate them to the team.

Keeping the whole team connected is crucial. Get the communication wrong and team collaboration grinds to a halt, customer focus could fail, and innovation could be stifled. So it’s important for each team member to be aware of others’ projects, timelines, and goals. Syncing responsibilities and deadlines with teammates helps manage projects, maximizes efficiency, and ensures that everyone’s work gets done. Online meetings should have clear goals, agendas, and outcomes, so send pre-reads sufficiently in advance.

Connectivity is only one solution for enabling remote working. Failure to provide remote workers with the right support can affect their motivation, productivity, and work-life balance. Isolation fatigue could easily set in, so encourage employees to think about these steps:

Set Expectations With the Family

Encourage employees to agree with partners and children about schedules, quiet spaces, homework time, and when it’s okay to interrupt. Make sure they take time to get fresh air or have some fun. It’s important to be flexible and to keep checking that these expectations work for everyone.

Set Boundaries With a Workspace

Urge employees to carve out a space, zone, or approach to work that’s separate from family members when they need privacy or are on a call. Wearing headphones or placing a sign on the back of their chair or monitor works as a clear signal to others.

Build a Routine, And Practice Good Self-Care

Encourage a routine that helps get work done efficiently and effectively. For some people, this means rebuilding their home office environment. For others, it’s about establishing a new routine. It’s important to set reasonable boundaries so workers don’t feel that they’re “always on” when working remotely. Breaks need to be prioritized to avoid burnout. And routines need to include staying connected with social communities, including business resource groups and work support groups on platforms like Workplace, Facebook, and Instagram.

Stick to Meeting Schedules

Working remotely doesn’t mean working reactively. Give employees the freedom to push back on last-minute conversations and spontaneous meetings—particularly those unrelated to their priorities.

Socialize With Colleagues

Isolation is a common problem for remote workers, so it’s more important than ever to come together. Try creating and participating in chat threads where team members can talk about common interests. Video calls are better to connect with colleagues, even just for an end-of-day watercooler chat. They also help introverts—who’d rather not socialize—periodically connect with team members.

Communicate with Clarity and Positivity

Working remotely makes it vital for communications, especially by email or chat, to be clear and positive, or they may be viewed as cold or indifferent. Happy emojis, fun photos, and generous compliments all are tools to maintain morale and build rapport.

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The hidden but very real cost of working from home

In a time of social distancing and remote work, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon raised a surprising topic during his latest earnings call with Wall Street analysts: togetherness. “Our firm has always had a team-oriented apprenticeship culture, and we benefit from being and working together,” he explained. While many CEOs seem in no hurry to refill their office buildings, and several have told employees they need never return to the office, Solomon made it clear that he wants his colleagues back in the office as soon as is safely possible. He himself has never stopped going to the office through the pandemic.

Solomon’s desire to bring his employees back together physically even as the coronavirus continues to rage around the globe, particularly in the U.S., isn’t rooted in any simple calculation of efficiency. Facebook, Fujitsu, Nationwide, Otis, Siemens, Twitter, and other major companies have announced that large portions of their workforces may or must work remotely from now on. It saves money and may increase productivity, managers say. Many employees prefer it. A recent survey by Korn Ferry found that 64% of workers feel that they’re more productive at home.

But a group of hyper-successful contrarians—Apple, Amazon, Goldman, Google, and others—have pointedly not offered the indefinite-WFH option. They want employees back physically together. Considerable evidence supports their stance. It also shows that when employers offer indefinite WFH, they’re messing with something more powerful than they may realize.

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Igniting individual purpose in times of crisis

