It has been intriguing to see the rise and rise of Simon Sinek’s message about the importance of ‘why’ and how this influences brands and client buying patterns. Just how the ‘why’ applies to other facets of life in general has been a personal focus for several years, predominantly because of the strong links between purpose, motivation and the health of individuals and organisations, including my own.

Altius Group’s purpose, our why, is to enable individuals and organisations to realise their health potential. We work extensively with individuals who have sustained an injury or illness. A large proportion of these have lost hope, are chronically disengaged from their social networks, have experienced prolonged periods of unemployment and are living a completely unfulfilled life.

Their personal lack of purpose is starkly evident. Motivation diminishes and the multitude of negative health factors associated with disengagement and worklessness take over. Deterioration in mental health, physical deconditioning, social isolation, the development of chronic diseases, elevated risk of suicide and significantly reduced life expectancy are but some of these proven effects.

Early Intervention and the quality of that intervention is an absolute key to what is reaped from the initial efforts in assisting individuals who have an illness, injury or disability. Too often, compensation schemes can influence negatively and we see individuals well past the opportunity to intervene early, so what can be done for those who have lost hope?

In my recent participation in a client’s breakfast seminar I was saddened and stunned to hear a supposed expert tell the crowd that ‘nothing can really be done for these people’. In fact, plenty can be done and is being done, by organisations that have the people with the right knowledge, skills and tools to do so. Here’s just a few of the basic things we do:

Identify the Individual’s Strengths

What are they good at? How can these strengths and talents be applied? Talk about these frequently. Chances are the individual hasn’t had a positive interaction with ‘the system’ since arriving within it, so the impact of this method of engagement is powerful.

Identify an Individual’s Purpose

This takes work, it takes engagement and it requires skill, but the outcome is intrinsic motivation. The return on this investment of time, skills and effort is enormous, because with motivation and will, the future instantly brightens.

Educate and Inform 

Methods of education should be tailored but the outcome should be the focus. Our efforts are focused on having the individual believe what we know is true - that work is critical to health, that tailored exercise is critical to health and that the right treatment, compassion, and support will help achieve it. We might use motivational interviewing, clinical frameworks, a directive or a coaching approach. This matters less than the outcome we are seeking - knowledge and belief.

Language and Engagement

What we say, how we say it and why we say it is important. Aspirational language, avoiding jargon, conveying hope and candid support is critical. It remains staggering to see worker’s compensation scheme leaders, regulators and stakeholders in general still refer to workers with an injury as ‘injured workers’. Those of influence have a broader obligation to be conscious of how language and messaging influences perceptions. By simply modifying this language to ‘worker with an injury’ we immediately convey aspiration (we want the individual to continue to be a worker now and into the future) and a temporary, impermanent disablement (presently with, but in future without an injury). This isn’t difficult and will move the needle for many disadvantaged individuals!

The wonderful side effect of understanding how the ‘why’ effects individuals who have been disadvantaged by illness or injury, is the transfer of our learnings for internal use, in our own environment, with all our team members. Each of the four points above have become key, active elements of our approach to working with our team members, building skills and partnering for performance.

Sinek’s ‘why’ message, like all good ones, is simple and wide reaching. The opportunity for the concept of purpose and meaning to be used broadly, in work and in life, is one that continues to shape the lives of many. The enduring words of Victor Frankl, in his incredible book Man’s Search for Meaning, should continue to be a beacon of hope - ill, injured or otherwise struggling with life; ‘Human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have meaning…struggle does not detract from its dignity and purpose’. And so the wonderful struggle continues.