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The untapped secret for inspiring employee engagement

Research suggests the importance of reflection for building workplace engagement, passion and affiliation.

7 min read


alaina love infographic

This article uses insights from a Monmouth study, presenting five ways to encourage more reflection on your team and better connect employee passions with roles:

What if I told you that you’ve been missing something in your leadership approach that can drive higher engagement and better results? Well there is, and I’m willing to bet that you’re not making the most of an advantage that’s right at your fingertips.

The Social Self and Identity Lab at Monmouth University’s Department of Psychology recently conducted a study of more than 4,250 respondents to the Passion Profiler, a psychometric tool that codifies and measures individual passions and was developed by Purpose Linked Consulting.

What’s most significant about the Monmouth study is the groundbreaking confirmation that it provides, not just about the importance of identifying and leveraging the passions of the people on your team, but also about the major role that reflection plays in building greater workplace affiliation and engagement. It turns out that the capacity for reflection that you and your team demonstrate directly correlates to the level of engagement the team is likely to experience.

Dr. Natalie Ciarocco, director of the Monmouth study, worked with her team to unpack the components of the Passion Profiler and identify those that relate to how leaders can inspire engagement in the workforce. The tool divides passions into 10 distinct “passion archetypes” that we all possess to greater or lesser degrees. But it measures more, including how we express those passions at work; the degree to which we feel connected to our work and the organization we belong to (work affiliation and engagement); and the propensity that we demonstrate for thinking and reflecting in a contemplative way about both personal and work-related experiences.

After a series of complex analyses, the research team specifically focused on the two forms of reflection measured by the Passion Profiler because some interesting patterns were emerging.

The first form, called “reflective contemplation,” is a measure of the degree to which respondents think about, reflect on and make meaning of experiences in their personal lives. This type of reflection is what helps us determine our values, define our convictions, and understand the roles we play in the relationships we share with others. In essence, “reflective contemplation” is the route by which we shape and develop who we are and how we present ourselves to the world around us.

“Work-inspired reflection,” the second form measured in the study, identifies the degree to which our work inspires us to reflect, and the manner in which we engage in that activity. Do we use our daily job experiences to learn more about our strengths and weaknesses, for example? Do we exhibit our values and convictions when they are challenged by an event at work or a person with whom we interact? Do we use both positive and negative work experiences to learn and grow, or do we shut down reflection when things aren’t going as planned?  

The study team uncovered several important facts related to reflection and the use of passions at work. The first and most significant finding is: Work-inspired reflection is the best predictor of affiliation to work and the engagement that accompanies it. The researchers found that, as reflection levels increased among employees, so did their degree of engagement.

But they also found that the reverse is true; A lack of reflection, or insufficient focus on it within the workplace, drives engagement down, as does limiting the opportunities for employees to apply their true passions at work. Analysis revealed that as a respondent’s level of passion increased, so did their likelihood of demonstrating that passion at work. When that person was also highly reflective, it drove up their work affiliation score, a direct measure of engagement on the job. The results indicate that passion, reflective capacity and workplace engagement are intimately connected, while highlighting the importance of providing an outlet for employee passions at work

Via Alaina Love

The Monmouth study offers significant and actionable insights for all leaders that should shape the way you approach your team to inspire innovation and drive results. Here are five ways to encourage more reflection on your team and better connect employee passions with roles:

  1. Build reflection into weekly or monthly staff meetings. Start by asking your team to reflect on the time period since the last meeting. What did they learn about the business, themselves, your customers or their roles that has provided them with a new insight or idea? Make your meetings more than a data dump exercise or fire drill to address the latest business crisis.
  2. Devote time each year to staff retreats, where the focus is on self and team development. While it’s tempting to limit the time spent on formal training or in-classroom work sessions in favor of team social events, insist that whatever training you implement includes sufficient reflection processes and time so your team actually benefits from the investment you’re making in the retreat. Look for programs that include post-retreat follow-up sessions to reinforce the learning and support employee development.
  3. As a leader, take time to reflect on the week ahead and share your insights with your team. This could be as simple as a Monday email to the team outlining the focus areas most critical to moving the business forward in the week ahead and how they can contribute. Include a personal insight that you developed during the previous week and how you plan to apply that insight going forward. If your team observes you modeling reflection, they’re much more likely to embrace the practice.
  4. Look for learning opportunities everywhere and share them with employees based on their interests and passions. If a special project arises that would be perfect for that person in your marketing group with a Builder/Conceiver passion, be willing to reshuffle work assignments to aid talent development.
  5. Although it may seem to be counterintuitive, get comfortable with pausing. In a fast paced market your natural tendency will be to rush to get results or solve problems. Yet, a lack of reflection may have you solving the wrong problem, really well. Instead, consider establishing a practice on your team of answering two important questions before making a major decision: What question haven’t we asked that we should? What insights are we missing?

As a leader, your success is rooted not just in the ability to look forward, but also the capacity to reflect on what has transpired in the past. Leaving room for reflection in your day is essential if you expect to make the best decisions possible and build a team that can do the same.

Alaina Love is chief operating officer and president of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw-Hill). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well … passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer and Healer. You can learn more about how to grow leaders, build passionate teams and leverage passion to create great customer outcomes here.

When she’s not working with her Fortune 500 client base, Love is busy writing her next book, “Passionality, The Art and Science of Finding Your Passion and Living Your Bliss,” which explores the alignment of personality, purpose and passion, and the science of how it contributes to our well being. Follow Love on TwitterFacebookYouTube or her blog.

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