The Missing Piece of the Engagement Puzzle
After completing my undergraduate degree in my early twenties I made the arguably rather cliché decision to move abroad and teach English. However, about one month in, I had a bit of an internal crisis which sprung from my constant dwelling on questions such as ‘what am I doing?’, ‘what is the point of this?’, ‘what am I working towards?’.
I realised that for the first time in my life I wasn’t actually working towards anything in particular. Like the majority of people in my generation, my entire life had been defined by working towards relatively predetermined goals; school exams, piano exams, sports achievements, university degrees…the list goes on and on. Suddenly, stepping out of this structured existence for the first time, I had to determine what my purpose was and what gave meaning to my life and it was challenging to say the least.
My parents found it rather peculiar that I should struggle in such a way. After all, I was earning a living, supporting myself, surely that was purposeful in itself, wasn’t it? And whilst I couldn’t disagree with them I knew that for me it just wasn’t enough. 
It was rather reassuring to discover that many of my peers were also facing similar dilemmas…
In their 2016 research report ‘How Millennials Want to Work and Live’ Gallup explain that this shift is very real and that whilst previous generations were focused on earning enough money to support their families current generations need meaning in their jobs and are interested in working for companies with a mission and a purpose. 
For millennials, a job is no longer just a job – it’s their life as well. (pg:6)
Bearing this in mind it is very concerning that the report goes on to share the following statistic:
Only 29% of millennials are engaged, meaning they are emotionally and behaviourally connected to their job and company. 
Engagement itself is a rather elusive concept which organisations strive to obtain in order to harness the associated increases in performance and competitive advantage. Shuck and Rose (2013) explain that most research explores engagement as an outcome and argue that by doing this we are actually looking at the wrong end of the problem. They suggest that instead we need to be exploring the idea that engagement and performance are a secondary consequence to work that is interpreted as meaningful and purpose-driven. (pg:143)
In line with this idea the CIPD (2014) state that:
Culture, purpose and values will affect…the satisfaction, engagement and retention of your people, all of which will ultimately affect your organisation’s performance. (pg:7)
However, it is essential for organisations to recognise that simply having a purpose is not enough – employees need to feel aligned with it. Whilst it is positive that concepts such as purpose, meaning, culture and engagement are being explored there is still a long way to go before the potential benefits of this exploration can be realised by all involved. This was highlighted earlier in the year by the CIPD in their Employee Outlook report which found that whilst 70% of respondents knew clearly what the core purpose of their organisation was sadly only 28% stated that they felt highly motivated by it.
So, what do we need to consider going forward?
1. A job is no longer ‘just a job’ 
2. Employee engagement is intrinsically linked to purpose and meaning 
3. Employers need to focus time and resources on building a culture that aligns the raison d’être of the organisation with the purpose and meaning of its employees
Written by Nicola Murray
Nicola is nearing the end of a PhD in the Management of Employee Wellbeing. Viewing the area from a holistic perspective she is passionate about the potential for positive lasting change to take place on an individual, organisational, economic and societal level. 
Gallup (2016) How Millennials Want to Work and Live; the six big changes leaders have to make. Gallup Inc
Shuck, B. and Rose, K. (2013) Reframing Employee Engagement within the Context of Meaning and Purpose: Implications for HRD. Advances in Developing Human Resources 15(4) 341 –355
CIPD (2014) Keeping culture, purpose and values at the heart of your SME. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
CIPD (2016). Employee Outlook; Spring 2016. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development