Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Deloitte Study Finds Organizations Need to Tap into Existing Passionate Workers

October 08, 2014

One of the biggest challenges for contact center administrators is not just finding and keeping talented agents, but also getting better insights into which agents are the most productive and why. The intuitive answer is that employees who are passionate about their jobs are top performers. However, and this is not likely to be a surprise, a new report from Deloitte's Center for the Edge entitled "Passion at work: Cultivating worker passion as a cornerstone of talent development," points out that not only do many companies not recognize the value of worker passion, but they view it with suspicion as well.

It really is about passion

Let’s start with the basics from the Deloitte study. What the researchers found is that companies need passionate workers because these workers can drive extreme and sustained performance improvement. That said, they also found that up to 88 percent of America's workforce is unable to contribute to their full potential because they don't have passion for their work.

This translated into only 12 percent of the United States workforce currently exhibiting all of the attributes that define the "Passion of the Explorer":

  • Commitment to domain (those that are committed to having an increasing impact over the long-term in a specific domain like an industry or functional area)
  • Questing (those that embrace challenges as opportunities to learn and get stronger)
  • Connecting (those that seek to build strong, trust-based relationships as they tackle the challenges they encounter)

Within a typical organizational structure, these attributes are most prominent across multiple levels of management (with executives topping the list at 20 percent), while non-management accounted for only 7 percent of the distribution of passionate worker characteristics.

Unfortunately, the survey revealed that there has only been a marginal increase in the percentage of passionate workers over the previous year (from 11 percent to 12 percent). The do note that of those who do not have the full attributes of worker passion, about half have one or two defining attributes.  Making lemonade from these potential lemons needs to be a goal. After all these individuals represent untapped potential if organizations can address how to motivate them. 

"In a world of mounting performance pressure, companies need to find ways to accelerate performance improvement on a sustained basis," said John Hagel, director of Deloitte Consulting LLP and co-chairman of Center for the Edge. "CEOs need to move beyond short term solutions that offer one-time performance bumps including giving a bonus or implementing an employee engagement program. Instead leaders should focus on identifying and cultivating the untapped talent of their existing workers to achieve a longer term performance improvement. The fact that passion levels are so low in the workforce should be a wake-up call to senior executives."

What you can do to cultivate worker passion

When it comes to cultivating worker passion, some of the actions employers can take are surprising, according to the report. It isn't increased compensation or bonuses or even necessarily recognition that drives passion. In fact, encouraging people to work cross-functionally and allowing people to work on projects outside of their direct job description can both boost the chances that someone is passionate about their work (40 percent and 34 percent increases respectively). Given 88 percent of the workforce isn't currently exhibiting worker passion, companies might be best served by looking to the work environment to boost passion in their existing workforce.

The survey also suggests that the current focus of many companies on building employee engagement may not be sufficient. If employees are more engaged in their work they are likely to perform at a higher level than workers who are not engaged. Typical measures of worker engagement do not look at attributes that make up the passion of the Explorer including a commitment to driving increasing performance improvement, excitement about engaging on new challenges or eagerness to take on those challenges by working closely with others. These attributes, currently off the radar screen of most companies, are much more likely to accelerate performance improvement.

Identifying Behaviors of a Passionate Worker

As the survey reveals, Workers who have the passion of the Explorer differ from non-passionate workers in a number of ways. For example, the survey revealed that:

  • Explorers, on average, work five hours more per week than workers who are not Explorers and are more likely to report being available 24/7 (18 percent more Explorers than non-Explorers claim around-the-clock availability)
  • Explorers are also more likely to switch jobs frequently (an Explorer is 18 percent more likely to report switching jobs frequently in their careers than non-Explorers)
  • Additionally, 45 percent of Explorers report that they are in their dream jobs at their dream companies, and despite their tremendous value to the organization, Explorers are not driven by income

Additional granularity reported was that Explorers are also significantly more likely to take risks to improve their performance versus workers without passion.

Myths and reality

What should be of interest not just to contact center administrators but anyone in management are the insights provided in the report that debunk five myths about passion impeding most organizations today in their efforts to maximize the potential of worker passion.

  • Myth 1: Age matters - Age does not have a statistically significant impact on worker passion. Workers exhibiting the attributes of the passion of the Explorer can be found at all ages.
  • Myth 2: Firm size matters - Large firms are just as effective, or ineffective, at cultivating passion in the workforce as smaller firms.
  • Myth 3: Only certain groups of people can have passion - A worker's place of residence does not influence their likelihood of being passionate, at least not within the U.S.
  • Myth 4: Educational attainment determines passion - Despite Explorers having a slightly higher educational attainment at the post-graduate level (28 percent of Explorers versus 23 percent of all workers), educational attainment overall does not have a statistically significant impact on having the passion of the Explorer.
  • Myth 5: Only knowledge workers can be passionate. While Explorers are overrepresented at higher corporate levels, even some front-line workers reported being passionate.

"The key message from our work is that workers of all types and in all locations have the potential to be passionate – it's not limited to a privileged few," Hagel explained. "Rather than just focusing on recruiting more passionate workers, the big opportunity is to look at the existing workforce and create environments that can tap into, nurture and amplify the passion of every worker already on the job. Without the right work environments, efforts to recruit additional passionate workers will likely be undermined as those new workers become frustrated in environments that do not support passion."

This last observation is actually a silver lining for contact center administrators. Just because agent positions are typically not glamorous or high-paying does not mean that it is impossible to create and sustain a passionate workforce. This really is about creating a work environment that is employee friendly on a variety of fronts that go far beyond compensation. Leadership that recognizes what creates and sustains employee passion is the key and is responsive is what matters most. It should be noted that having a nice place to work and being given the best tools and training as the means to encourage passion are non-trivial as well. 

Edited by Alisen Downey