Purpose vs. Passion: Employee Performance Insights

Posted in Learning & Development

If you thought hiring highly passionate candidates would be a safe bet for your organization, we hate to break it to you, you thought wrong.

In fact, according to recent research you’ve actually set yourself up for a sharp nosedive down the steep slope of disengagement.

While everyone sings the virtues of passion in the workplace, studies reveal it’s actually a sense of purpose that will activate your employees, keeping them engaged with their role and your organization in the long run.

Why? People are driven by purpose, not passion

We hear you, passion is great! It can be a powerful motivator, but passion is volatile. It’s driven by temporary bursts of energy and emotion – which can be in full effect one day and completely depleted the next. This is why passion is only effective in the short term.

University of Berkeley Professor Morten Hansen surveyed 5,000 employees and managers to understand the makeup of star performers, exploring whether there was a distinction between purpose and passion.

While it’s no surprise that employees who had high passion and high purpose were regarded as stars in the workplace, and employees who were low on both were ranked (on average) within the 10th percentile by their managers, it did uncover a shock finding between the power of purpose and the power of passion:

Employees who were passionate about their jobs – who expressed high levels of excitement about their work – were still poor performers if they lacked purpose.

The power of purpose

Want to ignite your employees’ productivity and engagement levels? Develop their sense of purpose.

A study by Adam Grant of Wharton found lifeguards voluntarily signed up for 43% more hours of work after reading stories about other lifeguards rescuing drowning swimmers. Radiologists who were shown photos of their patients increased both the raw number and accuracy of their scans. And when nurses assembling surgical kits met the caregivers who use them, they worked 64% longer than a control group and make 15% fewer errors.

Purpose is powerful. And it impacts your bottom line.

A Harvard Business Review discovered more than 80% of executives said purpose-led work leads to greater levels of employee satisfaction and customer loyalty.

While a study into the science of purpose proved people are four times more likely to be engaged, motivated, learn faster and have a sense of fulfilment when they believe their work matters. Organizations experience higher stock prices (out performing the market 15-to-1 and industry peers 12-to-1), US$9.1k per person, per year higher margins, higher levels of tenure and higher net promoter scores (+47%).

Purpose is crucial for attracting and retaining talent

Still think a sense of purpose doesn’t matter? On top of being a significant contributor to low engagement and productivity, it’s also impacting your ability to attract and retain top talent – especially with millennials.

Dr Chia-Huei Wu, Associate Professor in Management and Marketing at Durham University’s Business School believes the pull of purpose is being facilitated by technology.

“The younger generation has had more opportunity to explore and create an environment to support their ideas compared to their predecessors, because the business environment has become more flexible. Advancements in technology have also empowered people’s capability to find a place to support their values and interests.”

If you can’t offer your employees a sense of purpose in their roles, they’ll leave you for somewhere that can.

Build purpose before they walk through the door

Most employees hit peak engagement at the very start of their journey with a new organization. They’re excited about you and they’re excited about the next step in their career. But how do you keep the momentum going?

It’s actually pretty simple. If you can cement their sense of purpose right from the start, your trajectory for employee engagement and productivity will soar.

Use your onboarding program as an opportunity to share your company culture and your organization’s purpose, making sure to clearly define how your new hire’s role supports it.

And by ‘share’ we don’t mean simply telling your new hires what the culture and purpose are. As Adam Grant’s research shows us, experiencing the impact of an employee’s work will result in exponentially higher engagement and output. Connecting your new hires with the people who directly benefit from their work allows them to experience the true value of their output and will leave a profound lasting impression.

A united purpose outweighs scattered passion every day of the week.

The first step in resolving low employee engagement and productivity starts with your onboarding program. Learn how to successfully cement your new hires’ sense of purpose, connect them with your organization’s culture and values, and keep that new hire momentum rolling with Enboarder.

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