Written by Keith Ayers.

What can we do to increase employee engagement?

According to Gallup’s recent State of the Global Workplace report published in December 2017, 85% of employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work. This lack of engagement is costing businesses a staggering $7 trillion per year worldwide in lost productivity.

Companies are fighting to increase employee engagement. Last year, US companies spent an estimated $1 billion on employee engagement and over $100 billion in training and development activities.

Despite these efforts, Gallup’s data show that employee engagement has barely budged in over two decades.

Clearly, what companies are doing is not working. Something needs to change.

Consider this:

The reason that most organisations struggle with improving their employee engagement is because they don’t do what needs to be done to ignite employee passion, especially for the organisation.

Integro’s research clearly shows that passion for the job and the organisation, is the key to increasing employee engagement. When people are passionate about their jobs and the organisation they work for, they love coming to work, they are committed to achieving their goals, and they feel inspired to give their best work every day.

Start working on increasing employee passion, and engagement will take care of itself.

When you ignite employee passion, you will transform your organisation. Let me give you an example:

“I no longer light a fire under my staff, I light a fire in them.”

When Unity Health Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma first approached Intégro Associates, Learning Unlimited, it was in crisis. Like many health Centers in the US, Unity Health was suffering from a high level of turnover and was struggling to fill its vacated positions. The hospital was short-staffed by between 40 to 50 people at a time, with the bulk of the shortfall in crucial nursing and support positions.

Dawn Klingesmith was one of Unity Health’s directors at the time. Learning Unlimited worked with Unity Health’s leadership team to implement Integro’s Leadership Development Process.  They needed to transform the organisation’s culture by changing the way leaders interacted with their staff.

The key was transitioning from managing and controlling staff to working in partnership with them. Integro’s process was designed to nurture a new culture based on a high level of trust and personal responsibility – one where employees made decisions, led initiatives, and felt ownership and passion for their work.

The results for Unity Health Center were dramatic. Relations between staff and patients improved, and staff vacancies dropped to a negligible level. The organisation was revitalized, with everyone working together to make a positive difference in the lives and health of their patients.

Reflecting on the lessons she had learned, Dawn had this to say: “Learning to lead by building trust and personal responsibility has truly changed the way I communicate with my team. I no longer light a fire under my staff, I light a fire in them, and it truly has made all the difference in the world.”

Why is passion so important?

Passionate employees have a strong emotional connection to the organisation they work for. They love coming to work and feel a sense of pride and commitment towards the organisation. They are the promoters of your organisation and will happily tell anyone who will listen what a great place it is to work. As a result, they deliver exceptional value to customers, both external and internal.

Engaged employees may like the work they do, but if they don’t have a strong emotional connection to the organisation, they also may not care whether the organisation succeeds or not. And maybe ready and willing to go elsewhere to do the work they enjoy.

 Most Engagement Surveys don’t measure passion for the organisation.”

Our research identified that 78 percent of employees enjoy their work and get satisfaction from knowing that what they do is making a difference. But only 44 percent are also passionate about the organisation. This gap – the passion deficit – underlines the hidden emotional disconnect among otherwise engaged employees.

Although Gallup claim that only 15 percent of employees worldwide are engaged, in the State of the Global Workplace report referenced above they make an interesting comment about the 67 percent of employees who are not engaged, which supports our data:

“This latter group (not engaged) makes up the majority of the workforce — they are not your worst performers, but they are indifferent to your organisation. They give you their time, but not their best effort nor their best ideas. They likely come to work wanting to make a difference — but nobody has ever asked them to use their strengths to make the organisation better.”

If you are not focusing on increasing employee passion, you likely have a large percentage of employees who are indifferent to your organisation.

What I’ve learned about Employee Passion

Between 2005 and 2006 I worked with the  Dean and Director of the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Wisconsin, Arlen and his leadership team to implement a leadership development program for 180 leaders across the state.

During that time, working with 20 internal facilitators, we focused on what the leaders going through the training needed, to ignite employee passion with their direct reports, for both the work they do and for the organisation.

What came out of that was simple, and yet quite powerful. There are five basic needs that virtually all employees have that will ignite passion. Satisfy these needs, and you will have a passionate, committed, highly engaged, high performing workforce.

Ignore these needs and you will not achieve high levels of employee engagement.

