How Working at an Impact-Driven Company Makes Work Meaningful Again Post-COVID
The pandemic represented a great reset. It made people realise what is essential in their lives. How can you achieve a sense of purpose as a knowledge worker?
Note: I’m writing this post in association with the company I’m working for - Oyster. This is not a sponsored post and everything below are my personal opinions.
Pandemic, dissatisfaction, and the Great Resignation
The pandemic was a black swan event. Let's be honest. On the worst days, we feared that this would be the apocalypse. This heightened awareness of mortality gave people a reason to pause and reflect on why they'd been living their lives on autopilot.
For many people, work as they once knew it has become deeply dissatisfying. Some wake up cursing what they do and hating Mondays, dreading the week ahead, and wondering whether their work means anything.
The pandemic represented a great reset. It made people realise what is essential in their lives. Often, this realisation comes later in life, perhaps when someone faces a life-changing health issue or even when they are on their deathbed.
This realisation contributed to what we now know as the "Great Resignation." In June 2021 alone, 3.9 million Americans quit their jobs, with similar trends emerging worldwide.
Work didn't make sense anymore.
So, why have we seen such widespread disillusionment and record resignations across all sectors? Simply put, the idea of dedicating our entire lives to companies focused solely on increasing their profits no longer appealed in the same way it had previously. There are a few factors in play here.
With the pandemic, there was a crushing realisation that we're spending a big chunk of our lives helping the rich become richer. The wealth created from these efforts is disproportionate. While employees are underpaid and sometimes even exploited, wealthier shareholders reap the profits.
I believe that the pandemic was only an accelerator, not the cause of this disillusionment. The real reason is the nature of unsatisfying jobs we all have been doing as knowledge workers.
This dissatisfaction is only made worse by companies that value productivity over the well-being of their employees. Many companies project the idea of "we are a family" to build camaraderie and loyalty at workplaces. They even have toxic work practices that drain people's energy, cause burnout, and make them feel disposable. This contributes to the feeling that you are just a cog in the machine. Suddenly, the whole idea of working until sixty felt stupid to millions worldwide. Work is work, and there are more important things in life.
Finding meaning through purpose-led work
I work at Oyster, a global employment platform that helps companies hire talent across borders. Recently, Oyster raised $150M in a Series C funding round. It made me think about what it means to truly connect with a company's mission.
I have always been an ambitious person. When I launched my last startup, Carrom, I wanted to ensure it was not just another business software. But something that improved people's lives.
My goal was to bring the opportunities of the developed world to the talent in developing countries. It was a mission bigger than me, and I didn't have the experience to execute this. Sometimes, big dreams are not enough to make meaningful changes. While it is perfectly ok to start small, you need an ambitious team who can rally behind and execute that big dream.
In 2020, Oyster acquired Carrom, and I joined the organisation as an employee rather than a founder. In retrospect, our acquisition and my joining Oyster was the best thing that could have happened to that dream. I suddenly had access to the ambitious team and the necessary experience to pursue this meaningful goal.
There are, of course, many jobs out there that give meaning to life. But not everyone is privileged to follow those paths. Some need to pay bills, and some need to feed their families.
Here are a few things I personally care about at work:
Being fairly compensated for the work I do
Being able to work at flexible times
Working on meaningful stuff with smart people
These are necessary conditions for me to be happy and successful at work. While many companies these days offer the first two, not many provide the third essential option—giving you a purpose.
Why impact makes work meaningful again
Traditionally, impact-focused work was reserved for non-profits or for-profits working in climate, energy, education and agriculture. But Oyster is creating an industry and environment where impact and market success aren't at odds but multipliers on one another.
Non-profits only get a minute percentage of funding for obvious reasons. Working for these causes meant that you had to sacrifice your financial stability.
The for-profits only make up a tiny percentage of the companies worldwide. One would require specific expertise to break into such industries. These career opportunities were primarily concentrated in developed nations of the world.
But impact-driven companies like Oyster are creating a new narrative by focusing on structural change in an industry that has remained the same for years. An industry that is not conventionally seen as an impact area.
"Oyster's mission is to create a more equal world by making it possible for companies everywhere to hire people anywhere."
I relate to this mission because I have been denied opportunities in the past just because of my location. Baking mission and impact focus into the OKRs and forming teams to work on achieving these ambitious goals is something I haven't seen at previous companies I've worked for.
And this impact focus is paying off. Currently, 25% of the people hired through the Oyster platform are located in emerging economies. This is a massive step toward a world where people aren't denied opportunities because of their nationality or geographical location.
With more opportunities, the power will shift to employees. This will also help people prioritise their lives above work, and say no to toxic workplaces.
Worldwide, a mass exodus is happening in big corporations whose primary focus is their shareholder profits. After all, how satisfied can you be by building business software that helps you improve your sales and marketing funnel?
As employees climb Maslow's hierarchy of needs, they realise that work without a mission can lead to a feeling that something is missing. And so, they've started looking for what is missing—purpose.
Companies like Oyster are only the beginning. With the growth and popularity of impact-driven investment, the good news is that it is becoming more possible each day to find meaning in your work without sacrificing financial stability.
Cheers to meaningful work!