Employee Fulfillment Trumps Engagement

Imperative releases 2019 Workforce Purpose Index

Never confuse motion with action. Good advice from Benjamin Franklin. Never confuse motion with meaningful action. Even better advice from Aaron Hurst et al., in the third Workforce Purpose Index, released May 16.

In 2015, 2016, and again in 2019 Hurst and his team at Imperative have been peeling back the layers to understand what drives real employee engagement and value. Yes, it is purpose, as they first discovered and reported in 2015, but it goes deeper than that. The key finding of the latest research is that fulfillment in our work plays a critical role in our lives and the lives of the organizations that employ us.

There is good news in these findings. First, people prefer fulfilling (meaningful) to engaging (busy) work. They believe it is not only possible to find, it is their responsibility. People see fulfillment as something they create for themselves, not something for which their boss or company are responsible; it’s not an entitlement. Second, people need meaningful relationships, impact, and growth at work to feel fulfilled. Third, fulfillment links directly to core measures of business success. Finally, there are clear implications for leaders to engender employee fulfillment, largely through their own behavior and the work environments they cultivate, as has always been the case.

Fulfillment drives value. Fulfilled employees are the most valuable. They report higher performance, lower turnover, and are better brand ambassadors. Yet in the 2015 Workforce Purpose Index, Imperative found that only 33 percent of the U.S. workforce felt fulfilled at work. The latest research sought how to improve that, to unleash the value for both employees and the organizations for whom they work.

In other good news, nearly three-quarters (74%) of people surveyed believe employee fulfillment is possible in their current jobs and 68 percent report that the primary responsibility belongs to them. “Fulfillment is created when people connect their daily experiences to their identity, past experiences, and aspirations. This is what we call a ‘Purpose Mindset’ and while similar to a Growth Mindset, it also includes values, generosity, and direction,” said Aaron Hurst, Imperative co-founder and CEO.

Activities to ‘engage’ employees at a surface level, without diving into the meaning of the work rings hollow. More than twice as many people report wanting fulfilling work (64%) vs engaging work (28%).

Activities to ‘engage’ employees at a surface level, without diving into the meaning of the work rings hollow. More than twice as many people report wanting fulfilling work vs engaging work.

We’ve seen the desire for purpose in our research at PYXERA Global, where we are leading implementers of the practice known as Global Pro Bono. Long established as a way to accelerate global leadership development and effectively engage employees, the early analysis of the 8th State of the Practice Report indicates that sustainable social impact is the top reason to invest in Global Pro Bono, surpassing leadership development and employee engagement. At the same time, participating companies report actively aligning Global Pro Bono programs with their corporate strategy, thereby making them more meaningful and potentially contributing to much greater fulfillment (Stay tuned for the release of the full report in June, 2019 and our Webinar July 11, 2019 at 11:00 am ET).

In analyzing the results of the 2019 Workforce Purpose Index, Imperative identified four practices that are strong predictors of fulfillment and highlighted the implications for leaders to implant and strengthen among their employee populations.

The first is to encourage greater employee self-awareness. When people reported being aware of what brings them fulfillment, they reported a significantly higher likelihood of experiencing fulfillment at work. Creating an environment in which people are both encouraged and welcomed to articulate their purpose is an effective starting point.

Second, participants who engaged in peer coaching reported greater clarity, more meaningful connections with colleagues, greater growth, and feeling psychologically safe. It’s not surprising that these employees reported higher performance and an intention to stay with their employer longer.

The third practice area is a culture of ‘Employees First.’ As Hurst explains, “Much of the existing work on purpose in the workplace has focused on defining the purpose of an organization. This is most often done as an expression of the organization’s desired impact on customers and the world outside the company. This is clearly important but employees report better outcomes when they feel the organization is employee-centric.”

While embracing a culture of ‘Employees First’ seems counter-intuitive, this approach doesn’t mean serving employees at the expense of customers or clients. In fact, if the organization does not serve customers, it cannot, by definition, fulfill employees, who are looking for meaningful, impactful work, which can only happen in service. It’s a virtuous cycle. Without employees, organizations cannot deliver on their mission or brand promise, so the first people who must deeply understand the core mission and behaviors of the company are the people who deliver on the mission: the employees.

It’s a virtuous cycle. Without employees, organizations cannot deliver on their mission or brand promise, so the first people who must deeply understand the core mission and behaviors of the company are the people who deliver on the mission: the employees.

Finally, managers must lead by example by cultivating their own Purpose Mindset. Hurst acknowledges, “When people believe their manager sees work as only about money and status, it has a negative impact on their success. A Purpose Mindset can be developed and nurtured in leaders and managers using the same practices as for the rest of the organization.”

In 2015, Imperative reported that 28 percent of the workforce had an orientation toward purpose, which they coined as the Purpose Mindset—the idea that work had at least the potential to be a source of meaning in their lives and the ability to positively impact others and the world. The 2016 study validated the Purpose Mindset to be universal across countries. The latest research shows that a Purpose Mindset predicts fulfillment, and the experience of fulfillment unleashes value for the organizations to have the leadership to create and foster that environment. “It is nearly impossible to be fulfilled in life without meaningful relationships, impact, and growth at work,” concluded Hurst. Imperative’s latest study shows some pretty basic ways to accomplish that.

Images courtesy of Imperative


 

About The Research
Imperative’s 2019 Workforce Purpose Index is the world’s largest study on purpose and fulfillment at work. Learn more and download the full report at 2019WPI.com. Imperative is a web-based career and culture transformation platform used by purpose-driven employers. Using their proprietary purpose and fulfillment science, Imperative activates peers as coaches to develop changes in behavior and mindset that are the foundation of success in the new economy.

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