<p><em>As recognition of the importance of employee engagement rises, so does the need for additional research to understand the elements essential to creating a work environment that drives individual passion.</em></p><p>The word "engagement" has been used as a catchphrase to refer to the positive attitudes and behaviors that organizations would like to see from their employees. But what exactly contributes to a motivating work environment? And more important, what are the behaviors that leaders can employ to create these conditions in their organizations? </p><p>These are the questions the authors began to explore as a part of research into the connection between customer devotion, employee passion and organizational vitality. The result was the identification of a set of factors that contribute to work passion along with a new understanding of the appraisal process employees go through in determining if a work environment is motivating or not. </p> <p>A new concept, employee work passion, was introduced to help practitioners measure and address what was occurring within their organizations and, more important, to identify what leaders could do to improve things. Employee work passion describes a state where employees are engaged in their work and willing to go the extra mile, be good organizational citizens, endorse the organization and perform at or above the expected norm. </p> <p>Specifically, employee work passion is an individual’s persistent, emotionally positive, meaning-based state of well-being, stemming from continuous, recurring cognitive and affective appraisals of various job and organizational situations, which results in consistent, constructive work intentions and behaviors. The employee work passion construct allowed the researchers to connect to academic research and also the latest practitioner findings. It also led to an understanding of the appraisal process that employees use in determining the extent to which their needs are being met in the work environment.</p> <p><strong>Identifying the Factors Contributing to Employee Passion</strong></p> <p>Academics and practitioners have known since the publication of Frederick Herzberg’s work on satisfiers and dissatisfiers in Harvard Business Review in 1968 that different factors create satisfaction and dissatisfaction in the work environment.</p> <p>In more recent times, William Kahn’s introduction of the concept of engagement in 1990 and the popularization of the term by The Gallup Organization later in the same decade increased the identification of additional factors. Since that time, academic researchers and business practitioners have continued to pursue the concept at an ever-expanding pace. </p> <p>The authors found a total of 35 different motivators that potentially influenced passion at work. These 35 potential factors were later reduced down to eight and built into a survey that was distributed to more than 2,000 leaders, line managers and front-line employees. The results were analyzed statistically using an exploratory and a confirmatory factor analysis. The research and analysis identified that the eight factors explained about 60 percent of the variance for favorable work passion, but it also raised a question about additional factors that might be missing. </p> <p>A second look at the existing literature identified possible refinements and additional factors to consider. This led to the belief that employee passion is more accurately shaped by 12 different factors: meaningful work, collaboration, autonomy, growth, task variety, performance expectations, feedback, workload balance, distributive fairness, procedural fairness, connectedness with leaders and connectedness with colleagues.</p> <p><strong>New Research Underscores Appraisal Process</strong></p> <p>This subsequent analysis also shed light on the process that individual employees go through in determining whether a specific work environment is motivating or demotivating. The result was a model that links how an initial assessment by employees on a rational, cognitive level, together with a feeling-based affective level, leads to a sense of positive or negative well-being. The model also shows that this variable sense of well-being translates into different individual intentions, which later translate into behaviors.</p> <p>Employee passion is a highly subjective state of mind, and each individual employee goes through his or her own unique internal appraisal to determine whether a specific work environment is safe, welcoming and energizing or unsafe and demotivating. For example, based on what employees experience in terms of growth opportunities, connectedness with a leader or their perception of fairness, they might come to the conclusion that there are few opportunities for growth, that their managers do not really care about them or that their company doesn’t treat people fairly. </p> <p>These decisions are based on the cognitive things they see and the feeling they get when they see those things over time. These cognitions and feelings then lead to a sense of well-being. The model also shows that this sense of positive or negative well-being leads to an intent to act. This intent to act is measured in five important areas:</p> <ol><li>Job commitment: Being committed, enthusiastic and emotionally positive about the job.</li><li>Organizational commitment: Being committed, enthusiastic and emotionally positive about the organization.</li><li>Discretionary effort: Willing to put in extra effort as needed.</li><li>Employee retention: Expecting to stay with the organization.</li><li>Organizational endorsement: Willing to recommend the organization and its leaders to others.