Purpose or Engagement? Is One Better Than the Other?

When you ask HR executives what it takes to succeed, many will stress the importance of employee engagement. They refer to a company’s need for employees who are excited about their work, who are motivated to do well, and whose goals are in sync with the objectives of the organization. Employee engagement relates to employee happiness, job satisfaction, and much more.

But even if employees enjoy their work and find it compelling, is that going to be enough to keep them working at your company for the long haul? Your team may share common goals, but that doesn’t necessarily speak to your staff’s need to connect to their work and identify it as something worth doing. Your employee’s experience might be missing a key component that would solidify their commitment to your company. That component is a sense of purpose.

How Purpose Differs from Engagement

While purpose and engagement share some attributes—namely, an employee’s commitment to the company—they are not the same thing. Both are important, but when they exist together within the employee’s psyche, they can really be a powerful combination.

CustomInsight, a leading provider of online HR assessment and development tools, defines employee engagement as “the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and put discretionary effort into their work.” Thus, employee engagement is tied closely to employee productivity and effectiveness, making it a critical component to success for your business.

Dale Carnegie Training reports that companies with engaged employees outperform those without by as much as 202 percent. A study of more than 1,500 employees, conducted by Dale Carnegie and MSW Research, also revealed that engaged employees exhibit enthusiasm and confidence while feeling empowered and inspired.

While employee engagement is a positive for companies, it gets even better when companies define and communicate their purpose. Purpose delves deeper than engagement—it’s the reason the company exists. It has to be more than simply making a profit; it should also encompass what the company does to fill a need and to make a difference. Purpose means having an impact on people—in most cases, the company’s clients and customers—and bringing a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment to those customers that reflects well on the company and its employees.

Employees who understand this purpose are more likely to contribute to the company’s success. They see themselves being part of a worthwhile goal and are thus more likely to work harder and with more enthusiasm to achieve that goal. In other words, employees are more likely to be engaged once they understand and buy into their company’s purpose.

Benefitting Through Purpose

Inc. magazine cites a survey from Deloitte, which found that 73 percent of employees who say they work for a “purpose-driven” company are engaged. In contrast, only 23 percent of employees identify themselves as engaged when they don’t characterize their company as “purpose-driven.” Additionally, more than 90 percent of leaders at purpose-driven companies expect to maintain or strengthen their brand in the next decade, whereas only about half of companies without that strong purpose expect to do the same.

The Inc. article stresses the need for companies to make their purpose clear to employees by establishing systems that are compatible with that purpose. As an example, let’s say your company provides financial services. You define your purpose as helping people improve their lives with financial security. To help achieve this purpose, you might set up free financial seminars or reach out to communities that are underserved. You set systems in place to support your purpose, and in so doing, you engage employees with a sense that they are helping people and doing meaningful work.

Purpose Drives Engagement

It’s clear, then, that purpose is essential to driving employee engagement. The terms “purpose” and “engagement” are not interchangeable, but they do go hand in hand. Purpose is the foundation upon which engagement is built. However, one is not better than the other. Without a sense of purpose, employee engagement may be short-lived, and without engagement, a company’s purpose will not be fully realized.

If you want to improve your employee engagement, start by defining your company’s purpose—better engagement will likely follow.

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