Igniting employee passion for the modern workforce

The Great Resignation is still in full swing with no end in sight. Since early 2021 employees have been quitting their jobs in record numbers. And as employees continue to ask themselves where they want to work and why, one thing is clear: they are now prioritizing roles that give them a deeper sense of purpose and organizations that better support their development. In today’s business landscape, employers who want to retain their talent need to rethink their people strategies and cultivate employee passion to ensure a committed and engaged workforce.


What is workplace passion and why does it matter?

Passion in the workplace can be thought of as the ultimate form of employee engagement. The passionate worker has a strong inclination and positive feelings toward their work, and a commitment to investing time and energy in their work. Passionate workers have a long-term commitment to their particular domain (industry sector or function), the willingness to go above and beyond their core responsibilities at work, and the motivation to seek out and interact with others at work with whom they share interests and can learn from. Employees with these three attributes typically demonstrate the accelerated learning, performance improvement, and resilience that are critical for the modern workplace.

However, in a survey of more than 1,300 full-time US workers, just 13.9% demonstrated the three attributes of worker passion. Worse still, 46% of respondents demonstrated none of the key attributes and were completely lacking passion at work (termed passive). It’s worth noting that this survey was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic too – if the Great Resignation is anything to go by, the statistics now would be even worse. Further research illustrates why passion is a major problem for both employers and employees. Overall, 96% of passionate respondents (versus 59% of the passive) felt confident about remaining relevant as technology changes work and the workplace; 91% of the passionate (versus 48% of the passive) felt confident about acquiring new skills, tools, or resources to fit their needs; 98% of the passionate (versus 56% of the passive) believed they could face any technology disruption at work, and 89% of the passionate (versus 46% of the passive) welcomed changes in work and the workplace. Evidently, in today’s rapidly changing world of work, it is the passionate who are most likely to adapt and thrive.


Employee passion is crucial – here are six effective strategies to ignite passion in the workplace:

1. Lead by demonstrating your own passion-Passion has a contagious quality. To inspire passion in team members, it certainly helps to be a passionate leader. The conviction and commitment of an inspirational manager can spread throughout the rest of the team, whereas a leader lacking passion will quickly find themselves heading unmotivated teams. Indeed, employees report that 75% of great managers are passionate about their work, and that makes their people more motivated to perform better for them. It’s not enough to solely demonstrate a passion for individual work either. For the best results, leaders should also demonstrate a passion for their organization. Team members are most inspired when leadership authentically expresses a passion for the organization, making it clear exactly how and why they are making a difference. This is particularly important for employees in large organizations, who might be performing a small but highly specialized task and finding it difficult to connect this to any higher purpose. It is also important for those who are experiencing the ripple effects of employee turnover and starting to question how they fit into the organization. Helping team members realize how their actions contribute to the overarching organizational goals is crucial for alleviating any doubts and thereby increasing passion at work.

2. Recognize employees for their achievements-Appreciation for the achievements of employees should become part of the day-to-day for any manager wanting to inspire passion. It doesn’t have to be a massive gesture either, as there are plenty of little things that can be done to make employees feel appreciated. Taking the time to greet the team each day, thanking members for their hard work, and holding regular check-ins to provide constructive feedback and discuss opportunities for career growth, will go a long way in any remote or hybrid workplace. Intentionally thanking employees with care is crucial, as expressions of gratitude that seem inauthentic or too non-specific can have the opposite effect. It’s not just line managers who should take this responsibility. The source of feedback is just as important as the content. Praise from senior leadership can have a big effect on morale, especially for remote workers, and can be another important method to help communicate how individual actions are connected to the larger goals of the organization. For employees whose work benefits stakeholders from outside of the organization, it can also be effective to get notes of appreciation from these groups. Providing feedback from multiple sources helps to show employees that the praise isn’t inauthentic, but rather a genuine expression of thanks for their work.

3. Don’t forget significant life events such as birthdays and recognize professional objectives-While acknowledgment of professional objectives is more important than ever, recognition should go beyond work achievements and also recognize personal milestones and significant events. Remote celebration of birthdays and anniversaries can help employees to feel valued and engaged at work. It demonstrates to team members that they are personally appreciated and provides opportunities for positive social interactions for dispersed workforces. Indeed, celebrations and spreading workplace happiness are effective ways of bringing staff together, helping employees feel more connected to one another. While finding ways to collaborate on projects is important, fostering meaningful connections in a more relaxed, social setting is key as well. Providing these sorts of opportunities is therefore an effective way of inspiring passion by sustaining healthy relationships at work.

4. Show empathy and express personal interest to strengthen trust levels- Research shows that taking the time to learn about employees as people enables managers to develop the most genuine relationships with their team members. The role of empathy is critical and can be the key factor that differentiates authentic conversations from insincere words of approval. It’s not enough to just ask polite questions about employees’ lives, leaders should also actively listen to their responses and try to understand not only how the employee is feeling but also why they feel the way that they do. Empathy helps to foster an environment in which employees feel more safe and autonomous. Asking employees about work-related issues and listening empathetically and compassionately creates an atmosphere of shared problem-solving, in which the employee is encouraged to take initiative and try new solutions. Employees also tend to become more loyal in response to the empathy they’ve been shown, which in turn feeds better performance at work. A safe and supportive environment is critical for encouraging employees to think creatively about their work and try out new ideas, therefore providing the conditions in which true passion can flourish.

5. Allow employees to challenge practices and processes-Simply delegating tasks without allowing team members to have a say in the process will increase stress and decrease motivation. Limited autonomy at work is one of the key factors underpinning the Great Resignation. To retain talent, companies should ensure that employees have a voice, and are given opportunities to share their ideas, opinions, and concerns. It will never be possible to accommodate everyone’s needs, particularly if different employees have conflicting views about a specific situation. What’s important is making sure that team members have a genuine opportunity to effect positive change. When suggestions are taken on board, express sincere thanks for the feedback and ensure the individual knows they had a role in helping the organization grow and improve. Where it’s not possible or desirable to implement suggestions, take the time to explain why. Opening up this continual feedback loop gives employees the opportunity to contribute to meaningful change, helping them to see that their investment of time and energy is worthwhile. 

 6. Encourage the cultivation of workplace connections-Creating connections between colleagues is another critical, but often overlooked, strategy for improving passion at work. Research consistently shows that having a best friend at work leads to better performance. Those who have a deeper sense of affiliation with their team members are less likely to search for new opportunities, are more likely to take risks and innovate, and are more likely to have positive experiences throughout the workday. Put simply, work is much more enjoyable for employees that feel they are among friends. 


Cultivating connections is easier said than done, however, and will be an even bigger challenge in hybrid and remote workplaces with geographically disparate workforces. Before the pandemic, some companies addressed the challenge by employing a chief collaboration officer, whose main responsibility was to encourage active collaboration through an internal social network helping employees connect with others who have similar passions, skills, experiences, or interests. Depending on the extent to which the organization has returned to the office, companies will need to decide what strategies to prioritize to unlock the passion needed to increase learning, innovation, and collaboration.


Montara offers a dramatically different approach to building a passionate, committed, and thriving workforce. Learn how Montara’s holistic people insights and real-time analysis can increase and maintain employee engagement in your organization.