</li></ol> <p>The research found a significant correlation between employee perceptions of the original eight work passion factors present in a work environment and subsequent intentions to behave constructively toward organizational needs. And while intent does not always lead to behavior, prior research has established that there is a significant correlation between intention to act and subsequent behavior.</p> <p><strong>The Role of Leadership</strong></p> <p>Even though the research into how leadership behaviors can impact the process is preliminary, there are behaviors that leaders can use to move the needle in the right direction.</p> <p>Start by recognizing that there are two dimensions to leadership: the things that leaders can do in one-on-one conversations with their employees and the things that leaders can do on a systems, strategic policies and procedural level. </p> <p>At the one-to-one level, leaders can start by viewing the performance management of their direct reports from a servant-leader viewpoint. This means approaching performance management by asking questions such as: What can I do to facilitate an employee’s ability to serve customers, or how can I help employees grow and develop?</p> <p>It also means leaders establishing themselves as a growth resource. This means asking direct reports questions such as: Where do you want to be in three to five years? How can I help you do that? What kind of skills would you like to have? What kind of things do you expect from me? </p> <p>One important caveat is that managers provide these growth and development opportunities freely and not as a trade-off for the employee performing well. Otherwise, it will be seen as coercion instead of a concern for growth. When managers create a mindset of “what can this organization do to support you,” they create a connection that leaves employees feeling that they are growing, that they are doing something meaningful and that the organization cares about them. It is showing in word and deed that the manager is there to facilitate the employee’s growth and development to become an independent achiever in the organization’s efforts to serve the customer.</p> <p><strong>The Strategic Leadership Imperative</strong></p> <p>From a senior leadership perspective, it starts with shaping the systems, policies and procedures to create an organization where employees feel valued and a part of something bigger than themselves. It is about creating a “pull-type” organization with senior leadership creating an environment where people have the opportunity to choose to be their best. The goal is to create a work environment where people want to give their best because what they are doing is personally meaningful and satisfying.</p> <p>This means showing employees how their individual role aligns with and supports the organization’s larger goal of meeting customer needs. People enjoy being a part of serving something bigger than themselves, but they also have individual needs that must be addressed. When employees perceive that their needs and the needs of the customer are both being addressed, they perform better than when they perceive that the purpose of the organization is solely about the stock price or the bottom line. </p> <p>Looking forward, it is important that academics and practitioners continue to study the impact that managerial practices have on the 12 work passion factors identified. Without a clear sense of how leadership behaviors impact employee perceptions in each of these areas, there is not a reliable way to target specific action to improve the work environment. Practitioners are left to apply broad-brush solutions that cover all possibilities. </p> <p>Right now, practitioners are able to go into an organization, conduct surveys and find out that a certain percentage of employees intend to leave the organization or similar data about one of the other organizational intents. That is an interesting data point; but as a practitioner, what do you do with that information, and how do you start to address it? There could be any number of reasons causing an unhappy employee to want to leave the organization. </p> <p>Ongoing research can help by clearly defining what is currently happening in an organization and what leadership practices will most impact the factor identified as being below the norm. For example, if employees are not satisfied with the growth opportunities in the organization, what are some of the specific strategies that the organization could put in place, and what kind of results could be expected? This should lead to more targeted interventions.</p> <p>One way to get at this could be through the use of pre- and post-training surveys to measure the impact that a specific intervention has on follow-up assessments. Another way is to study the attributes employees bring to the work environment and how that impacts their individual motivation. The hypothesis is that each individual employee is unique and makes sense of his or her environment using different criteria. Further exploration should help researchers understand that process more completely.</p> <p>Finding the answers to questions like these can seem challenging, but in the end it will be extremely worthwhile. Fully understanding the elements that go into creating a work environment where people feel valued, have meaningful work and have opportunities to develop is a goal that most organizational consultants would identify at the top of their lists. Researchers and practitioners have gotten close with all of the recent work on employee engagement. With a little more research, we can understand with greater clarity the elements necessary to create that kind of organization.</p>
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