Research Paper By Barbara Busi
(Career Coach, FRANCE)
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. Steve Jobs (CEO, Apple)
Steve Jobs got it right. According to a Huffington Post study, an average person will spend 13 years 2 months 4821 days at work over a lifetime. Sounds quite long, right? Isn’t it worth spending these 13 years by doing work we are passionate about and in which we can be fully engaged?
This research paper presents some facts and figures about employee engagement and shares studies about employee engagement and work passion-driven factors. The dear reader can find some coach techniques that can help to improve employee work passion & engagement.
When it comes to employee engagement, facts and figures about current status are quite sad and shocking. In a worldwide study done by Gallup in 2017 (with almost 50,000 business units in 45 countries) researchers discovered that:
- 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their job, meaning that only 15% of adults who work full time for an employer are engaged at work (they are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace)
- Among the best-managed companies in Gallup’s database, as many as 70% of employees are engaged
- Business units in the top quartile of Gallup’s global employee engagement database are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable than those in the bottom quartile
- Only 10% of employed Western Europeans are engaged at work; by comparison, the figure among U.S. employees is more than three times as high at 33%
- Workgroups that received strengths interventions saw sales increase by 10% to 19% and profits by 14% to 29%, compared with control groups
Most of the companies invest in employee engagement surveys to understand what the key factors of employee satisfaction are. Although, taking employees through a set of survey questions does not automatically lead to improved engagement levels.
It is important to highlight that a strong historical tradition of hierarchical leadership (mainly in East Asia) may make it difficult to adopt a coaching mindset that places employees’ needs over business and productivity.
Organizations have to approach employee engagement as an ongoing human capital strategy and consider all of the elements that matter in performance management — from leadership accountability and manager education to clear role expectations and employee development opportunities.- Gallup
Improved employee engagement will not only be beneficial for employees but can bring numerous advantages to companies as well, shown by the table below (non-exhaustive list).
Benefits for Employees
Benefits for Companies
Less burnout/bore out/brownout
Better health conditions
Lower recruiting fees (by investing in current employees)
The feeling of belonging & appreciation
Better customer experience & NPS (Net Promoter Score)
Table 1. Impacts of improved employee engagement on employees and companies
There are several definitions of employee engagement and studies usually focus on the level of engagement vs. disengagement of an individual, without giving fundamental importance to the appraisal process the individual goes through to become engaged or disengaged.
- Kahn 1990 defined engagement as“the harnessing of organization members’ selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances”
- Towers-Perrin 2003 suggested that ‘‘the emotional factors tie to people’s personal satisfaction and the sense of inspiration and affirmation they get from their work and being part of their organization’’
- Harter et al. 2002 defined engagement as ‘‘the individual’s involvement and satisfaction with as well as enthusiasm for work’’
- Baumruk 2004, Richman 2006 and Shaw 2005 consider employee engagement as “emotional and intellectual commitment to the organization”
- Frank et al. 2004 identifies employee engagement as the “amount of discretionary effort exhibited by employees in their job”
Since early 2006, The Ken Blanchard Companies has been studying a border theory of employee engagement, the Employee Passion. Researchers came to the conclusion that both, organization and job factors influence an individual’s level of Employee Work Passion. Engagement is mainly associated with organizational commitment (intent to stay, endorsement, etc.) or job commitment (burnout, well-being, etc.) but not with both at the same time. They reframed the employee engagement to employee work passion, a concept that considers the underlying appraisal process, including factors that influence employees being fully present in the workplace. According to Zigarmi et al. (2009)
Employee work passion is an individual’s persistent, emotionally positive, meaning-based, state of well-being stemming from reoccurring cognitive and affective appraisals of various job and organizational situations that result in consistent, constructive, work intentions and behaviors.
The basic element of the model is that cognitive and affective mental processing of organizational and job work experiences lead to a sense of well-being that results in various work intentions and subsequent behaviors. Constructive work intentions and behaviors are considered as proof of the emotionally positive, meaning-based state of well-being that derives from the reciprocal relationship between cognitive and affective appraisals of workplace experiences. They consider that cognitive and affective perceptions of the workplace can be viewed as antecedents of employee work passion, and resulting behaviors can be viewed as consequences or outcomes.
