Weekly Wrap: Hate Engagement? Well, Get Ready For Employee “Passion”

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I’m amazed by the ongoing struggle to get a handle on just what is employee engagement.

Some say engagement is about getting workers to think like owners. Another take is that it is going far beyond the formal job description to deliver the results needed. Even the HR Roundtable group couldn’t simply define it, and instead came up with six different takes on what engagement actually is.

So, you’re not alone if you have trouble defining engagement, but if that’s the case, get ready for yet another, engagement-like term to describe your employee’s work effort that is bound to confuse and confound you.

Most employees don’t have passion for their work

Yes, get ready to measure employee “passion.”

Deloitte’s Center for the Edge recently released a report titled Passion at work: Cultivating worker passion as a cornerstone of talent developmentand it is all about developing “passionate, engaged workers in order to sustain and improve a company’s performance.”

As the report says in its Executive Summary:

Up to 87.7 percent of America’s workforce is not able to contribute to their full potential because they don’t have passion for their work. Less than 12.3 percent of America’s workforce possesses the attributes of worker passion. This “passion gap” is important because passionate workers are committed to continually achieving higher levels of performance.

In today’s rapidly changing business environment, companies need passionate workers because such workers can drive extreme and sustained performance improvement — more than the one-time performance “bump” that follows a bonus or the implementation of a worker engagement initiative.”

How do you define just what is employee “passion?”

Yes, you read that right. A whopping 88 percent of our workers don’t have passion for their work — even if you have no idea what a “passionate” worker actually is.

I must have missed this, but apparently Deloitte came up with this concept of employee “passion” in the last couple of years, and now does annual reports on how organizations are doing to foster and promote passion in employees, although most businesses probably don’t have the foggiest notion of how you define or measure workplace “passion” at all.

I’ve read the Deloitte report and I can’t tell you that I understand their definition of employee “passion” any more now than I did before, but read this passage from Passion at work: Cultivating worker passion as a cornerstone of talent development and see what you think:

The concept of worker passion, which we describe as the “passion of the Explorer,” is different from engagement. Employee engagement is typically defined by how happy workers are with their work setting, co-workers, organization-wide programs, and their overall treatment by their employer.

Employee engagement is important, and improving it typically will give a firm a bump in performance. But engagement is often a one-time bump; employees move from unhappy to happy, bring a better attitude to work, and possibly take fewer sick days. However, workers who are merely engaged won’t actively seek to achieve higher performance levels, to the benefit of self and firm; passionate workers will, though.

Explorers are defined by how they respond to challenges. Do they get excited by, and actively seek out, challenges? How do they solve problems? How do they learn, develop skills, and build their careers over the long-term? How do they interact with others to pursue those goals?

Through their behaviors, Explorers help themselves and the companies they work for develop the capabilities to constantly learn and improve performance. Rather than a one-time performance bump, Explorers deliver sustained and significant performance improvement over time.”

Is this a game-changing concept?

It all sounds good, I suppose, and I subscribe to the philosophy that passion in all areas of life is generally a good thing. But, is employee “passion” really one of those game-changing concepts that you absolutely have to start focusing on and measuring in your workforce?

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I think not. The cynical part of me wonders if this is not just another consulting concept developed by Deloitte to foist on organizations so that they feel like they have to hire Deloitte to help them figure it out. Yes, that would be one way to look at it.

But, you can also take the position that employee “passion” is a legitimate concept worth spending some time with because passion in life is a good thing, and passion on the job is certainly something that should add to the bottom line of the business.

In other words, you need to decide if employee “passion” is something you want to start considering as you look at ways to get more and better quality work out of your employees.

My view is caveat emptor — let the buyer beware. Take a good look at the report on Passion at work: Cultivating worker passion as a cornerstone of talent development and see what you think.

Perhaps it is a concept that makes sense for you and your workforce, but it all makes me wonder — is this new focus on employee “passion” a way to just ignore that we still haven’t gotten employee engagement figured out? It may a good time to decide that before get to hung up on employee “passion” as well.  

Do you regret being a nice boss?

Of course, there’s more than employee passion in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • What happens when women manage men who don’t respect women? The New York Times You’re the Boss small business blog always seems to dig into intriguing workplace topics, and this is another one. Author Rebekah Campbell asks, “Working in the technology sector means that just about everyone surrounding me is male. I’ve learned to deal with loneliness, lack of emotional support and prospective investors who sometimes make inappropriate comments. But what really gets me is knowing that it may be fundamentally impossible to lead some people who cannot respect me because I am a woman. This bothers me because I want to be a great CEO.”
  • Zappos looking at flexible work schedules. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh told employees that he is looking at a flexible schedule arrangement for employees based on the principles that guide Uber, the San Francisco-based ride-share business that lets its drivers shape their work schedules and work as many hours as they want.  The newspaper said that, ” Hsieh offered a theoretical scenario in which Zappos workers could use 10 percent — or four hours — of their 40-hour work schedule any way they like without needing a manager’s permission. “Instead of calling in sick, you don’t show up,” Hsieh said, (adding that) a flexible work schedule system would let workers accommodate things going on in their personal lives.”
  • Do you regret being a nice boss? I think it is possible for a boss to be both firm (read “tough”) and nice to employees, although this Slate article begs to differ. As one manager puts it, “Establishing which rules are non-negotiable, and making sure that everyone understands them with crystalline clarity, is a matter of fairness. It’s the thing I wish I could go back and do over—not because it would have saved my business, but because everyone, myself included, would have been so much happier.”
  • Facebook shuttle drivers want a union. You knew it would happen; those drivers who shuttle Facebook employees from San Francisco to the company campus in the Silicon Valley now want to unionize. As USA Today says, “Companies from Google to Apple outsource service jobs such as janitors and security guards to outside contractors to lower costs, creating an underclass of workers in Silicon Valley. Even though they work inside companies famous for showering workers with six-figure salaries, stock options and perks, many of these workers put in long hours for low pay and few, if any, benefits.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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