No matter how much you might want to, you cannot force an employee to change. In careers, our attitudes tend to stay constant over time. This begs the question: If we know people don’t change, why do employers spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year trying to change their employees through employee engagement programs?
Today, companies spend in excess of $700 million per year to increase employee engagement. The result? Employee engagement across the workforce hasn’t budged since Gallup began measuring it in 2000. Sixty-eight and a half percent of the workforce is disengaged at work, and no amount of HR programs or incentives can seem to make a dent in this number.
Work could be more fulfilling for so many people. Since beginning their campaign in 2000, Gallup has helped focus the national conversation on work being about more than a paycheck. It has changed the conversation even if it hasn’t changed the outcome.
Employee Engagement Overlooks One Thing: People
However, Gallup’s approach to employee engagement has a fundamental flaw: the idea of employee engagement gave us the illusion of control. It made us believe there is some magical combination of benefits, leadership tactics, effective communication and other levers in an organization that would change employee’s attitudes and get them engaged at work. After over 15 years of trying to move the needle on employee engagement with no results, we’re ready for a new strategy.
So how do we build organizations of happy, engaged employees? After years of tackling this question and studying thousands of professionals in dozens of companies, Imperative has proposed a solution: less talk about engagement, and more focus on purpose.
Purpose-Oriented Workers Engage Themselves
In the 2015 Workforce Purpose Index (WPI), we found twenty-eight percent of the workforce views the primary role of work as serving others and growing as human beings. These purpose-oriented employees are 64 percent more likely to be fulfilled than their colleagues who see work as being about financial gain or status. They are 50 percent more likely to have meaningful relationships at work and 54 percent more likely to report that their work makes an impact.
Above all: purpose-oriented employees are more more likely than their peers to have longer tenure, rise to leadership roles, and promote their company as a good place to work. They are inherently more likely to be engaged at work.
Few people change their orientation to work over the course of their careers. If someone doesn’t view work as being about helping others and their personal growth, they are unlikely to ever find work fulfilling.
Gallup's approach assumes that engagement is driven by an employee's environment and extrinsic motivations. In reality, promotions and ping pong tables play a much smaller role in an employee’s attitude at work than that individual’s intrinsic orientation towards work.
Hire for Engagement
Companies like LinkedIn increasingly recognize what the data is telling us about work and strong cultures. The key is to hire from the 28 percent of the workforce who are purpose-oriented and then build their cultures and talent strategies around these exceptional people.