Creating strong links to an individual purpose
benefits individuals and companies alike—and could
be vital in managing the postpandemic uncertainties
that lie ahead.
by Naina Dhingra, Jonathan Emmett, Andrew Samo, and Bill Schaninger
In these stressful, surreal times, it’s understandable for CEOs to fixate on urgent
corporate priorities at the expense of more intangible, personal considerations. How
important is getting your people to think about their “purpose in life” right now when
you’re worried about their well-being—not to mention corporate survival?
It’s more important than you think. During times of crisis, individual purpose can be a
guidepost that helps people face up to uncertainties and navigate them better, and thus
mitigate the damaging effects of long-term stress. People who have a strong sense
of purpose tend to be more resilient and exhibit better recovery from negative events.1
Indeed, our research conducted during the pandemic finds that when comparing people
who say they are “living their purpose” at work with those who say they aren’t, the
former report levels of well-being that are five times higher than the latter. Moreover,
those in the former group are four times more likely to report higher engagement levels.2
Purposeful people also live longer and healthier lives. One longitudinal study3 found
that a single standard deviation increase in purpose decreased the risk of dying over
the next decade by 15 percent—a finding that held regardless of the age at which
people identified their purpose. Similarly, the Rush Memory and Aging project, which
August 2020
1 Stacey M. Schaefer et al., “Purpose in life predicts better emotional recovery from negative stimuli,” PLoS One, Volume 8,
Number 11, 2013,
2 See Jonathan Emmett, Gunnar Schrah, Matt Schrimper, and Alexandra Wood, “COVID-19 and the employee experience: How
leaders can seize the moment,” June 2020,
3 See Patrick L. Hill and Nicholas A. Turiano, “Purpose in life as a predictor of mortality across adulthood,” Psychological Science,
Volume 25, Number 7, pp. 1482–6, May 8, 2014,
began in 1997, finds that when comparing patients who say they have a sense of
purpose with those who say they don’t, the former are:
• 2.5 times more likely to be free of dementia
• 22 percent less likely to exhibit risk factors for stroke
• 52 percent less likely to have experienced a stroke
And if this wasn’t enough, individual purpose benefits organizations, too. Purpose can
be an important contributor to employee experience, which in turn is linked to higher
levels of employee engagement, stronger organizational commitment, and increased
feelings of well-being. People who find their individual purpose congruent with their
jobs tend to get more meaning from their roles, making them more productive and more
likely to outperform their peers. Our own research finds a positive correlation between
the purposefulness of employees and their company’s EBITDA4 margin.
Against this backdrop, CEOs and other senior executives should pay more attention to
individual purpose as companies return to operations and begin feeling their way into
the subsequent phases of the “next normal.”
It’s a sure bet your employees will be doing just that. People seek psychological
fulfillment from work, and, as the crisis recedes and companies ramp up new ways of
working, some people will experience friction, and even dissonance, around issues of
purpose. Workplace interactions that felt meaningful and energizing face-to-face, for
example, may feel much less so over a video call. Meanwhile, other employees will be
looking to see if their companies’ actions during the crisis matched their companies’
high-minded words beforehand—and basing their career plans on the answer. And at
companies where employees excelled during the crisis, business leaders will want to
find ways to recapture, and sustain, the sense of organizational energy, urgency, and
speed—without the accompanying fear and stress.
In this article, we explore the organization’s role in individual purpose by highlighting
results from an ongoing research project into the intersection of organizational
purpose and individual purpose, and examine how the two interact and fuel each other
through the medium of the employee experience. Along the way, we highlight ways that
companies can help employees find or articulate their purpose, explore how it applies to
their working life, and seek to make purpose a tangible part of people’s jobs. Finally, we
hope to provide an occasion for deeper introspection on the parts of CEOs and other
leaders themselves. After all, if we don’t reflect on life’s direction and meaning when life
as we know it feels so threatened, when will we?
Get personal
Individual purpose can be thought of as an overarching sense of what matters in our
lives, and we experience purposefulness when we strive or work toward something
4 Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.
personally meaningful or valued. Research shows that most people say they have a
purpose when asked, although it’s often difficult for them to identify or articulate.
Yet even when a person’s purpose is clear, it can intersect with an organization’s
purpose in counterintuitive ways. Consider Alice, Maya, and Peter—fictitious composites
drawn from our experience. All three work for a global healthcare organization with a
strong, well-communicated purpose: to transform the lives of patients and their families
by developing lifesaving therapies. This is music to Alice’s ears—she sees her purpose
as alleviating the suffering experienced by people living with chronic diseases; the
company’s purpose is a big part of why she joined. Maya appreciates the company’s
purpose, but it’s much less inspiring for her than it is for Alice. Maya feels a deeper
sense of meaning from taking care of her family and supporting it financially. Peter,
meanwhile, clearly sees his purpose as caring for others and alleviating their suffering.
Yet unlike Alice, who loves her job because of how well it aligns with her purpose, Peter
is saving his paychecks and counting the months until he can quit and begin nursing
school, where he expects to start truly living his purpose.
As these examples suggest, what people need from work and what drives them
personally can be complicated. Sometimes an individual’s purpose aligns perfectly
with organizational purpose, as with Alice. But other times it’s only a partial match, as
with Maya and Peter. And for still other employees, it may be a poor match or none at
all.5 As CEO, part of your job as organizational architect is to ensure that these two
different forms of purpose—organizational and individual—are connected and mutually
reinforcing, and are ultimately a consideration in everything from hiring, feedback and
incentives, and learning to matching individuals to jobs they will find most fulfilling.
Before you can do any of that, however, you need to help your employees better
understand their own purpose and how it operates, starting with the general types that
help describe and characterize it. And don’t forget: this applies to you, too. The more
purposeful, open, and empathetic the leader, the more likely that he or she can instill the
trust necessary to encourage people to leave their comfort zones and explore how their
purpose might be better met at work.
What we measured
Human values are an important factor when defining individual purpose, as they help
people determine what is personally important to pursue in life and work. Therefore,
to better understand how people think about and experience purpose, we developed
a survey to map the type and intensity of a range of universally held human values
including tradition, security, power, and achievement, among others.6
Subsequent statistical analysis of the survey responses highlighted nine common ways
that people orient themselves toward purpose (see sidebar “Nine types of purpose”).
While an individual’s purpose may hew quite closely to one of these nine types (Exhibit 1),
5 To learn more about designing work to be more meaningful, see Dan Cable and Freek Vermeulen, “Making work meaningful: A
leader’s guide,” McKinsey Quarterly, October 2018,
6 Our survey was adapted from the academic work of Shalom Schwartz, whose theory of basic human values identifies ten
values that subsequent research has demonstrated are universally recognized across cultures. For more, see Shalom
Schwartz, “An overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values,” Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, Volume 2,
Number 1,
it may instead arise from combinations of them, with the relative emphasis and priority
of elements varying from person to person. Exhibits 2, 3, and 4 show three such
patterns (or purpose archetypes) that arose from our research.
Academic research and our own experience tell us that an individual’s sense of purpose
isn’t fixed or static—it can be clarified, strengthened, and, for some, may serve as a
lifelong aspiration, or North Star. And, while what people find meaningful tends to
evolve over long timeframes, it can shift relatively quickly, particularly in response to
the kinds of life-changing events that many people are experiencing now as a result of
the pandemic, or the more recent racial-justice protests. A leader previously fueled by
personal achievement, for example, might emerge from the trauma of these times more
motivated by issues of equality or by contributing to community. Or a leader formerly
motivated by freedom and independence might find the tug of stability meaningful.
What to do about it
The pandemic has been a cruel reminder for companies everywhere of how important
it is to never take healthy or motivated employees for granted. Since individual purpose
directly affects both health and motivation, forward-looking companies will be focusing on
purpose as part of a broader effort to ensure that talent is given the primacy it deserves.