Figure 1. Revised Work Passion Model – The Ken Blanchard Companies®
The key findings of The Ken Blanchard Companies regarding Employee Work Passion are the following:
- At least eight key factors are responsible for driving Employee Passion. These include Meaningful Work, Autonomy, Collaboration, Fairness, Recognition, Career Growth, Connectedness to Colleagues, and Connectedness to Leader
- While these eight factors are not all-inclusive, they represent a majority of the influencers of Employee Passion
- Each of the eight factors is interdependent of each other, and all must be present for Employee Passion to be maximized
- While there was no statistically significant ranking among the eight factors, Meaningful Work was perceived to be most present in the minds of the survey population and Career Growth was perceived to be the least present
They identified the eight key drivers of employee work passion as:
- Meaningful work: Employees perceive the organization’s larger purpose through products or services produced, consider their work to be worthwhile, and are proud of their individual actions and contributions that help the organization serve its customer
- Collaboration: Employees perceive an organizational environment and culture that enhances collaboration, cooperation, and encouragement between all organizational members
- Fairness: Employees perceive an environment where pay, benefits, resources, and workload are fair and balanced and equitable, people treat each other with respect, and leaders act in an ethical manner
- Autonomy: Employees perceive an environment where people have the tools, training, support, and authority to make decisions
- Recognition: Employees perceive an environment where they are praised, recognized, and appreciated by colleagues and their leader for their accomplishments, where they receive monetary compensation for those accomplishments, and where they are contributing to positive relationships with others
- Growth: Employees perceive an environment where people have opportunities to learn, grow professionally, and develop skills that lead to advancement and career growth
- Connectedness with leader: Employees perceive an environment where they trust their leader and where the leader makes an effort to form an interpersonal connection with them
- Connectedness with Colleagues: Employees perceive an environment where they trust their colleagues and where their colleagues make an effort to form an interpersonal connection with them
For companies, being aware of these key drivers is halfway to success, but what matters the most is the implementation of solutions that can positively impact these drivers. The following chapter focuses on coaching as one of the possible solutions.
According to recent studies (Forbes), Employee Engagement is one of the Fastest Growing Coach Niches of 2019. More and more companies realize the importance of improved Employee Engagement and satisfaction that result in higher retention rates, increased revenues, higher creativity, etc. There is no doubt about the fact that an organization’s success highly depends on the soft skills of the Top Management. The strategy, the purpose and the company values that they define, as well as the managerial skills that they have to empower their employees and make the business grow. However, we cannot forget that the employees are the ones being in regular contact with the customers. They are the ones in charge of customer satisfaction. If companies aim to satisfy their customers at the highest level, should not provide the same level of satisfaction to their employees?
Coaching (whether it is external/internal or individual/team) is one of those powerful solutions that can help organizations to have a meaningful impact on employee satisfaction, engagement and even work passion. This chapter gives an insight into how coaching can provide an answer to improve the key drivers of employee work passion.
It can be hard to find real meaning in our everyday work without knowing what the company’s purpose is and how we can align our reason for being with it. Employees often feel this misalignment and company strategy and purpose not always seem to be well explained or cascaded down by the management. This challenge is even bigger for large, international companies. Coaching, whether individual or team can be a very efficient solution both, for employees to find their purpose & values and for companies to help employees align their purpose with that of the company. The Self-managing Leadership Program of Oxford Leadership or techniques given by Stephen R. Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People” are great examples of successful definitions of ones’ life purpose & mission statement.
- Purpose-driven coaching programs aim to discover underlying beliefs, patterns that stop clients from moving further
- Right coaching questions allow them to realize these repetitive patterns and create awareness
- Once they are aware of them, the coach can help clients to formulate the strength that can support them and verbalize weaknesses that held them back in the past
- In addition to powerful coaching questions, visualization (a tool that is often used in Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is a powerful exercise to make clients listen to their inner voice and imagine how they want to be remembered as a parent, a friend, or an employee and can bring them closer to their purpose
- Once they feel that they have found this purpose, support models, such as verbalization of strengths, skills, competences, and values can help to improve self-confidence and make the realization of the purpose more concrete
- The purpose itself cannot serve the client without translating it into a clear goal(s). SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) actions can give clear perspectives and makes it easier to achieve the desired outcome
- At the same time, it is also important to identify potential barriers that could challenge or even stop the client from reaching the ultimate goal
- With all these elements the client will be ready to define his / her mission statement, formulated in a positive tone. The simpler, the better. The mission statement can guide the client in his / her daily actions, decisions and goals.
Mahatma Gandhi’s mission:
Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day: I shall not fear anyone on Earth. I shall fear only God. I shall not bear ill will toward anyone. I shall not submit to injustice from anyone. I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering. Source: https://msb.franklincovey.com/inspired/gandhi
Once the purpose and mission statement becomes clear, the employee can discuss them together with the manager during the target setting and align the personal purpose with the company purpose. The implementation of such an approach on an organizational level requires a long term investment and the buy-in of the Top & Middle Management, but the positive impact is guaranteed both for employees and the firm.
Most of the organizations realize the power of collaboration and co-construction (resource sharing, collective wisdom, quicker problem solving, community awareness, better communication, etc.) and start to invest in collaborative solutions, such as Agile way of working, design thinking, game storming, etc. These approaches can really be powerful if the employees are used to work together in a collaborative way, by breaking silos. On the contrary, strongly hierarchical organizations need to go through training/coaching sessions in order to understand the importance of the collaboration and to break hierarchical standards for the sake of co-construction.
