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Employee fulfilment – What is it and why should leaders care?

Fulfilled employees will identify strongly with the company’s purpose, connect with their colleagues in meaningful ways, feel empowered and identify good opportunities for growth and progression

It’s common for organisations to measure employee engagement, but this doesn’t always reflect how happy employees are and whether they’re likely to stick around. Why? Because engagement may indicate that an employee feels satisfied with their employee experience, but are they truly ‘fulfilled’? Fulfilment is the holy grail of the employee experience, which is best described as a feeling of total contentment or completeness. With employees now demanding so much more from their employer, leaders need to understand why fulfilment is so important and how they can use a few key levers to influence it.

Almost one third of employees are unfulfilled in their jobs according to the report*, the impacts of this are considerable. Unfulfilled employees are less likely to promote their organisations or help them to succeed, and are more likely to leave. In fact, when employees experience a lack of fulfilment they are 399 per cent more likely to be actively looking for another job outside the organisation, and are 47 per cent less likely to be putting in a great deal of effort.

So how do you know if your employees are fulfilled or not? Generally speaking, fulfilled employees will identify strongly with the company’s purpose, connect with their colleagues in meaningful ways, feel empowered and identify good opportunities for growth and progression. Importantly, they will see their work as having value and meaning rather than being an empty exchange with their employer.

Achieving all of this is made possible by the following four levers, which organisations should influence to create peak employee experiences that ultimately improve how fulfilled their people feel:

Balance – Employees don’t want their work to take over other aspects of their lives otherwise they’ll quickly feel exhausted and burnt-out. Having a healthy balance is key, meaning employees have the time and autonomy to accomplish the things they want to achieve both at work and in their personal lives. And this isn’t simply about avoiding a culture in which colleagues feel pressurised to work overtime or check their emails at weekends, it’s so much more. Leaders must ensure everyone feels considered, supported and empowered so that every employee controls how to best balance their work with their personal needs.

Community and belonging – Feeling part of a community means feeling accepted and this is such a powerful lever for achieving fulfilment. Everyone wants to feel a sense of togetherness rather than ‘on the outside looking in’, but to achieve community can’t be about forced team-building activities. The leadership team must have a modern approach in which they get to know those on their teams as individuals, encourage collaboration and regularly find ways to connect their people to purpose, accomplishment and each other.

Growth – A job without any sense of progression or personal achievement will never deliver fulfilment. Employees must have a path for growth tailored around their goals and desires so that that they achieve a sense of mastery. And career development doesn’t have to mean a promotion or pay rise as there are so many other ways for individuals to feel personal growth, from being assigned a special project through to completing a mental health training course.

Purpose – An organisation without a strong sense of purpose is rudderless, lacking meaning and direction. The employees will feel the same, coasting along without a compelling reason to work hard and help the organisation to succeed. It’s therefore crucial that an inspiring organisational purpose is clearly identified and is constantly being reinforced by the leaders so employees feel connected to it. Colleagues will then find a greater sense of meaning in their work and feel they’re working towards a common goal.

When employees rate all these four areas highly, they are 21 times’ more likely to feel fulfilled in their job. However, it doesn’t just stop there. By adding staff recognition into the mix, this further elevates the likelihood of achieving employee fulfilment. This is because employees who are recognised and appreciated by both managers and colleagues on a regular basis will feel a greater sense of worth and belonging. And when recognition becomes an integrated part of the company’s culture, and so appreciation is given and received by everyone as a natural reaction to ‘going above and beyond’, the impacts are considerable. For instance, when recognition is combined with ‘balance’, this increases the likelihood of high fulfilment by 133 times, and when it happens alongside ‘purpose’, high fulfilment is 115 times’ more likely.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach for achieving employee fulfilment. However research shows that it’s far more likely to occur when a number of elements come together to provide an employee experience that’s meaningful, full of purpose, enriched with new opportunities and takes place as part of a strong and supportive community. Add to the mix integrated recognition, and employees will feel a value and self-worth that ensures they stick around and put effort into helping the organisation to thrive.

*O.C. Tanner’s 2023 Global Culture Report

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