We surveyed 509 people representing a range of personal demographics (gender, age, ethnicity,
and education) and occupational characteristics (industry, sector, and role). We asked them
about the type and intensity of their life values by having them rate the importance of a series of
statements, each related to a value that academic research has found to be universal. Statistical
analysis of the results showed that respondents’ life values clustered in one of nine categories.
Taken together, our results suggest that an individual’s purpose maps to one of the nine—or is
formed by combinations of them.
The nine types of purpose, and examples of their characteristics, are as follows:
Nine types of purpose
While it may be early days in understanding precisely how an individual’s purpose
connects to what he or she wants and needs from work—or how these tie to an
organization’s purpose—now is the time to start figuring it out. Start by simply discussing
these matters with your team openly, honestly, and thoughtfully. By treating this as
the beginning of an ongoing conversation about purpose, meaning, and what your
employees want from work, you can help people better identify and articulate their
purpose, and even start finding ways to help them live it more fully at work—an outcome
that will benefit everyone.

Simply talking about the pressures can help heighten your colleagues’ sense of purpose
at work, as will encouraging your team to step back from the immediacy of the crisis to
focus on the bigger picture and what matters to them.
One effective way to do this is through periodic, guided conversations with your direct
reports. Don’t think of these as project check-ins, or even as purpose check-ins, but
rather as empathetic check-ins—a chance to understand how employees are doing and
learn how you can support what they need. Have your company’s managers make these
meetings a recurring part of how they lead as well.
QWeb 2020
Individual purpose
Exhibit 3 of 4
Archetype 3: The caregiver
Higher importance Lower importance
Caring Stability
Primary type: Secondary type:
Purpose activators:
Being able to help others or mentor
A work–life balance that provides
opportunities to respond to the needs
of family and friends
A sense of security and order
Purpose blockers:
Being pulled away from family and
friends or isolated from colleagues
Uncertainty, or lack of an orderly path
‘Caregivers’ nd meaning in choosing how and when they care for others;
they care less about material gain or what others think of them.
QWeb 2020
Individual purpose
Exhibit 4 of 4
Achievement Conservation Caring
Freedom Respect Tradition
Enjoyment Stability Equality +
Make personal reflection a business priority
By creating a space for honest discussions about purpose—including your own—your
team will hopefully be more willing to explore the topic for themselves. A “purpose audit”
can help. Create the time that people need to consider how their work is fitting into
the bigger picture, using the nine types of purpose as a starting point to explore what
elements resonate and why. When people can articulate a purpose, do they feel they are
living it? What barriers prevent them from living it more fully? How—if at all—have recent
events changed the way they think about purpose? One deceptively simple ice-breaking
question that we’ve seen elicit rich conversations is: “When do you feel most alive?”
Sharing purpose with others can build accountability and act as an accelerator that
helps people consider where and how to bring more of their purpose to work. With your
help, the crisis may provide new opportunities for employees to take action in line with
their purpose. It may even motivate you to further explore your own sense of purpose
and see how you could benefit as well (see sidebar “One CEO’s story”).
Help people take action
There are many things leaders can do to help ignite purpose for their colleagues.
For example, one large retailer dedicates time for a regular “purpose pause,” where
teammates are encouraged to celebrate their involvement in local community projects
and to identify new ones to support. The company uses an app to spur connectivity and
increase the odds that good ideas are applauded and shared.
For its part, Zappos created a customer-service line to answer questions and help find
solutions for people dealing with the pandemic. The kicker? Callers need not be Zappos
customers, and the topics can be anything—from food delivery and finding essential
supplies to literally anything on a caller’s mind. To be sure, with business slower and
call volumes down, the hotline gives the company’s customer-service reps something
to do between their regular calls. Yet it also offers reps the chance to help others and
connect with them, which is one way that people can help satisfy the psychological
need for belonging. And research around job design suggests that even simple tasks
are perceived as more meaningful when our psychological needs are satisfied.
As these examples suggest, purpose and meaning can be valuable considerations in
adjusting day-to-day routines or even in designing roles. But even if you’re not ready
to go as far as Zappos, there are other ways to give people license to be purposeful
now. When possible, create opportunities, such as the following, for people to live their
purpose during this time by tailoring projects, support, communication, and coaching to
suit different needs, values, and situations:
• For the up-and-coming leader who views her purpose as freedom to learn, grow, and
experiment, empower her to try new things in service of customers and stakeholders,
keeping projects within guardrails but without multiple layers of oversight. Be sure to
frame any negative outcomes as learning, not failure.
• For a team member who values preserving and upholding tradition, invite him to help
plan important organizational or community rituals (like team events or company days).
Such events create connection and can be critical to build and maintain culture.
One CEO found that articulating his sense of purpose was the first step to becoming a more
observant, empathetic leader. Here’s his take.
“I want the relations I form to be true, to have relevance, depth, meaning. This is a big part of how
