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May 23, 2023

Forget Engagement; Focus on Passion

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They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. ~ Carl W. Buechner

Employee engagement is a buzzword these days. Many leaders discuss wanting their employees to be more engaged or new initiatives designed to increase employee engagement.

In the discourse around engagement, there’s often a word missing in the discourse around engagement: passion. We believe that passion is much more important than engagement. When leaders talk about wanting a more engaged employee, they’re usually actually looking for a passionate employee.

So, what’s the difference between engagement and passion? And how do you measure the passion of your employees? Let’s discuss the answers further.

Engagement vs. Passion

One easy way to think about engagement vs. passion is to look at the ‘98 Chicago Bulls. They had a historic run, but the team had both engaged members and passionate members.

You can think of Dennis Rodman as the engaged member. He was a good player, but he was also tabloid fodder. He loved the celebrity of being on a winning team, perhaps more than he loved the game.

An engaged member will get the job done. They’ll do it and do it well. But that is where they stop. They look elsewhere for fulfillment and are quick to jump ship when things aren’t going well.

Alternatively, Michael Jordan represents a passionate teammate. He embodies being a basketball player. It is who he is on the court. It’s a part of him. It’s how he finds purpose. However, he sets it aside and does other things off the court. He takes a break from the game when not playing and practicing. He’s not looking for something new because he won’t leave what he deeply cares about: the game, the team, his coach, and his fellow players.

Engagement is a fleeting, fair-weather friend, while passion is who you are and who you want (your team and your colleagues)  with you in the trenches. 

Passion is Self-Generating and Igniting

The Failure of Engagement

By focusing on employee engagement, we’re actually doing ourselves a disservice.

Engagement collapses easily. We’ve seen a rapid increase in burnout at companies, partly because previously engaged employees never developed a passion for what they were doing. Passion helps them get through those busy seasons or global pandemics and still want to continue doing their best at work. They feel like they are connected to the purpose and mission of the company and the team they are on. When you end your day, and passionate employees do this because they know they must recharge when returning to work.

This is why there is a rise in the trend of quiet quitting. Engagement is not self-generating. People who may have been engaged before found that there wasn’t anything coming in return for their engagement. Logically, it just made more sense for them to start doing the bare minimum or even less.

When people are passionate about their work, they’re more likely to continue working toward the purpose, be innovative, and help the company grow. Their passion, once ignited, continues to grow if nurtured.

The best way to think of it is with The Passion Pyramid™. This gives a breakdown of the leadership skills needed, what employees need, and what the outcome will look like. There are some layers to this. At the base level, employees need respect to be engaged. However, at the top, employees want to be on a winning team to be passionate. 

How Do You Measure Passion?

We have the answer if you’re wondering how to find out if your team is passionate or just engaged. We use the Employee Passion Survey with our clients.

The Intégro Employee Passion Survey ranks employees using five levels.

  • Employees that rate themselves as passionate about the work and the organization are Level 5; these are your truly passionate employees and your future!
  • Those employees that are passionate about only the work are Level 4 and at risk of leaving when someone offers them a similar job with another firm.
  • Employees that are passionate about the organization but not necessarily their jobs are at Level 3 and are not likely to leave but may need new work to develop a passion around their work and transform their work performance.
  • Employees who are simply engaged may rate themselves at level 2. They are committed to doing the job but will not be the ones who will transform the business results. They will do exactly what you want.

Organizations whose employees are emotionally connected to both their work and the organization are the leaders in their industries. There is a performance difference between employees passionate about the job and the organization and those passionate about only the job.

Increase Employee Passion

James did his master’s thesis on Employee Passion (using this survey). What he learned was that employee passion could make the difference between surviving and thriving and that a key basic requirement is that the employees have to Trust their leadership (More on that in a future blog.)

He also found a few factors that contribute to employee passion:

  • Although it is possible to have passionate employees without passionate leaders, the organizations need passionate leaders to succeed.
  • A culture of trust of and by the direct leadership.
  • An organizational climate with values that build trust.
  • Collaborative psychological climate to achieve results for the clients
  • Success of projects
  • Encouragement to learn and grow
  • Connection to the team and the clients
  • The belief that the work is important

Click here for a free white paper on "Engagement Surveys Lead to Mediocre Outcomes"

Book an appointment with James to learn more about Employee Passion and the Employee Passion Survey and receive the book Engagement Is Not Enough.


James and Lori

James Jackman & Lori Heffelfinger

Supporting Business Leaders to Transform Cultures, Teams, and Workplaces.
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