The Evolution of Employee Well-being: Integrating Purpose for a Healthier Workplace

Written by

Cara Castellana Kreisman Senior Strategy Director | Federica Misuraca Senior Strategist |

Mar 11, 2024 · 8-minute read

In the ever-changing landscape of the professional world, the concept of employee well-being has undergone a significant transformation. According to Gartner’s 2022 report “9 Future of Work Trends Post Covid-19″, 70% of organizations started additional investment in wellbeing during the pandemic. Traditionally centered around healthcare benefits and workplace perks, the evolving paradigm now recognizes the need for a more holistic approach—one that encompasses not only physical health but also mental well-being and a profound sense of purpose. This blog post delves into the heart of this transformation, exploring how organizations are redefining employee well-being by seamlessly integrating a sense of purpose into their workplace programs. 

Historically, company well-being initiatives have mostly been centered around tangible benefits (e.g., healthcare, gym access, free snacks); while appreciated, they only scratch the surface of what employees truly need and are now increasingly seen as limited in addressing the deeper needs of the contemporary workforce, shaped by a complex interplay of societal, technological, and cultural changes. The seismic shift brought about by the pandemic has blurred the boundaries between personal and work life. With the rise of remote work and flexible job models, the traditional separation of the two spheres has become increasingly fluid, making it necessary for organizations to rethink their well-being strategies in a more comprehensive, nuanced perspective.  

Rethinking Well-Being: From Basic Perks to a People-Centered Approach

A holistic approach to well-being implies acknowledging that employees are not just workers; they are first whole individuals with intricate needs and aspirations. For this reason, embracing a more integrated model requires a profound understanding that a healthy and engaged employee is one who feels valued in all dimensions of their professional and personal life. It considers a combination of different aspects, including physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial well-being. Moreover, it recognizes the centrality of fostering a sense of purpose in the workplace that goes beyond mere job responsibilities. A recent study by BCG BrightHouse gathered inputs on this topic from 2.500 managers and employees across France, the UK, Italy, Germany, and Sweden. When describing their work experience today and their hope for their future employment, 84% of respondents think a good atmosphere and well-being at work are of the utmost importance, while 87% would resign from a company without a fair work/life balance. Furthermore, 42% of respondents say they would be willing to cut their salary by between 5% and 20% to work for a company that has a strong sense of purpose. 

A holistic approach to wellbeing

Personal Fulfillment as a Driver of Organizational Success

Searching for meaning is quintessentially human – it satisfies our anthropological desire to belong. As stated by BCG BrightHouse Luminary Lisa Cron, author of “Wired for Story”, “it’s said that people can go forty days without food, three days without water, but only thirty-five seconds without finding meaning in something. It’s a biological imperative”. Recent societal events, including the global pandemic, wars, and the escalating climate crisis, have accelerated this desire, resulting in a quest for purpose-driven workplaces. A purpose-driven workplace is one where individuals find meaning not only in their tasks but in the collective purpose of the organization. It’s an environment where each employee understands their role in the broader context, fostering a sense of belonging and shared commitment to a common cause. We can see this, for example, in the anecdote about the well-known bricklayer who said, “I’m not laying bricks, I am building a great cathedral to The Almighty”. In other words, it encompasses a deep-rooted understanding that each role contributes to a larger narrative, a story that goes beyond profit margins and market shares. It involves not just what employees do from 9 to 5 but the impact they create during those hours.  

It’s said that people can go 40 days without food, 3 days without water, but only 35 seconds without finding meaning in something. It’s a biological imperative.

Lisa Cron

Purpose is not a mere abstraction, but a tangible force that influences both individual well-being and organizational success. According to the 2019 Workforce Purpose Index, employees who are connected to their employer’s purpose are significantly more likely to find fulfilment in their work (66% vs 14%). The same study shows that overall life satisfaction is statistically unlikely​ without meaningful work, as there are only 2% odds of feeling fulfilled in life without making an impact at work that matters to you. In turn, these fulfilled individuals contribute to business benefits, outperforming their peers by a staggering 80% in the same field. 

Blurring Lines: The Synergy Between Company and Personal Purpose

Although the importance of purpose has been increasingly recognized in management studies, they typically focus on a top-down view of purpose defined at a corporate level and then cascaded to the workforce; in this regard, the organization’s ultimate purpose “provides” a sense of purpose to its employees.  