I see my purpose. I’m willing to make myself vulnerable and open to connect with people in a
truthful and meaningful way.
“[Since articulating my purpose,] I believe I’m more honest with myself and faster to recognize if
I might be doing something that’s motivated by my own vanity, fear, or pleasure. I know I’m more
open to feedback and criticism. I spend less time talking about weekend or vacation plans and
more time exploring what motivates, frustrates, or scares people—the things that really matter.
I make faster connections with people now—in part, I think—because of this.
“With my team, I do my best to check in emotionally during meetings, and not be afraid to share my
own weaknesses and doubts. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll say so, and I find all of this strengthens
my impact and credibility as a CEO. The idea of being vulnerable in front of a group of people is no
longer something to be ashamed of, but rather a strength. I’m a better listener now.
“Whenever I feel disconnected from my purpose, I get flustered, lose sleep, and generally feel
stressed out. This is a biological signal for me to stop, get back to what matters, and search for
whatever it is that feels untrue so I can make it truthful.”
One CEO’s story
• For colleagues whose purpose is aligned with equality and opportunity for others,
consider connecting them to the forefront of company initiatives and projects where
your organization is helping the communities in which you operate.
Keep in mind that some people view their purpose as caring and providing for those
closest to them—and practically everyone else in your organization will be feeling
anxiety around these issues right now. Be sure to tailor your communication to address
their needs, too, so that this time takes less of a toll on their personal purpose.
Reimagine a purpose-led future
As much as the pandemic is testing your leadership right now, the real test with purpose
starts as the immediate crisis fades and the hard work of reimagining and reforming
your business for a postpandemic world begins. Embedding and activating individual
purpose more thoroughly in the various elements of the employee experience will take
hard work and commitment. While it’s too soon to say what best practice will look like,
it’s safe to say that the more you can connect purpose to the following areas, the more
likely the benefits will build upon one another:
● Recruiting. Explicitly connect the purpose of the organization to the personal
contributions an individual in the role could bring to the company. By backing it up
with real, purpose-rich stories from hiring managers who have seen this in action,
you will increase the odds of attracting people whose purpose fits well with the
organization and the work, and help them be productive sooner.
● Onboarding. Make purpose part of the first conversation with both the manager and
the team to build a shared vocabulary. Start people off right by helping them reflect
on how the work and the organization connect with their own purpose. In fact, applied
research finds that encouraging new employees to focus on expressing personal
values at work allowed them to significantly outperform peers, be more satisfied at
work, and increased retention by more than 30 percent.7
• Feedback and performance management. The value of strengths-based feedback
is well known; purpose is a natural extension that can help connect an individual’s
broader self to their work. Activating purpose during feedback sessions may even
help buffer people against the uncomfortable aspects of receiving negative feedback.
Try starting a performance conversation with a reflection on purpose and how the
work the individual has been doing—as well as their performance—illuminates their
purpose and values.
Other employee journeys present moments for purpose as well. Ask yourself at each
point: How could we make purpose part of this conversation or interaction? What
unexpected benefits might result? How might the accumulation of these small moments
build a purpose movement in my team and organization?
These are challenging times, and people who are able to draw energy and direction
from a sense of individual purpose will weather them with more resilience, and will
recover better afterward. Companies that embed and activate individual purpose in
the employee experience can benefit as well, including through improved performance.
And, of course, purposeful work and a purposeful life are enduring benefits in and of
themselves—ones that everyone should have the opportunity to seek.
Source :

Four Ways to Maximize the Business Impact of OKRs

Organization-wide alignment around the top objectives of your company is critical in today’s fast-paced business environment. Despite this, focus and commitment remain a challenge for many organizations. All too often, teams get siloed and get overly focused on their priorities, which makes them stop collaborating while also losing sight of how their work contributes to the top goals of the business.

To ensure clarity about what the business wants to achieve and execute on those objectives, we need to be specific about the who, the how, and the when. It isn’t just about clarity, but also about finding an efficient and scalable way to set, manage and achieve goals across the whole organization.

One proven methodology to achieve this is with Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

OKRs require adopting measurable goals and reviewing them frequently, ideally quarterly. They also require transparency to ensure cross-functional alignment and timely communication around progress and roadblocks. With OKRs (when deployed properly) your team can have clear milestones and measurable results, which enables your organization to laser focus on the objectives that really matter.

With that in mind, here are four ways to maximize the business impact of OKRs and drive the results you want.

1. Get Support From the Top
OKRs require that your organization develops new processes and skillsets. Any change is hard in large and complex enterprises so it’s important to start with the people who have the most influence in the company—your leadership.

