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A culture of giving back is not only one of the most inspiring ways to engage employees, it also offers something even better than engagement: worker passion.

Every business leader is well versed in the benefits of employee engagement, with one study showing a 21% increase in productivity if employees are engaged in their work. But Deloitte leader John Hagel argues that employee engagement is a distraction and we should instead be focusing on employee passion.

Why? Employee engagement has a limited impact, versus the sustained increased performance improvement that comes from a worker who is passionate about what he does. Hagel lays out employee passion as embodying these principles:

  • A long-term commitment to achieving an increasing impact in a domain
  • A questing disposition that creates excitement when confronted with an unexpected challenge
  • A connecting disposition that motivates the individual to systematically seek out others who can help them to get to a better answer faster when confronted with an unexpected challenge

“People with the passion of the explorer are never satisfied or happy with what they have accomplished,” Hagel writes. “What excites them is the next challenge on the horizon – it’s an opportunity to achieve more of their potential and take their impact in the domain to the next level. They are constantly seeking out those challenges and connecting with anyone who can help them address the challenge….What drives passionate people is the opportunity to do better – constantly.”

I think we can agree that any company would seek out and reward these qualities in employees. But Hagel revealed that his research center’s latest survey of the US workforce confirms that employee passion levels are remarkably low, at about 13%, which is much lower than employee engagement levels.

Hagel posits a number of theories for why even the higher levels of employee engagement remain so relatively low despite so much widespread attention by companies in recent years to improve engagement. But as for what to do to improve employee passion (beyond the basics of employee engagement), one of Hagel’s suggestions is to set the proper stage. “We can do a lot to create environments that will help catalyze and nurture passion,” he notes.

Indeed, a separate set of research from Deloitte has found that creating a culture of volunteerism may boost morale, workplace atmosphere and brand perception.

According to Deloitte’s “2017 Volunteerism Survey,” nearly 9 out of 10 (89 percent) working Americans believe that companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment than those that do not. In fact, 70 percent of respondents say that volunteer activities are more likely to boost employee morale than company-sponsored happy hours, and 77 percent say, “volunteering is essential to employee well-being.”

But companies by and large aren’t doing a good job of leveraging the benefits of employee volunteering. Only 38 percent of employees think their company provides access to employee volunteer programs, with a 69 percent saying they’re not volunteering as much as they would like to, and two-thirds stating that they cannot dedicate time during the day to volunteering.

“It appears that many employees understand the value of volunteering and have the desire to do more, but they aren’t reaping the full benefits,” said Doug Marshall, managing director of corporate citizenship, Deloitte LLP. “Employers have an opportunity to build on their volunteerism programs by creating a culture that celebrates volunteering and empowers volunteers to be more active.”

The report suggested that companies not only provide more opportunities to volunteer but also make sure that employees – especially Millennials – understand the benefits of doing so. Three-quarters of Millennials surveyed said they would volunteer more if they had a better understanding of the impact they were making, compared to 61 percent of those of all ages.

Besides explaining the benefits to the community that come from volunteering, business leaders could do a better job of informing employees how helping others in need can have a positive impact on themselves. According to the survey, although 80 percent of those who make hiring decisions believe active volunteers move into leadership roles more easily, only 18 percent of employees think volunteering can enhance their career opportunities, and only 36 percent think volunteering can help develop new skills.

Cultivating worker passion is a goal that exceeds even the more modest aims of employee engagement. But why not reach for the stars? When you build a culture of giving back, especially when you lay out an ambitious agenda for impact, you set the stage for a purpose-filled environment that inspires passion.