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How to build workplace passion

Learn why leaders want to build workplace passion instead of relying only on employee engagement.

6 min read


People walking down stairs in an office to illustrate how to build workplace passion


In previous productivity steps, we planned our work (Step 1), put systems in place to keep our people informed and in sync (Step 2), rolled up our sleeves to get work done (Step 3) and identified strategies to sustain the momentum we’ve built (Step 4). Now, we turn our attention to Step 5, leading for maximal productivity

The final productivity step focuses on leadership. After all, if we are going to get more from our people, we need to use our leadership position to motivate others, create a healthy work environment, and engage others in meaningful work.

The five components of this final step are:

  1. Build workplace passion
  2. Manage stress
  3. Understand and leverage your leadership style
  4. Set them up for success
  5. Lead from the values up

Productivity begins with engagement and passion. Disengaged, dispassionate workplaces are much less productive.

It is well-documented that many folks are not passionate about their work. According to Deloitte research, “Up to 87.7 percent of America’s workforce is not able to contribute to their full potential because they don’t have passion for their work.”

At the beginning of the book “StrengthsFinder 2.0,” author Tom Rath presents some equally disheartening data. He relates that Gallup had surveyed in excess of 10 million people worldwide on the topic of employee engagement. In that survey, only one-third strongly agreed with the following statement: “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”

In a related poll of 1,000 participants, of those who said they disagree or strongly disagree with the above statement (“At work …”), not a single one said that they were emotionally engaged at work.

(It is important to note that the terms “passion” and “engagement” are often used interchangeably when referring to employee work attitude and effort. However, many experts point out that passion is really the goal because it expresses a long-term, intrinsic motivation to work at a high level.

Engagement, on the other hand, can be a shorter-term state and often speaks to extrinsic motivators – such as praise, competition, incentives and the like – that push folks who normally assume a passive (or worse) posture to “get into it” for a period of time.

In today’s rapidly changing business environment, companies need passionate workers because such workers can drive extreme and sustained performance improvement beyond the one-time performance bump that follows a bonus or a workforce engagement initiative. Passionate workers also possess personal resilience and an orientation toward learning. This can be particularly helpful for companies that need to withstand regular market challenges and disruptions.

What does a passionate employee look like? According to Deloitte, such workers (among other things):

  • Bring noticeable energy to their work
  • Search for new and better solutions to challenging problems
  • Takes meaningful risks to improve performance
  • Cut across silos to deliver results
  • Are happier to go to work each day, which translates to less sick time off
  • Are more loyal to their employers
  • Work as needed to get the job done
  • Perform at a higher level with each passing year

In addition, passionate teams inspire others around them, because passion begets passion, and they more willingly create a team-oriented atmosphere.

Since we know that such passion does not grow on trees, it’s important for employers and team leaders to give serious consideration to the question of how we can increase employee engagement.

The following strategies can be helpful for leaders who want to build workplace passion.

Make it a priority

Look for passion at every step, particularly at the beginning. Include questions about passion in the interview process. Be willing to prioritize passion over experience and credentials. Ask such questions as:

  • What do you love about your chosen career?
  • What inspires you?
  • What kind of work or subjects do you dread?
  • How do you feel about working with others and taking risks?

You want to get a sense of what the potential employee feels and believes.

(This is not to say that experience and credentials are not important. But with the many high-quality resumes at their disposal, employers can afford to use passion as the driving or determining element in their hiring decisions.)

Connect to their emotions

Passion is an emotion, a state of mind. While many leaders may think task-first and seek to leave their emotions out of things, this can be damaging to worker passion. Workers need to know that their work matters and see how it all comes together. Encourage them to engage with customers and other ecosystem partners. The more that they feel that they’re innovating and making a difference the better they will typically perform.

Break down barriers

Sometimes the biggest obstacles to passion are barriers that prevent people from making it happen. Silos, real or imagined, exist in almost every workplace, particularly larger entities. By encouraging people to work cross-functionally, you tap into their connecting disposition and keep them from feeling confined, which can drain their passion and sense of possibility.

Craft the job around their interests

The sign of a good coach is developing a system and game plan around the players. Teams do best when they take full advantage of the talent and abilities on the roster. Similarly, team leaders ought to be willing to identify their keepers and then adjust job descriptions and requirements around them.

Be flexible where possible to ensure that folks feel that you really have their best interests in mind. Also, encourage your people to work on projects they are interested in instead of (or, as well as) the projects they are assigned to.

Build their capacity and efficacy

Offer training and educational opportunities to help your people grow and become more confident in their work. Nothing drives passion like a deep sense of ability and aptitude. Also, encourage your people to connect with others in their industry. This will offer many benefits, including new insights, stronger connections and leads. Perhaps most important, your employees will have an outlet when they need advice or someone to talk with.

Put passion all around them

Hire great managers and team members who are engaged and passionate about helping others discover their talents. Passion encourages more passion.

We’re all passionate about certain things. For too many, this passion does not extend to the workplace.  As leaders, it is our job to find ways to bring that passion out and make it part of how your people think and operate. Make passion and strengths-based management a requirement. Look beyond people’s knowledge, talents and experiences to see what makes them tick and what kind of work will really get them going.

The more work that is done to develop and build workplace passion, the more leaders can expect the kind of productivity and climate that sets companies apart.

Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is an executive coach who helps leaders and their teams become more productive. Download his productivity blueprint and take his productivity assessmentReach out to him to learn more about his high-powered mastermind groups that help leaders power up, problem solve, and get more done.

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