OKRs work to drive alignment, provide clarity, and increase accountability across the organization. However, not every executive will be on board with transitioning to a new methodology; that’s to be expected. The way you change this is by getting them to try OKRs for themselves and their team and see the benefits of using the system with their own eyes. Once they realize that the fuzzy thinking and fuzzy execution is gone, they will become the evangelists of the system.

Don’t forget to focus on training and coaching your leaders because OKRs do have a learning curve and this will help them feel comfortable with the methodology and give them the confidence to roll it out to their teams.

2. Focus Your OKRs on Top Priorities
We all know that if everything is a priority then nothing is a priority. Your managers may think they have 20 priorities, but adopting OKRs will help them to focus on the top 3-4 that will really move the needle.

OKRs are not a to-do list— they are a strategic way of conducting business operations. However, these are the most critical objectives and it may be difficult to align everyone in the organization around a couple of OKRs so be prepared for that.

Planning is a critical element here. If you don’t already have a process for establishing top company goals, this can be an important first step. Ideally, the organization has at least annual planning for top company goals where they set a strategy. This is followed by a quarterly goal setting at a departmental and team level to ensure on-going alignment and transparency throughout the year. This frequent and ongoing assessment of progress is critical for the business to feel confident it will achieve the objectives it sets.

3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
OKRs are rooted in transparency. When everyone knows what everyone is working toward, you can all pull in the same direction.

Technology can be a huge help in this regard. We chose to use Betterworks to power our OKR program, and this transparency has increased the level of communication:

among the executives
between managers and employees and,
between employees themselves—in and out of the team
This frequent, ongoing communication around goal progress, measurement, and achievement helps businesses ensure ongoing differentiation and create an environment where employees can contribute the most.

OKRs help the individual align their expectations, have a voice in defining team priorities, and their work is a part of something bigger which they co-created so it brings out ownership as well.

When deploying OKRs, it may take time for managers to “build the muscle” around these more frequent conversations. Remind the managers that these conversations are important as the transformation happens one person at a time. Training is key and reminding managers that practice makes perfect.

4. Roll Your OKR Process Out Gradually and Be Open to Learning, Innovation, and Refinement
When you begin to roll out OKRs across the organization, take the time to listen to feedback from your managers and employees and adapt accordingly. There is no one “right way” to do OKRs—just the best way that fits your organization:

“OKRs have such enormous potential because they are so adaptable. There is no dogma, no one right way to use them; it’s up to you to find your points of emphasis and make the tool your own.”

— John Doerr, Measure What Matters
Customize processes so they suit your business needs, even down to the different departments and teams. The process should be flexible enough to tailor it to the unique needs of the different teams in your organization like Sales, Marketing, or HR.

It’s important that your HR tech partner can support this configuration and that they have the skills and the experience to “meet your company where they are” and grow with you.

Whatever you do, don’t quit— iterate!
There will be bumps in the road and friction that develops as you deploy OKRs throughout your organization—this should be an expectation. OKRs are a process and it will take time to adapt to the new model and adapt it to address the key learning points that inevitably come up over time.

OKRs take time, effort, training, and technology to pull off successfully but they are worth the effort because OKRs can truly transform your company.

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Don’t Let the Pandemic Sink Your Company Culture

If you are like many of the executives with whom we’ve been talking over the last few months, you and your leadership team invested years cultivating an effective culture — one that is both strategically relevant, because it prioritizes the behaviors essential to the success of your business, and strong, in the sense that employees trust that it is real and value it. Such cultures help companies attract and retain great people and contribute to fantastic bottom-line performance.

But the Covid-19 pandemic could weaken your organization’s culture. Will your culture take a hit because people can’t meet in person, making it harder to solidify their shared beliefs? Will they be less able to use your culture as a roadmap for making good decisions in a tumultuous time? How can you continue to build and leverage your culture while your organization is operating mostly remotely?

Research has shown that even when you create a culture that is strategically aligned and strong (that is, widely shared and intensely valued), it won’t help you over the long run unless you also develop a culture that is adaptive in real time. In fact, a study that one of us (Jenny) conducted found that organizations that were strategically aligned, strong, and had built in the capacity to adapt quickly to dynamic environments earned 15% more in annual revenue compared to those in the same industry that were less adaptable.

Cultural adaptability — which reflects your organization’s ability to innovate, experiment, and quickly take advantage of new opportunities — is especially important at this historic moment. Leaders must continue to cultivate their company’s culture to help people stay focused on the most important initiatives even as they contend with the unprecedented challenges and continuously changing conditions presented by the pandemic.

What practices can you apply to ensure that your culture becomes or remains adaptable? Here are three ideas:

1. Hire and promote people who are resilient, adaptable, and exhibit grace under fire. These are the scrappy people who will dig deep and use their ingenuity to navigate the complex uncertainties presented by the pandemic. These people are rebels — they show up with both curiosity and perspective, embrace novelty, leverage differences, and keep their heads even when the world is turned upside down. They create positive change.

Of course, if your culture is not yet adaptable, be candid when hiring such people. Tell them that you are looking to them to serve as change agents.

2. Curate and communicate examples of how the organization is adhering to its cultural values through new practices. Because things look so different in a Covid world, you will need to actively seek out, curate, and highlight new examples of your desired culture.