The five needs that ignite passion

The five employee needs that we identified are:

  1. The need to be respected – Employees need to know that they are respected and valued by their immediate manager, and by the leaders of the organisation.
  2. The need to learn and grow – When people feel respected, they want to contribute more. The need to learn and grow is instinctive. Little babies want to get up and walk – they want to get into everything. When the right environment exists, this need can be reignited in even the most disengaged employees.
  3. The need to be an insider – To know I am on the same team as my manager – I am involved in problem solving and decision making – my input is valued.
  4. The need to do meaningful work – To know that what I do is making a difference – I am making life easier or better for someone else.
  5. The need to be on a winning team – We are kicking goals! Being part of a great team of passionate high performing people creates a high level of team spirit.

Having identified these needs, we set out to do research to test our theory that these needs were in fact significantly important to employees, and that the satisfaction of these needs resulted in higher levels of employee passion.

The results have been astounding!

We developed two items to measure each of the five needs and asked employees how important each of those items were to them personally, and how well the need was being satisfied, both items were measured on a ten-point scale where 1 is low and 10 is high.

After collecting 6,000 surveys we can report that the average importance score for each employee for all ten questions is 90.03 – an average of 9 out of 10 for each item. These needs are significantly important to virtually everyone!

People want to be respected, they want to learn and improve themselves, they want to be included, they want to know that what they do is making a difference, and they want to be part of a successful team. And yet our research is telling us that more than 55 percent of employees are not getting these needs met to their satisfaction. No wonder they are disengaged.

How do these five needs ignite employee passion?

In addition to asking these 6,000 employees about the needs that ignite passion, we asked them about the level of trust they have for their organisation, and how passionate they were about the work they do, and the organisation they work for.

We sorted employees into five levels:

Level 5            Passionate about the job and the organisation
Level 4            Passionate only about the job, disengaged from the organisation
Level 3            Passionate only about the organisation, work is unrewarding, just a job
Level 2            Not passionate but still conscientious, disengaged from the organisation
Level 1            Disconnected from both the job and the organisation

To measure trust, we asked employees how well their organisation operated by the eight Values that Build Trust®, again on a ten-point scale where 1 is low and 10 is high. The eight values are:

  1. Respect – People are valued for who they are
  2. Recognition – People get the recognition they deserve
  3. Receptivity – Giving new ideas and methods a fair hearing
  4. Disclosure – Communicating openly one’s own ideas and opinions
  5. Straightforwardness – People are clear about what is expected of them
  6. Honesty – Having high standards of honesty in everything we do
  7. Keeps Commitments – People follow-through on their responsibilities
  8. Seek Excellence – Striving to do our best in everything we do

(For more information about the Integro Trust Model see my blog Trust is the Key to High Performing Organisations.)

The most passionate employees, Level 5, scored an average of 8.5 out of 10 for satisfaction on each of the ten items measuring the needs that ignite passion, and an average of 8.4 out of 10 for the organisation’s performance on each of the eight Values that Build Trust.

All other employees recorded much lower need satisfaction scores of between 6.4 and 6.8 out of 10, and trust for the organisation scores of 6.2 to 6.6. out of 10.

The data clearly show that when need satisfaction is high, trust is high and passion for the job and the organisation is high. These are your most highly engaged employees.

Conversely, when need satisfaction is low, trust is low, passion is low, and engagement is low.

The good news is that increasing employee engagement is simple, and relatively inexpensive:

  • Treat everyone with respect
  • Give all employees the opportunity to increase knowledge and develop new skills
  • Make sure all employees feel included – get them involved – ask for their input
  • Ensure that everyone understands the purpose of what they do, and how it contributes to the overall purpose of your organisation
  • Invest in improving teamwork across the organisation

On the other hand, neglecting these five needs will result in your employees becoming dissatisfied, lacking trust for their managers, and disengaged.

To assist leaders in developing the skills needed to satisfy the needs that ignite passion, I created this model, the Passion PyramidTM. On the left-hand side of the model are the leadership skills needed to satisfy each need, and on the right-hand side is the pay-off for the organisation when the need is satisfied.

In my next blog “Leadership Skills that Increase Employee Engagement”, I will elaborate on these five leadership skills and what your leaders need to do to acquire these skills.

In the meantime, what can you do to start increasing passion for your organisation? Our data clearly identified the top three things organisations can do to create more Level 5 employees – those who are passionate about the work they do and the organisation.

The top three strategies, in order of importance, are:

  1. Give employees the recognition they deserve. Be generous with praise.
  2. Ensure all employees understand how meaningful their work is, and how it helps the organisation fulfill its purpose
  3. Ensure managers and supervisors demonstrate trust and respect for all employees

Think of it as a chain reaction:

When you satisfy needs, trust increases. When trust increases, passion increases. When passion increases, engagement increases.

Interested in learning more about Trust Inside Assessments? Contact our team at trust@integro.com.au

Keith Ayers
Integro Learning Company and Integro Leadership Institute