There’s an overlooked aspect of purpose in management literature—one emphasizing the shift of purpose “from the individual to the organization.” Here, individuals find meaning in their work through personal purpose, a potent source of motivation as it not only infuses tasks with deeper significance, but also reinforces individual values. Operating from personal purpose empowers individuals, encouraging aspirations and enhancing energy in current roles. More than task fulfilment, it allows employees to authentically be themselves at work, integrating their life’s purpose into the organization.  

A study conducted among ISS Facility Services’ employees exemplifies how purpose development can be fostered in all kinds of jobs. Take the ISS cleaning professional at a school in Denmark, who sees her role as crucial for students’ learning and development. Similarly, a general worker at Tzu Chi Hospital in Taiwan finds purpose in aiding patients’ recovery through clean sheets. Such examples of purpose at work can be as powerful and meaningful as “building a great cathedral to The Almighty” was for the bricklayer. They indicate that finding meaning at work is not a matter of the kind of work you do but, rather, of the kind of person you want to be. 

In essence, actively nurturing the synergy between company and personal purpose lies at the heart of a holistic approach to well-being. Organizations that understand and leverage this dynamic achieve not only a motivated and engaged workforce but also individuals who bring their authentic selves to work, creating a workplace that thrives on shared values and a collective sense of purpose. Introducing “Personal Purpose” programs is a concrete step towards this destination, as done by Unilever in 2014. As of today, more than 30,000 employees have actively participated. Internal assessments reveal purpose-driven companies grow twice as fast, and employees with a personal purpose experience less burnout, heightened productivity, and increased innovation. These initiatives have reshaped Unilever and driven positive change. 

Moreover, introducing hybrid work models that allow individuals to be more involved in decision-making processes further reinforces a sense of purpose. Shifting from conventional organizational structures, a workfluid approach recognizes that individuals bring more to the workplace than their job titles suggest. By embracing the entirety of individuals—acknowledging their unique talents, aspirations, and authentic selves—organizations can unleash a wave of creativity and dedication. One example is Nearsoft, Inc, a Mexican software development company that has abolished “job descriptions” in favor of “job crafting”; it has also created horizontal growth paths for those who do not feel inclined towards managing people but should not be penalized for it – as is often the case for those who do not chase the “vertical climb.” 

Regenerating relationships within the workplace is also pivotal for creating a purpose-driven environment. Streamlining meetings to be purpose-driven ensures that every interaction serves a meaningful objective, reducing time wastage and enhancing overall efficiency. Open communication channels, robust team-building initiatives, and DEI policies are integral components of this regeneration process. These elements collectively contribute to an environment where relationships are not just transactions but meaningful connections that further the overarching purpose of the organization. 

Finally, leadership plays a pivotal role in fostering purpose-driven cultures. Nowadays we are gradually shifting from an old management style, mostly used in the ‘80s and focused on what people do, to a new style where what matters is who employees are. This new wave of “purpose-driven leaders” recognizes the significance of individuals’ identities in shaping organizational culture, rather than just focusing on tasks to perform. Leaders who champion purposeful behavior inspire a cultural shift where authenticity, passion, and a shared sense of purpose become the norm. This transition is not just a top-down initiative; it permeates through all levels of the organization, creating a cohesive and purposeful workplace culture. 

Three elements of purpose-driven cultures

Nurturing a healthy, purpose-driven workplace requires recognizing individuals as holistic beings, aligning personal and organizational purposes, regenerating workplace relationships, and cultivating leadership that champions purpose. By integrating these elements, organizations can create an environment where purpose is not just a concept but a lived experience that guides every interaction, decision, and contribution within the workplace. 


De Morree, P., & Minnaar, J. Corporate Rebels: Make Work More Fun. 1st edition, 2020

Gartner. (2022). 9 Future of Work Trends Post Covid-19 

Grice, A. (2021). The Great Resignation is upon us, and purpose can help you resist its siren call. Fortunes.

Rey, C., Malbašić, I. (2019). Harmonization of Personal and Organizational Purpose. In: Rey, C., Bastons, M., Sotok, P. (eds) Purpose-driven Organizations. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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