The leaders of a major pharmaceutical company that is headquarters-centric realized that Zoom meetings, necessitated by shelter-in-place orders, offered a much-more-level playing field for employees in other locations, enabling the company to be more inclusive, one of its core values. So the company instituted a new operating norm: If one person needs to attend a meeting remotely, the meeting will become remote for everybody.

Similarly, a retail chain that values openness and transparency started to conduct regular virtual forums during the pandemic that were open to all employees. In the forums, leaders listen to what is on people’s minds and answer their questions. And once the shelter-in-place order forced it to have employees work remotely, a media-entertainment company that had previously discouraged remote work realized that not embracing it was inconsistent with its values of autonomy and responsibility. Leaders conveyed this insight to employees explicitly in their internal communications and have committed to offering options for remote work even after the pandemic ends.

3. Model transcendent values. When the pandemic started, leaders of &pizza, a Washington, D.C.-based pizza chain that serves creative, oblong pies, decided this would be the perfect moment to leverage their culture. As they told one of us (Francesca), their founding philosophy was “doing good while being good” — to both serve and reflect the communities where their shops are located.

The leaders of &pizza created an initiative in March 2020 to provide free pies to health workers in hospitals dealing with Covid-19 patients. And recognizing how the pandemic might strain their own “tribe” (i.e., its employees), they raised workers’ hourly pay and increased their benefits — for instance, they offered free access to Netflix and paid for their travel to work. The company also gave employees who wanted to join protests after the killing of George Floyd paid time off. The company has retained 90% of its employees, and the 10% who left are mainly people who asking to be let go because of personal reasons. (Before the pandemic, its normal turnover rate was 10%.)

It is very likely that your organization has already adapted more quickly and effectively during the pandemic than you ever thought possible. Build on that progress by communicating that accomplishment to your employees and instituting the practices we’ve described. Doing so will almost certainly strengthen your culture — one that will help your organization better contend with whatever lies ahead.

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3 Things You’re Doing On Zoom That Are Killing Your Leadership Presence

If you want people to see you as a leader, you have to look like a leader. Certainly, you should consider how you present yourself physically on video calls. But it is more than your outfit and backdrop you need to think about. You want your interactions and communications to go smoothly and not let anything detract from your substance. Here are three things you might be doing that are undermining your authority and presence on Zoom:

1. You are experiencing technical problems.

Test. Test. Test. When it comes to technology, try to check how the program runs before you need it. Check that you have properly downloaded the software. Check that your video and microphone work. Look over the options and tools that can enhance the call before you get on.

Technical difficulties frustrate people. And regardless of whether they are your fault or not, it can be difficult for people to disassociate you from the difficulties. Namely, people will be frustrated with you. Take a little extra time before the Zoom call to test your technology and ensure a smooth meeting.

2. You are talking over people.

One technical problem you may experience is slow internet speed or lag time. That is, it may take longer for someone else’s comments to transmit and be heard. If you notice this, try to resist the urge to start talking immediately after you think the other person has finished their thought. You could also acknowledge the lag time and suggest to participants that they say something to indicate they have finished their thought so that others know when they can chime in.


Leaders should not be the ones doing all the talking. They should be listening, too. If you are not talking, mute your microphone. This is particularly important if you are taking the Zoom call in a noisy house or a public place. Your microphone might even cause an echo. Noises are distracting and can detract from your presence.

Being a professional means acting professionally. Test your technology to avoid snafus, don’t talk over people and mute your microphone when you are not talking.

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The New Normal Is The Distributed Company

There has been a sharp increase in demand for property in upscale vacation areas, such as Lake Tahoe, about 200 miles from San Francisco, or The Hamptons, 100 miles from New York, from well-paid people fleeing the city and looking for properties with more space, as distributed work environments become the new norm and their children will also likely have to study from home.

More and more companies are making it clear that the distributed work environments are the future. It started with companies like Square or Twitter, which soon after lockdown announced that their workforce will not have to return to the office unless they expressly want to do so, and now giants like Google, Facebook or Apple, which are no longer in a hurry to get their staff back to the office and do not expect the situation to return to normal until mid-2021.

These are some of the most innovative companies in the world, which set management trends: working from home requires rethinking of many of the fringe offered to distributed workers, redesigning the onboarding processes for workers who get hired in remote processes, reducing and repurposing office space, and above all, rethinking their policies and their business culture: if you want to see it spelled out, check out the new distributed work policy of the German multinational Siemens, expressed in a few sentences:

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“The basis for this forward-looking working model is further development [of] our corporate culture. These changes will also be associated with a different leadership style, one that focuses on outcomes rather than on time spent at the office. We trust our employees and empower them to shape their work themselves so that they can achieve the best possible results. With the new way of working, we’re motivating our employees while improving the company’s performance capabilities and sharpening Siemens’ profile as a flexible and attractive employer.”

This is the end of being at the office to be seen or to keep a seat warm, or not going home before the boss. Vestiges of an absurd and irrational culture that simply transferred the workshop model of the Industrial Revolution, with constant supervision by the foreman, to tasks in which it made no sense at all. More and more companies are signing up to fully distributed models, to provide their workers with the right conditions to be productive from wherever they see fit, and to be able to attract and retain talent without geographical constraints.

