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Employee fulfillment: Building a workplace culture that inspires and retains


Employers are always talking about employee engagement. For good reason, there’s a lot of interest in this topic – especially as workforce retention persists as a significant challenge. But what about employee fulfillment?

This is among one of the most overlooked topics in the larger conversation about productivity and retention. Employee fulfillment isn’t often on business leaders’ radar – but it should be.

Employee fulfillment versus engagement

Employee engagement and employee fulfillment both describe workers who are dedicated, motivated and eager to grow. In this way, engagement and fulfillment are both linked to better productivity, performance and retention.

But let’s not confuse the two concepts – there is a distinction.

Employee engagement is about the level of commitment and enthusiasm that employees have toward their work and company. Engaged employees are willing to do what it takes to help their company succeed.

However, high levels of engagement don’t always mean that employees feel happy or “complete.” An employee can be dedicated to their job and company without having a sense of fulfillment. The reverse is almost never true – you’ll rarely encounter a fulfilled employee who’s not already highly engaged.

Employee fulfillment is a giant step beyond engagement. It happens when employees:

  • Identify strongly with the values and goals of their workplace
  • Can align their work with their internal drivers and motivators
  • Derive a sense of deeper meaning and greater purpose in their work
  • Are genuinely happy to be at work
  • Enjoy healthy levels of satisfaction with their current circumstances (but not enough to be complacent or deter them from going after future goals, of course)
  • Feel a sense of community and “family” within an organization
  • Consider their sense of belonging and comfort level within an organization to be equally – if not more – important than salary and benefits

Why employee fulfillment matters

For employees, fulfillment is incredibly important and is often associated with an outstanding employee experience. According to the PwC Putting Purpose to Work survey, 83% of U.S. workers say that finding meaning and purpose in their work is among their top three priorities.

This trend is likely to continue as new generations enter the workforce. Take Generation Z, for example. For them, it’s crucial that they feel fulfilled by their work. From the outset, a mismatch in values with their employer can be a deal breaker. Going beyond money, they want their work to be purposeful and contribute positively to society. Furthermore, they want balance in their life.

As for the employee experience, remember: Your people make your company what it is. Levels of fulfillment impact people’s state of mind and how they interact and collaborate with others. Generally, fulfilled people are:

  • Happier
  • More positive and less likely to let challenges or obstacles frustrate or distract them
  • Good at maintaining effective relationships
  • Driven to produce great work
  • Better at achieving work-life balance
  • More likely to stay put for longer periods of time

Without the majority of employees feeling fulfilled, companies will likely struggle to thrive – from meeting goals to identifying opportunities for innovation, building high-performing teams, retaining the workforce and growing the business.

The bottom line: How fulfilled employees feel influences how long they want to stay at your company.

How to influence and promote employee fulfillment

1. Understand your culture

Know what your organization is striving to do (mission), what your ultimate goals are (vision) and how you will operate along the way to get there (values).

Within this paradigm, how will:

  • Team members work together?
  • Management lead and model your values?
  • You communicate with employees?
  • You motivate and bring out the best performance in each employee?

Furthermore, which policies, rules and procedures will you put in place?

Which expectations must be met day by day?

This is all part of your workplace culture – the foundation for increased levels of employee fulfillment.

2. Know who is the best fit

Within your culture, understand which type of employee is most likely to thrive. For employee fulfillment to exist, you must know who you’re looking for and hire for the right cultural fit. This means finding people who share your values, purpose and goals, and who are likely to mesh well within your team.

Have clearly defined hiring practices in place to help you recognize the ideal candidate. This includes asking candidates standard interview questions to aid in assessing their values, goals and motivators.

3. Foster connection

In their day-to-day experience at your company, make sure that employees are connected to your values and feel a part of the culture.

Get new employees started on the right foot with a thorough introduction to the company culture, mission, vision and values delivered through an effective onboarding process.

Not only remind employees of your values, but also ensure that they form connections with other people through social events, employee resource groups, networking, cross-training, project work or mentorships, for example.

Spend time on team building and nurturing effective relationships among colleagues.

4. Have the right management in place

As the “boots on the ground” and crucial link between employees and leadership, managers are one of the most critical pieces in achieving employee fulfillment. Managers, who are responsible for checking in with their people regularly, should be the first line of communication about fulfillment.

Your managers must know their own team members well and understand what they need to feel fulfilled, from tailoring their management style to identifying development opportunities in alignment with employees’ career goals, recognizing employees for a job well done, allowing increased flexibility, helping to remove barriers or assigning additional responsibilities. When employees struggle to find purpose, managers can help remind them of it.

Furthermore, they are accountable for modeling the organization’s values and reminding everyone on their team of the overall mission, vision and goals.

5. Offer opportunities for growth and advancement

Although employees who feel fulfilled are often satisfied with their current circumstances, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested in professional growth and development. Instead, a big part of fulfillment is the peace of mind in knowing what’s ahead. After all, fulfillment can quickly turn to dissatisfaction if employees sense there’s no plan for them or any way for them to move forward and make professional progress.

Work with employees to identify their career paths and the possibilities for them that exist within your organization. It’s not always about looking up – not everyone wants to be a manager. Examine different opportunities to move laterally within the organization or to work on special projects. Look for different types of learning opportunities that suit different learning styles, too.

6. Grant autonomy and flexibility

There’s a direct link between fulfillment and feelings of empowerment and trust from leadership.

Encourage employees to take ownership of their work and give them more autonomy over their day.

If possible, introduce more workplace flexibility to give employees the balance they crave.

7. Recognize employees

Another major component of fulfillment is feeling appreciated and valued. Ask employees how they prefer to be recognized and regularly reward them for their achievements, contributions and the unique talents they bring to the company. If they’re comfortable with public praise, recognizing them in front of their peers can be highly effective.

8. Provide a roadmap for the organization

In addition to helping employees determine where they’re going in their careers, employees also need to know where the organization as a whole is going. Better yet, they also need to understand how they impact the company’s trajectory so they feel motivated and invested in the company’s success. It’s so important for employees to “own” their part of the organization.

So, share with them the company’s goals and have managers communicate how each role is instrumental in accomplishing these objectives.

Also, practice transparency and keep them informed of any news and updates.

9. Track employee fulfillment

Don’t get lax and fall behind in keeping a pulse on your workforce! Plus, employees want to be heard.

Take the time to understand whether the majority of your employees feel fulfilled and what your company could do to help. You can accomplish this with a short and simple employee survey that’s distributed on a regular basis.

Or, you can incorporate this discussion into performance evaluations or one-on-one check-ins between employees and managers.

Regardless of the feedback mechanism, ask employees directly about their fulfillment – what fulfillment looks like to them, whether they experience it, and what the company could do differently to achieve it. Listen carefully to what they say and discuss among management which solutions are feasible to implement.

Summing it all up

Employee fulfillment is similar to employee engagement but goes a (big) step beyond. Fulfilled employees are aligned with the organization’s values and goals, have a sense of purpose in their role and enjoy the feelings of camaraderie, belonging and community in their workplace – perhaps as much as the salary. They are genuinely happy and know that they are “complete.” They’re satisfied with their role but are planning ahead on their next move within the company. And they’re unlikely to consider leaving the company – they’re basically the dream employee for any company.

Here, we shared some tips to promote employee fulfillment and turbocharge your employees’ productivity, performance and retention. To learn more about becoming a workplace that inspires the best output from its people and reduces turnover, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to being a best place to work.