Key to Corporate Survival? Worker Passion

Passionate workers can lead to innovation, both in products and business processes

If your employees are among the 77% in the U.S. who are not passionate about their jobs, look out: your company is lacking a vital element for its long-term survival. According to the 2010 Shift Index, released on Thursday by Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, companies whose employees lack passion in their jobs will find it tough to survive, much less succeed, in an increasingly competitive atmosphere that will continue to exert performance pressure even into the recovery.

The study, revealing a disturbing long-term trend toward lower ROA economy-wide—a 75% drop in ROA over the past 40 years, despite increases in worker productivity—a corresponding ROE decline of 24% and an astounding 79% drop in ROIC in the past 45 years, says that the path to success does not lie in companies’ focus on the economic downturn and timing of the recovery; these miss the point. The key instead lies in empowering passionate employees—“those who feel truly engaged with their work and constantly push the performance envelope”—so that they can ensure the company’s success “by accelerating institutional innovation and driving corporate growth,” says Deloitte.

However, the 2010 Worker Passion Survey indicated that a scant 23% of employees feel passionate about their current jobs; this does not bode well for their employers, because passionate employees “are twice as likely to be inspired and energized by unexpected challenges as the disengaged (38% vs. 19%, respectively).” This frame of mind, says the survey, “can lead to innovation, both in products and business processes—the type of innovation that can unlock extreme performance improvement.” Companies without them will be handicapped.

Passionate workers, says the survey, are “twice as likely to participate in inter-firm knowledge flows than disengaged workers.” The Shift Index results also indicate that “effective participation in an increasing range of diverse knowledge flows will be a key driver of overcoming performance challenges beyond the recovery.”

John Hagel, co-chairman of Deloitte Center for the Edge, pointed out in a statement that “squeezing resources” in the downturn will drive those passionate employees away from the companies who need them the most. And the survey further indicates that 20% of employees not already pursuing their passion would like to do so, with 26% planning moves to become more independent through operating as independent contractors or as consultants.

"Passionate workers actively seek like-minded people using digital tools and social media to advance dialogue, learning and collaboration," said Hagel. "Their urge to connect fuels inter-firm knowledge flows, which often go unrecognized but are a vital part of any organization that wants to be successful in today's hyper-competitive environment."

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