Creating Thriving Workplaces in 2022!

WOW!  I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be back in a room filled with such passionate, kind and enlightened people working to do good in their organisations. 

I’ve been in Sydney this past week at the annual Thriving Workplace event hosted by Sophie & Claire from The Serenity Collective.   


This is NOT your typical “conference”.  This is a community of people having deep, meaningful and life changing conversations on the future of work and our responsibilities as leaders to create the change from the inside out. 


In true heartfelt connection to the people in the room and the ground that we stood upon, we were warmly welcomed with a beautiful traditional ochre ceremony, by Susan Moylan-Coombs.  This ceremony invited us to;

  • consciously reflect on our connection to one another;
  • to be open to the ways and beliefs of others;
  • to listen with the intention of hearing;
  • and to speak words of kindness and wisdom.

A powerful way to open what was a deep 2 days of sharing ideas, experiences, and the opportunities to make our working lives more fulfilling for everyone. 


Over the course of these two days, three key themes emerged for me;


The need for Purpose

One of my favourite conversations, and from the energy in that room, one I share with 120 other people! 


There are two layers to purpose at work;

  1. Your own purpose
  2. The purpose of the organisation


Aligning our own individual purpose with that of our organisation is what gives our lives meaning and makes our work meaningful. 

Purpose is far bigger than you, it is why you do what you do, and is what connects you to your values, creating alignment in your life. Without purpose, it could be argued that you don’t have, or will struggle to find your own self-worth. 

 Daniel Flynn, Co-Founder of Thank You, described it beautifully in the context of business as

“the fuel on the inside vs the paint on the outside”

It’s what drives decision making, gives the organisation momentum, focus and energy, versus a few token words or a marketing campaign. 

 Operating a purpose led business doesn’t come without its challenges; balancing purpose against compliance requirements and operational commercials can be counter-intuitive at times.  Even at Thank You, they had to return to their roots, to tell the story and bring people on the journey, to reinvigorate the company from the inside out as they grew and began to become bogged down by the commercials. 

 I believe that it all starts with purpose.

Purpose informs Brand.  Brand leads Culture.  Culture defines Values.  Values guide Behaviour.


And as Anne Das Gupta, Sydney Waters Head of Culture and Performance, put it;

“The story’s we tell is the culture we create”


When we have purpose, we build connection and belonging by sharing these stories. 


Another strong theme that was threaded through the 2 days, the need for us to feel like we belong and the many ways that we can create this connection at work.  As humans we are hard wired for belonging.  Belonging is what keeps us safe, it’s what keeps us alive.  We are pack animals, so we search out ways in which we feel we belong. 


And if you are looking to impart some of the wisdom of this conversation onto our next generations, as Mariane from Posify shared, our sense of purpose is formed by the age of 12.  A great conversation to begin having with our kids.


Creating Mental Health & Wellbeing Literacy

One of the spotlights that I feel has been shone on a much-needed topic through the pandemic is the mental health and wellbeing of our employees.  However, it comes with great responsibility to many of our leaders to feel adequately equipped to have these important conversations. 

I found it refreshing that the conversation has shifted from our leaders needing to be “Doctors” to one where we are encouraging awareness and mental health literacy.  So that we can have informed conversations, hold space for the people we care for and have the knowledge to direct them to the most appropriate resources and support networks. 

These conversations have become far deeper in the most progressive of organisations leading the way, seeing each individual as a “whole” person.  With a focus on creating even greater equity in our workplaces.  Organisations like

  • ING have ensured Parental Leave equality for both men and women with the birth of a child,
  • EY recognising the heartbreak of miscarriages and still births, with 5 days leave and access to the support networks of Pink Elephants, and
  • Future Super removing the stigma of Menopause and Menstruation with their 6 days leave to support women in managing their symptoms more effectively without compromising their careers, with their Bloody Good Policy.

 Not only have each of these policy shifts enhanced employee engagement in their respective organisations, but they have also opened the door to have more meaningful and deeper conversations with those that have experienced tragic loss and previously suffered in silence.  It has opened conversations for younger females to learn more of the symptoms of menopause, for men to share more compassionately the debilitating effects of conditions like Endometriosis experienced by their wives, girlfriends, sisters and for men and women alike to share of their excitement with their growing families earlier, enabling greater levels of support in the workplace should the unthinkable happen.

It is this awareness and literacy that is the greatest benefit to organisations, the policy is just the vehicle to making this possible, strengthening a deeper sense of belonging through the shared stories and experiences of their people. 


Hybrid Work and Return to the Workplace

There was a lot of conversation about “returning to the workplace”.  Some organisations were leading the change with conversations focused on “how” we work rather than “where” we work, whilst others were struggling with mandates around days in the office and return to work policies. 

What is very apparent to me is the extreme variability in everyone’s desire to return to the workplace, the lived experiences of people from various states and the fear that some employees genuine held for their health & safety in returning to the workplace.

What many of us did agree on is that we need to be mindful of the extreme transformation that our lives and our work lives have undergone in the past two years.  As Simon Brown-Greaves from FSG, put it,

“we have established new habits, routines & behaviours over the past two years that are guiding our expectations around returning to the workplace”. 


For some this means they no longer have after school care because they are home to be with their children, for others they may have moved to more desirable locations to align with their personal and family lifestyle aspirations, making commuting undesirable if not near impossible. 


Starting the conversation around returning to the workplace, needs to start with a question.

“What is the purpose of our workplace?  Why do we need to come to “work”?”


The workplace that we left 2 years ago no longer works, and arguably it didn’t work then!

To quote my colleague Dr Kursty Groves from the UK,

we need to make our workplaces magnetic, not mandated

Our workplaces need to deliver an experience that we cannot get from working at home.  We can “work” from anywhere, but our workplaces need to be the place we go to connect, to collaborate, to build community and social capital.  In doing this we are deepening our relationships with one another and with the organisation, transforming our entire experience of work, and connecting us back to our first theme… purpose, meaningful work and belonging. 



This is just a snapshot of the depth of sharing and connection that happened over these two days.  If you are looking to bring more human experience to your organisation, this is one gathering that you should not miss in the years to come. 


Be sure to follow Sophie & Claire from The Serenity Collective, and I look forward to connecting with you there next year!


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