According to a new study released by Deloitte's Center for the Edge today, only 13% of the U.S. workforce is passionate about their jobs, but over two-thirds of that group are optimistic about the future of their companies.

Conversely, 68% of the U.S. workforce remains not engaged, despite an expected investment by U.S. corporations of over $100 billion in training and $1 billion in employee engagement in 2017.

Further, the study found that only 35% of the workforce had the disposition to seek out challenges in their organization; even among engaged employees, more than 60% didn't seek challenges.

This lack of passion for work exists at all levels surveyed and job types in the workforce, with 64% of all workers and 50% of executives and senior management surveyed being neither passionate nor engaged in their work.

These findings indicate that employers might be focused too narrowly on employee engagement, rather than developing a workforce with the necessary passion to solve complex challenges and pursue new opportunities during this period of rapid technological change.

In addition, the findings indicate a shift to new types of learning and collaboration environments could in fact address key barriers to a more engaged and passionate workforce.

"We are in the early stages of a shift in the global economy that will require us to transition from an angst economy, driven by fear and erosion of trust, to a creative economy focused on markets with expanding opportunity," says John Hagel, managing director, Deloitte Services LP and co-chairman, Center for the Edge.

Worker engagement may no longer be sufficient for performance improvement.
"Worker engagement may no longer be sufficient for performance improvement. In an environment of mounting performance pressure and increasing unpredictability, companies need a workforce that embraces challenge.

“Worker passion is becoming a key attribute for employees with the skill set that will contribute to sustained performance improvement for companies in increasingly competitive markets."

Worker Attributes

According to the study, passionate workers generally exhibit three attributes:

  • A long-term commitment to making a significant impact in a domain
  • A questing disposition that actively seeks out new challenges in order to improve faster
  • A connecting disposition that seeks to build trust-based relationships with others who can help them get to a better answer.

Respondents fell into three clusters:

  • Passionate Employee—13% of respondents have all three attributes of worker passion.
  • Contented Employee—23% of respondents score high on an index of engagement indicators, but do not have all three attributes of worker passion.
  • Halfhearted Employee—64% of respondents do not have all three attributes of worker passion and do not score high on engagement.

The study found that only 38% of engaged employees had the questing disposition, and nearly half of engaged workers also lacked a desire to make a significant impact in their industry, function, or specialty.

Engagement seemed to have the most significant effect on workers' tendency to reach out to others to solve challenges and improve their own performance.

Of those employees who are "passionate," the study revealed the following:

  • Seventy-one percent report working extra hours.
  • Eighty-nine percent report feeling focused, immersed, and energized in their work.
  • Sixty-eight percent are optimistic about the future of their company.
  • Seventy-one percent feel they are encouraged to work across the company.
  • Sixty-seven percent feel the company collaborates well with customers.

Millennials don't have an edge when it comes to passion.
Furthermore, while position had some effect, with those in senior positions being more likely to be passionate, age wasn't a significant factor: Millennials don't have an edge when it comes to passion.

Changing the Game

When it comes to developing passion, the work and the environment matter.

The study showed that respondents who were not passionate reported a lack of autonomy, inability to work across teams, and a lack of involvement in decision-making.

The survey found that 39% of workers had only one or two attributes of passion, and while there is a foundation to build on, worker passion clearly needs to be activated in the workplace.

First, business leaders should evaluate whether they are acting with passion in taking on difficult challenges and pushing boundaries in potentially exciting directions. Tapping into this kind of passion can shift individuals from the fear of change or failure to excitement about the opportunity to test boundaries.

Additionally, some workers would benefit from guidance and role models who can serve as practical examples of how to quest, connect, and create impact within the context of a specific organization.

The Robots Are Coming (and It's a Good Thing)

As the pace of technological change increases, entire industries face new competitors and new approaches that rewrite the rules and render old models increasingly irrelevant. In this environment, companies will continuously need to find new ways to be competitive and deliver value for customers.

The study suggests that trends such as automation could open up new opportunities to drive worker passion.

As more and more mundane, repeatable tasks are automated, the study identified opportunities for existing employees to focus on high-growth areas that tap into capabilities that are uniquely human: curiosity, imagination, creativity, and emotional and social intelligence. Ultimately this has the potential to move the U.S. workforce toward higher levels of engagement and worker passion.

"The confluence of automation and business provides an opportunity for businesses to rethink the position they put their employees in," Hagel says.

"The upside of automation is the opportunity to shift our human capital toward roles that leverage their creativity and collaboration skills, and by doing so, shift their organization toward new ways of adding value and new growth opportunities."