Do companies really need offices any longer? If so, they will have a completely different role, not focused on being places where people do the bulk of their work, but rather places of interaction and socialization to strengthen corporate culture. The office as we knew it is part of the past.

Does your employer have a long term plan to develop remote work and evolve into a distributed company, or do you still think things will go back to the way they were last year?

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Prioritize people in times of crisis: An interview with the CEO

Mike Henry’s induction into the role of CEO at BHP has been a baptism by fire. When he took on the top leadership position of the world’s largest diversified-resources company, in early 2020, the Canadian transplant in Melbourne found himself almost immediately facing the impacts of one of Australia’s most catastrophic bushfires on record. And then COVID-19 hit. “It has certainly been a different start than what I was anticipating,” he said.

While he has managed to keep operations running and his workforce of 72,000 safe and healthy, Henry said that BHP’s resilience during the pandemic is built on a foundation of strong relationships fostered over the years: “This includes employees, but also communities, business partners, and traditional owner groups, who have come together to keep the business running.” It’s also by prioritizing the cultivation of win–win relationships that Henry believes BHP will thrive in an ascendant “Asian century.” China, Japan, South Korea, and India represent BHP’s key markets in the continent, and Asia as a whole accounts for more than 80 percent of the company’s sales.

In June, Henry spoke with McKinsey’s Stephan Görner to reflect on his first six months leading BHP through crises, sharing how social value and strong relationships have helped bolster the company’s resilience. He also provides his views on what it will take for businesses to be successful in Asia, where he sees free trade as a continuing driver for economic progress and opportunity.

Mike Henry: Six months is still short, and I’m sure there are going to be a ton of insights yet to come, particularly because we’re still in the midst of this crisis. While COVID-19 has been a crisis unlike any, it’s not specific to BHP. And, in some respects, that creates greater freedom to lead, because you’re not under intense scrutiny. On the other hand, it’s been very pervasive. COVID-19 has touched every single person, every part of BHP, and every part of our supply chain, creating a high degree of uncertainty.

Four things have stood out. First is the importance of prioritizing people. Against the backdrop of COVID-19, there’s a premium on getting out, demonstrating empathy, and engaging with people to understand what their concerns are. Second would be the importance of creating clarity on what matters most. From a leadership perspective, giving some sense of certainty and hope is important to navigate this crisis. Third is the need to be responsive and fluid to the dynamics of an evolving crisis. Ultimately, you can’t lead from the center, because the crisis has impacted every part of the company differently depending on region or group. And the final one is the importance of gaining perspective. Early on in a crisis, it can be easy to get tunnel vision and to focus on managing what’s in front of your nose. But the earlier that you can find a means of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture, and pushing out the time horizon of that perspective, the better. That will allow you to sense what’s coming and get ready for what’s around the corner.

The Quarterly: How has becoming CEO during a time of crisis—whether it’s bushfires or global pandemics—informed your leadership style?

From a leadership perspective, giving some sense of certainty and hope is important to navigate this crisis.

Mike Henry: One thing I’ve paid a lot of attention to is context-specific leadership, or recognizing that the leadership for one set of circumstances may not be the most effective for another. Again, perspective is critical. When I talk about getting perspective, it means getting out and engaging with people—both employees and external parties—and hearing what other companies are seeing, as well as the concerns they have. With this perspective, we can make better decisions to steer through the crisis in a more confident and deliberate fashion.

I’ve also realized that I can’t be the chief problem solver for BHP. This [COVID-19] problem is so big, so complex, and so dynamic that it requires everybody to be engaged. My role is not so much to solve specific problems but to provide context, perspective, and clarity on what matters—while getting support in place and then getting out of the way. Through doing that, I can give people what they need to make decisions in the field at any given moment. Thankfully, we’ve got highly capable people and a good culture. They’ve made good decisions that have allowed us to steer a steady ship through what have been some choppy waters.


Mike Henry: We were well-positioned coming into this, because some great people in our procurement and supply teams are always assessing it, including the suppliers to our suppliers. We also have been studying our critical pinch points—where we might want to have a little more stock, for instance.

I want to call out our suppliers who have pulled out all the stops to ensure that they could continue to supply to BHP, even when they were in the depths of their own COVID-19 crises. This is a testament to the strong relationships we have in place, and our focus on social value. One of the things that we did right at the start of the COVID-19 crisis was to support our small, local, and indigenous suppliers by reducing payment terms from 30 days or more down to seven days. We knew that they would be hurting because of the pandemic, and we could play a role in supporting them. People remember things like that. When they’ve seen that we’re there for them in their time of need, they’ll be there for us in our time of need. And that’s what we’ve seen. They’ve invested greater effort to ensure that they can continue to support BHP and keep the commitments they’ve made to us.

The Quarterly: Do you think businesses should play a more active role in solving social problems?

Mike Henry: This is important to us, and also to our stakeholders, including investors. What people used to view as “social license” has evolved into “social value.” That’s analogous to the journey that companies and society have been on in terms of safety. Safety and operational performance were once seen as opposing forces; if you prioritized one, you had to sacrifice the other. Now, people have, well and truly, moved on from that, and everyone understands that these are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have great operational and financial performance without having good safety.

