The Real Reason Only 13% of Workers Feel Engaged By Their Jobs

In Culture, Purpose, Mission & Values

In one of the most viewed Ted Talks of all time, psychologist Barry Schwartz notes that during the Industrial Revolution industrialist Adam Smith proclaimed that “human beings were, by their very natures, lazy and wouldn’t do anything unless you made it worth their while. The way you made it worth their while was by incentivizing, by giving them rewards. That was the only reason anyone ever did anything.”

So began the factory system of monotony and a day’s pay for a day’s work. But not only do we not really believe Smith’s observation to be true today, we know for a fact that we need more than money to keep us happy. Yet we keep building businesses the same way we always have for more than 200 years.

There are of course exceptions. Many businesses have recognized that happy, engaged teams build better businesses and serve the needs of all stakeholders. Revenues increased by an average of 22.2 percent for the 2014 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics these same companies added new employees at rate that was five times higher than the national average.

This engagement stems primarily from the knowledge that you are part of something bigger than your tasks, that you are contributing to something and are making a difference, however small.

Schwartz argues in his Ted Talk, “When people have meaningful work, they work harder, smarter, and better, and their companies are more profitable. Given this, it makes you wonder why the heads of companies are leaving money on the table by creating de-skilled work that demeans workers.”

We know that employees who feel they are part of a larger mission are 30 percent more productive, and we know businesses that lead with this greater purpose outperform their competitors. In a study of 50,000 brands over a 10-year period, it was found that the top 50 financially performing brands pursued a purpose higher than product or profit. These same brands outperformed the S&P 500 by 400 percent over the same period.


So how do you reduce the percentage of disengaged employees? It starts at the very top of an organization. As a leader, you need to ensure the business’s purpose is clear. Why does it exist? What need does it serve in society? What is its larger purpose? The answer is always something greater than products, services and tasks.

Ever wonder why Southwest Airlines’ staff are so friendly? They work for a company with a purpose bigger than profit. Southwest Airlines’ stated purpose is: “To connect people to what’s important in their lives.” How they do it is through friendly, reliable, low-cost air travel, but the why is bigger than the aircraft. It’s also what makes them one of the most profitable airlines in the world. They have a great jetway poster with a picture of the underbelly of an airplane and the text, “Without the heart, it’s just a machine.”

Heart or machine? Machines are replaceable, shoppable, soulless. Heart? Well, that connects emotionally all day long, building equity and happiness for all. We all have a choice when it comes to what we want in our businesses.

To determine whether your business lacks purpose, answer our quick quiz here. Most businesses make financial plans for the year ahead, and with 2016 fast approaching it may be time to make a plan for more than just the finances.

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Barry Chandler is the co-founder of Storyforge, a brand strategy company focused on helping companies discover their purpose to allow them to achieve their vision, build preference and drive margin. Barry has been building award-winning businesses since launching his first company in Ireland in 2003. His last company, a digital marketing agency, was acquired in 2012 by a California-based publicly traded entertainment company which then hired him as Chief Marketing Officer. It is his belief that the greatest brands seek to change the world, improving the lives of their associates, partners and customers.