Agile coaching is a specific area of collaborative coaching, focusing on business projects run in an agile way. It is an efficient solution to bring cross-functions together and design solutions in a more flexible and quicker way. The implementation of agile methodology makes it necessary to adapt the workspace and set up brainstorming / co-creation designed rooms & spaces. In parallel, change management is inevitable to explain the benefits to the employees and make the transition easier.
In a more generic way, firms might need to bring in coaches to improve collaboration and group dynamics by introducing behavioral assessment tools, such as DISC.
Coaches can help managers to improve their soft skills that will have a positive impact on their relationship with their team members. Through coaching, leaders can learn how to conduct one-to-one discussions in a non-judgmental, ethical way. They can also improve their listening skills and their way of providing feedback.
Both leaders and employees can benefit from coaching when it comes to the question of autonomy:
- Coaching can create awareness to leaders in regards to their manager style (right to error, micro- vs. macro-management) and the level of autonomy they give to their employees
- Employees can find ways to become more autonomous and increase their self-confidence to take initiatives
Recognition can have different forms, financial and non-financial. When it comes to employee engagement, financial recognition for sure is important, but it is not everything. Without the appreciation of employee investment and accomplishments, long-term satisfaction can hardly be maintained. Coaching can help managers to improve their skills and learn to acknowledge the success of their team members. On a larger scale, company awards can be a powerful incentive solution.
According to a BlessingWhite study, 83% of employees agreed that career support positively impacts their level of engagement. 85% of individuals also agreed, or strongly agreed that there is nothing wrong with staying in the same job if they can try new things or develop new skills.
Career coaching is a perfect way to foster career growth discussions, both for managers and employees:
- Employees can gain more clarity on their purpose, values and future career objectives through coaching. It is also a possibility to discover their strengths. Tools can also facilitate the assessment, such as the Strength Finder of Gallup
- Leaders can become more efficient in their one-to-one discussions with their teams when it comes to the definition of an individual development plan by asking questions about the ambition of the employee, by providing feedback on past performance, by discussing the employee’s strengths and skills and by defining a relevant learning plan
When it comes to career coaching within the organization, it is worth studying the different moments of the employee lifecycle and defines the right coaching approach at the right moment:
- Graduate coaching for freshly graduated workforce to facilitate their rotation program and help them be prepared for the Program
- Coaching for high potentials to accompany them on their development path and through coaching help them improve their soft skills that are necessary to become successful managers
- Manager coaching to better handle issues linked to team / individual management (career development, time management, priority management, etc.)
- Executive coaching to enhance the client's leadership or management performance and development
Coaching can strongly contribute to the improvement of managerial skills and can create a better team connection. It can help to:
- Improve collaboration and reduce controlling/micro-management
- Make managers accountable for their actions/decisions
- Improve listening skills and asking instead of giving orders
- Provide feedback instead of judgments
Team coaching sessions can be helpful when it comes to the discussion, evaluation, and understanding of engagement survey results. A coach can help managers to discuss team results and discover root causes that are behind the answers given by the employees. The SolutionCircle methodology, introduced by Daniel Meier, can be a successful tool to create solution-driven team coaching sessions.
Being connected to our colleagues can help us to avoid conflicting situations and we can get to results easier and quicker. The HuffPost gives eight useful coaching tips for interpersonal communication and relationships building:
- Assume the best intentions of the other person
- Understand the other person’s perspective in the situation
- Truly listen and ask questions to learn more
- Share your perspective in the situation
- Find the commonalities
- Leverage those commonalities for the common good
- Keep communication open as you move forward (to minimize frustration and to create a trust)
- Speak up if things go awry
Coaching can be helpful to detect interpersonal challenges and powerful questioning can help clients to see the situation from a different perspective.
We have previously seen how the introduction of coaching in the corporate world can improve employee engagement and how beneficial it can be both, for organizations and employees. Nevertheless, we cannot forget that employees cannot be forced to be engaged:
…you have to want to be engaged. There has to be deep-seated desire in your heart and mind to participate, to be involved, and to make a difference. If the desire isn’t there, no person or book can plant it within you. –Tim Clark
It is our individual responsibility too, to have the desire to change. Coaching can only be beneficial if the client is ready and has this inner wish to change and get on the path of transformation from where he/she is today to where he/she wants to be.
Companies also need to make their own assessment and evaluate where it might make sense to use coaching and employees should never be forced to be coached.
Impactful positive change can only be reached through a consistent employee engagement strategy defined by the company and sponsored by the Top Management. Cultural differences should not be neglected and some solutions might make cultural adaptation and change management necessary. Initiatives can best reach the target audience through effective communication tools and by the involvement of the middle management in cascading the message.
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The Ken Blanchard Companies:https://engageforsuccess.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Employee_Passion_Vol.11.pdf
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Ryan Pendell& Jim Harter (2019): 10 Gallup Reports to Share With Your Leaders in 2019: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/245786/gallup-reports-share-leaders-2019.aspx
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