What I learned about Employee Engagement from the local Barber


A few years ago, I moved to a small town just outside of Pittsburgh. It’s one of those rare gems-of-a-town that is full of charm and history and anchored by a Main Street that is flanked by old brick buildings and hand-lettered signs. What I find most endearing about life here, though, is the community. You really do get to know your neighbors in a small town. (It is true, though, that if you don’t already have a story, one will eventually be provided for you!)

Rich riding his bikeOne of my neighbors is an 88-year-old man named Rich who is a life-long resident of our thriving community. Rich has been a barber since he was 16 years old, when he worked in his Uncle’s barbershop. At the age of 21, he was driven to buy the shop from his Uncle and call it his own. His barber shop on our town’s Main Street has long been one of this “community’s hubs,” and of that he’s very proud. There are other shops in this town that residents can choose from. But to this day, he rides his bike to work when weather permits so he can serve the community he loves. (Frankly, his family doesn’t want him driving any longer, but for Rich, getting to work is paramount, and when driving is not an option, biking works!)

I thought of Rich when doing some recent research on employee engagement. You see, studies by Gallup and Glassdoor put employee engagement averages at a dismal 32% overall. What’s missing from the equation and keeping our engagement low, posits the authors of the book The Power of Pull in a study for Deloitte Insights, is a lack of passion.


Defining Worker Passion

According to the study, worker passion is identified by three attributes: the tendency to seek out difficult challenges, the tendency to connect with others to find better solutions, and the desire to make a significant impact.  These attributes are crucial for a workforce that can think flexibly, learn quickly, and create new tools and approaches for new contexts and are key drivers to improved performance.

According to the study, this passion is in very short supply: less than 13% of America’s workforce possess these attributes.

The reason I thought of Rich? I think the definition may be missing a very important dimension.


The Missing Dimension

I am pretty sure that cutting hair is not Rich’s passion. Work is.

Work gives Rich a sense of purpose. I believe that it’s the plain, good old-fashioned love of work and being of service that fuels him. He may not fall into the category of workers who have been studied in regard to “worker passion” or “employee engagement” but he does display the type of passion that leaders in any organization would want from their employees: a real passion to work and serve. 

Now, before you say “it’s a generational attribute,” let me say this: in all my years of leading organizations, I’ve met many Rich’s–individuals who weren’t necessarily driven to take on the next challenge but would rise to meet them every time because they were driven to work and serve.

Individuals like Rich are those whose determination and service orientation help drive customer satisfaction levels (and revenues) through the roof. They are the very individuals who help to create a culture of happiness and satisfaction in their work, a culture where a workforce will roll up their sleeves to get the job done.

Want more? Read our blog "Want to engage top talent? Tell them how they'll contribute."


A “Passion for Work”

If you look at the attributes of “worker passion” as the study defined, you won’t find many that fit Rich. For someone in an industry where innovation is part of survival, he hasn’t spent a lot of his spare time doing so. He’s not out seeking the next challenge, although he has had to face many over the years to keep his doors open. He doesn’t have employees that he can collaborate with. And the impact he’s out to have is not necessarily significant—especially, he’ll confess, to his bottom line.

For over 50 years, his goal has been to provide for his family and serve his community well.

And at 88, he’s still driven to do both. They fuel his passion for his work to this day.

So, my question is, are we missing a dimension in our description of worker passion? Where does someone’s desire to contribute, to be of service to others, figure in? If we only measuring the passions required for us to innovate and compete, we may be discounting the kind of passions that sustain our organizations. And to meet the challenges ahead of us, we’ll need both.

Do you know what it takes to drive better engagement with your candidates and employees? Talk with the experts at Newton Talent and learn how we can help you build and implement the right strategy for your company. Connect with us.

Written by Patty Silbert

President of Newton Talent since 2018, Patty Silbert has over 30 years of experience developing the innovative solutions that help HR professionals just like you meet their most pressing recruitment challenges and their companies achieve their talent acquisition goals. She is a regular writer and speaker on the subjects of recruitment strategy, employment branding, HR technology, and leadership.