We see the same thing with social value. First and foremost, social value is a way of being and a way of running the business. Of course, we have specific initiatives around social value, but it is also embedded in all of the decisions that we make and in the day-to-day way that leaders in BHP lead. There isn’t some unit that handles all social-value activities; this is a line accountability, supported by functional experts. From mine plans to safety decisions to procurement, we’re thinking about how our employees, communities, business partners, and so on are benefitting. Through doing that, we can lift what is already a substantial contribution to our stakeholders further without eroding short-term financial or operational performance. And over time, you build greater value and greater returns for shareholders.

I’ve realized that I can’t be the chief problem solver for BHP. This [COVID-19] problem is so big, so complex, and so dynamic that it requires everybody to be engaged.

An increasing number of our shareholders understand this; in fact, if we weren’t focused on social value today, we’d have a pretty rough ride with them. They understand that BHP is making investments over decades and that it is critical that we’re seen to be creating value for a broad group of stakeholders: employees, communities, business partners, host governments, and so on.

The Quarterly: Can you give some examples where social value has driven decision making?

Mike Henry: We’ve been investing for quite some time now in securing the ability to move to fully desalinated water in Chile. When we first embarked on that, it wasn’t clear that this was going to become an absolute necessity, and, to be honest, I’m not quite sure what the external views were of that move. It took a degree of foresight, and definitely involved dollars and investment. But now, standing where we are today, the decision looks prescient.

Each part of the business has its own social-value plan, and there will be a degree to which they prioritize some of their activities for their local circumstances. Then they will have a regional plan around social value, and then we have group-level priorities around social value. The way we define these priorities is by assessing two dimensions: first is the degree of relevance to the business, and second is our ability to have impact. This steers us in the direction of defining which issues we want to show leadership on.

Take indigenous affairs as an example. There’s clearly a high relevance to the business; there’s a codependency between ourselves and traditional owner groups. We rely on each other to create prosperity for both parties, and we also know we can have an impact in that space through the way that we engage—the agreements we form together and the opportunities that are generated for indigenous empowerment.

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How to Boost Your Employee’s Productivity and Morale During a Pandemic

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has come as a shock to many and has caused quite a significant impact on both employees and businesses. With many stores, schools, and universities closing, it has put extra pressure on the individuals who are still able to work. In this article, we’ll discuss how you can boost your employee’s productivity and morale during a pandemic.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communication is critical now more than ever, and without providing correct information, workers can become overwhelmed. It would be best if you aimed to educate your staff with as many resources about COVID-19 as possible so that they can keep up to date with relevant knowledge. This ensures they can protect themselves and understand the relevant legislations.

It’s also essential to check up with your remote workers regularly. In a 2017 study by Nextiva, 23.5% of workers found that information was often shared in person, so they missed out on work changes. Social distancing can also have a significant impact on one’s mental health, and a simple call or email can make a huge difference.

Get creative with a themed day each week

Every office needs a little bit of fun, especially during a time like this. A great idea is to come up with a themed dress-up day once a week! This gives something for employees to look forward to and can significantly improve morale.

If you want everyone to get involved, get the whole team to write some ideas down and draw them out a hat at the start of the week. This creates a little challenge, as they only have a week to come up with an outfit!

Embrace flexibility

A pandemic can have different effects on everybody, so it’s crucial to promote leniency during these uncertain times. For example, some employees with children might need shorter workdays to care from them in the case of school closures.

By allowing flexible work hours, you can ensure that everyone gets the opportunity to take care of their families, thus improving productivity. In fact, in a study by FlexJobs, 76% of workers say they would stay with a company if they offered flexible work hours.

Revisit your healthcare options

Private healthcare tops the list of work perks according to a study by Rovva, with 46.59% of individuals saying they would like to receive the benefit. On top of that, a further 36.36% also stated they would leave a job for one with better healthcare perks.

This benefit can help reinforce the positivity within your company and is a great way to improve morale. Now the perfect time to revisit your options to ensure your workers remain happy, healthy, and productive!

Create a healthy and fun work environment

Healthy and safety are both the major concerns for employees currently, so it’s vital that you take the time to create an appropriate work environment. This can allow workers to feel safe and valued, rather than worrying about the current pandemic.

Make sure that you enforce social distancing and provide enough equipment for your team. Hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves are an essential step in preventing the spread. You might even want to set up a sanitizer station right next to your building entry for extra protection.

However, with all that in mind, you don’t want the place to feel unwelcoming. Make sure you add some color and fun to the workplace to put a smile on your everyones faces. You might even ask your staff to bring in some artwork or hang up some balloons. It can make a huge difference.

Promote virtual team building

While we may not be able to get in groups for activities, there are still some great ways you can promote team building virtually online. This is a fun interactive way to allow workers to have a break from all the worries and is vital for everyone’s emotional well-being.

You might consider organizing a trivia party, online karaoke or show and tell. There are so many different options, you could choose something unique every month.

Show leadership

Lastly, one of the most important things that you should do during the pandemic is to show leadership. By role modeling, and showing empathy towards your staff, you will promote a happy and healthy workplace, that people want to be a part of.

Final thoughts

While it’s easy to get caught up in the uncertainty of the times ahead, by supporting your staff, you can ensure that your business continues to operate smoothly. Flexibility and leniency are two of the most important things to promote during this time so that everyone feels as safe as possible.

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