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Leading Your Team to Fulfillment as ‘Return to Work’ Becomes More Imminent

“Our people are going through incredibly difficult times. I think it's incredibly important for leaders to show through their gestures and their words that they actually care about people. . . Kindness goes a long way at a time when people are so isolated. The virus itself is a health problem, but the emotional and mental toll that this has taken on people - including our own employees - is something that I think we should not overlook.”

~ Ken Frazier, Merck CEO and Chairman of the Board

With return to work becoming more of a reality and still having so many unanswered questions, employees’ mental health and well-being are declining. While we are responsible for our own work fulfillment and well-being, we as leaders can make a large impact on our team members’ well-being.

As Tracy Brower writes in Forbes, well-being is important for fulfillment and business results. “It’s a logic train: When employees are more content and engaged, they provide more (discretionary) effort and positive organizational outcomes ensue. But, as the best leaders know, it’s wise to focus on well-being not just as a means to an end, but as its own goal - because it’s the right thing to do.”

Whatever the reason, we as leaders play a key role in supporting our team members’ belief that their work is meaningful and fulfilling. As leaders, we can tap into our employees’ strengths, interests and potential. We can shape our employees’ work environment to help them feel part of a ‘team’ - a community. And, we can ensure their understanding of how they are valued and contribute to the bigger picture. We can bring them from “comfort to connection to contribution.” (Deloitte Insights)

In the current pandemic environment and as we think to the future, McKinsey offers some practical steps leaders can take to engage their employees:

  • Foster a workplace where employees feel a sense of trust, safety and community by:

    • Truly hearing (i.e., actively listen) what your employees are saying so they feel heard.

    • Seeing your employees and have them see each other (e.g., videos on!). (ReadThe Morning Huddlefor one idea of how you can do this.)

    • Providing time and space for them to catch up informally - “water cooler” chat as they would have had in the workplace.

  • Show your employees that you are interested in them as people by:

    • Asking them how they are doing.

    • Inquiring about their passions, motivations, and professional goals.

    • Finding out how they believe their work ties to their motivations.

    • Asking how you can better support them.

  • Share with your team how you are doing, what challenges you are facing related to work and the pandemic. Don’t be afraid of being vulnerable to your team and be yourself. You are just like them - human.

  • Ensure your employees understand how their priorities align with the team, department and organization’s goals - how they are making a meaningful, purposeful contribution.

  • Express your appreciation for your team members by recognizing their accomplishments and dedication during such challenging times, and saying, “Thank you.”

As you read these leadership actions, like me, you may be thinking they are not new. Effective, empathetic leaders incorporate these behaviors today and will continue doing so after the pandemic. In fact, these leadership actions have become even more important than before, and as the ‘workplace’ continues to evolve and change significantly, there will be an even greater need for intentional focus on these leadership behaviors.

The demands on us and our teams are high. There is so much that is new and so much more to come, much of which is still unknown. Let’s take this opportunity to rejuvenate and re-energize regarding how we approach today and be intentional about how we will approach work moving forward, and let’s continue to support each other along the way.

My goal this month was to share insights and tips regarding the power you have as an individual and as a leader to heavily influence the well-being, meaning and fulfillment that you, yourself, and your team members experience.


For additional reading on this topic, review Deloitte’s 2020 Human Capital Trends report and

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