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Inspire employee engagement—on purpose

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According to a recent Gallup article, by the end of 2023, 33% of U.S. employees overall were highly engaged, meaning they were highly involved and enthusiastic about their work and workplaces. Unfortunately, engagement levels slipped in the first quarter of 2024, dropping 3 percentage points to 30% among both full- and part-time employees. This is an 11-year low. And 17% of employees were actively disengaged, which is one point higher than the same period a year ago.

The same article revealed the percentage of employees who feel connected to their organization’s mission and purpose is either declining or stagnating. Gallup found U.S. employees were increasingly detached from their employers, with the workforce reporting less role clarity, lower satisfaction with their organizations, and less connection to their company’s mission or purpose.

When presented with these findings, many managers resolve to reprioritize employee engagement and well-being. They commit to clarifying job roles, increasing employee satisfaction, and establishing connections to organizational purpose and among peers. Even so, I regularly encounter managers who seem surprised that implementation matters. Simply revisiting job descriptions, administering an opinion survey, and displaying the organization’s mission or vision statement in the employee break room is insufficient.

Below are five levers that purpose-driven leaders can use to inspire employee engagement—on purpose:

  1. Articulate job purpose. Most sophisticated organizations have developed a guiding statement that captures their purpose or mission. In some cases, this credo extends to every job role in the organization (E.g., Disney’s “To create happiness for others” or Hyatt’s “To care for people so they can be their best”). In most cases, however, it will be necessary to crystalize the higher purpose of the job role. For instance, Kroger’s purpose, “To feed the human spirit” doesn’t apply, in practical terms, to most of its job roles. The goal is to move from delivery and execution (E.g., stock shelves) to meaning and purpose (E.g., ensure freshness). Doing so informs employees who restock dairy, produce, meat, and other perishables, to rotate merchandise to reduce or eliminate incidents of expired product languishing on shelves.
  2. Reveal the total job role. Every job role is made up of two dimensions (I.e., job functions and job essence) and three parts (I.e., job knowledge, job skills, and job purpose) but most supervisors, managers, and leaders lack awareness of the total job role. Instead, they myopically prioritize job functions, which is comprised of job knowledge and job skills and overlook job essence, which consists of job purpose. This is because job functions are what employees are hired to do, trained to do, and paid to do. In failing to reveal job essence, managers are discounting a dimension of the job role that correlates with increases in employee engagement and customer loyalty.
  3. Connect employees’ daily work activities to the higher purpose of the job role. In most cases, employees at all levels of the organization are disconnected from job purpose. Purpose-driven leaders take steps, once discovering and articulating job purpose themselves, to reveal it to employees and connect it to their daily work assignments. This has the effect of transforming routine tasks into meaningful contributions. A Disney cast member responsible for park cleanliness recognizes, upon observing a park guest who’s spilled their popcorn, that “to create happiness in others” requires first replacing the popcorn and then attending to the spill.
  4. Track, measure, and correlate metrics that link work activities to job purpose. Keeping score lets people know how they’re doing. People want to see how their performance is contributing to the success of the team and enterprise. Use a white board, or digital equivalent for virtual teams, to communicate current results. These will consist of the metrics that matter to your team, whether you call them objectives, goals, key performance indicators (KPIs), or something else. A restaurant manager might track bottled wine sales. Together with a wine distributor or agent, an incentive program can be devised to put more bottles of wine on tables. To accomplish this, the wine rep will likely offer staff training on topics ranging from bottle opening and pouring etiquette to wine and food pairing suggestions. Next, leverage the team’s production as described below.
  5. Inspire team members by sharing this data every shift, every day. Using the above restaurant illustration, track, measure, and correlate bottled wine sales—and then showcase the updated results daily for all to see. This has the potential to elevate employee performance (due to wine serving and pairing training), guest satisfaction (due to dining experiences delivered by well-trained staff), engagement levels, wine sales, profits, and gratuities. And the entire waitstaff can foster esprit de corps through a common pursuit of a shared goal.

Across industries, Gallup’s quarterly workforce surveys find that only one-in-three employees, on average, is actively engaged in their work. That means two-thirds are either not engaged or worse, actively disengaged. This translates into increased turnover, absenteeism, and shrinkage (theft) and decreased productivity, sales, and customer satisfaction. By implementing these five levers, managers can distinguish themselves as purpose-driven leaders as they inspire individual and team engagement—on purpose.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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