If one buzzword has dominated management speak lately, it’s employee engagement. Satisfaction isn’t enough. We want people to bring their full attention, energy, and effort to work. We know that engaged employees perform better—and that their business units are more productive, more profitable, and less accident-prone.
Engagement is important to us, and we’ve used our data to understand what drives it at Facebook. Over the past few years, we’ve generated hundreds of questions and given them out in pulse surveys across the company. Time and time again, the ones we thought would climb to the top didn’t. The number one factor wasn’t having a best friend at work, being treated with respect, or having a caring manager. It wasn’t autonomy or work-life balance. Although many of these factors mattered, they didn’t matter most.
The single most important driver of engagement at Facebook is pride in the company. When people feel proud to work here they are more satisfied, more committed, more successful, and more likely to recommend us as a great place to work.
Pride plays a big role in our lives. Students take pride when they ace a test or graduate from school. Sports fans take pride when their teams win—soccer and basketball fans show testosterone spikes after a victory, and college students are more likely to wear school shirts after a football victory. Parents take pride when their kids make the honor roll or win the spelling bee…sometimes too much pride.
But when it comes to employee engagement, we’ve overlooked the importance of pride. When we talk about engaged employees, we usually focus on how people feel about their relationships and their work. Gallup famously found that people were more engaged when they had strong relationships—especially a best friend at work—and evidence suggests that people are more engaged when they’re working on tasks they enjoy. Although these factors matter in our data, we were surprised to learn that pride has an even stronger impact. People have a relationship with their company too, and that relationship plays a major role in engagement.
This isn’t just true at Facebook. Management researchers find that when people take pride in their companies, they internalize organizational goals as their own. Instead of focusing on their individual goals, they direct their energy toward doing what’s best for the organization. We’ve seen this come to life throughout our buildings. People view recruiting as everyone’s responsibility at Facebook—not just the role of the recruiting team—and they regularly scour their networks for candidates they believe can make Facebook better. Diversity has been similarly democratized. Recently an administrative assistant in our Seattle office organized a fireside chat with our CTO on the topic of diversity, stepping far outside her day job to do her part to build a company that truly represents the world we’re working to serve.
Having seen how important pride in the company is, we sat down to figure out where it comes from. When we analyzed our survey questions, three main factors predicted pride:
- Optimism: How much do people believe in the company’s future?
- Mission: How much do people care about the company’s vision and goals?
- Social good: How confident are people that the company is making the world a better place?
These three factors drove pride across every function in the company—they mattered for people in technology, marketing and sales, and business roles. More than half of people’s feelings of pride in the company can be traced back to their feelings six months earlier about optimism, mission, and social good.
Around the world, people take pride in companies that have strong identities. This means standing for something that’s distinctive and enduring. People judge their companies not just on their pasts but on their futures too. Even if you loved dinosaurs growing up you don’t want to work for one. In every part of Facebook, pride depends the most on optimism.
Optimism comes from being able to touch and taste an exciting future for the company. This is hard—leaders tend to think and talk in the abstract. When they paint a picture in words, it becomes easier to grasp. People feel optimistic about products that help to shape the future, not just inhabit it. At Facebook we’ve made big bets on virtual reality. Many of us outside technology were not clear about why this was important. That changed in April 2016, when our CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, gave a speech that brought the future to life. “When I was a baby and I took my first steps, my parents wrote down the date in a baby book,” Mark said. “When my nephews took their first steps, my sister took photos and videos on her phone so she could send them to us.” He announced that when his daughter Max took her first steps, he wanted to capture the entire scene with 360 video so they could “feel like they’re actually right there in the living room with us.” Now we could see how virtual reality would help people connect with meaningful moments on our platform, and we walked away more jazzed about it.
At Facebook our mission is to make the world more open and connected. We’ve had heated debates about whether everyone needs to be passionate about it. If we have an engineer who’s excited to make Oculus feel less virtual and more like reality, a tie to the mission seems like an afterthought. The same question applies to many of our business functions—if our lawyers and accountants enjoy their jobs and their colleagues, what’s the point of making a big deal about the mission?
It’s a big deal. Of all the pride that people feel in Facebook, 16% boils down to how much they identify with the mission. When people are committed to the mission their relationship with the company changes. Work is more than a job or a career—it becomes a calling. Instead of just doing their jobs well and helping their colleagues, they start to focus on how they can serve the company’s interests. One of our software engineers, Shaomei Wu, was in a training bootcamp when she was asked to fix a few bugs related to helping visually impaired people “read” text. Soon she was fixing more of them in her spare time and conducting research on how to make Facebook more accessible to people with visual impairments—which was increasingly important as the volume of photos and photos grew. “It was the first time I saw a blind person using technology to interact with the world as we do,” she said. “I decided we should do something to help.” Although it wasn’t part of her role, she started building a prototype for automatic text that describes a photo: “image may contain a cat smiling, outdoors, typing on a laptop.” She grew the effort into a 10-person team, transforming the experience that visually impaired people have on our platform.
These kinds of contributions are key—commitment to the mission isn’t just about leaders’ actions. New evidence shows that when newcomers first join an organization, they’re more influenced by low-level employees than high-level leaders going above and beyond to advance the mission. One evening not long ago an IT director named Steven Ruggiero posted a request to an internal Facebook group for help preparing old laptops for delivery to organizations in need. Within an hour and a half he had 45 strangers “volunteer personal time for mind numbing work they have no personal stake in. No questions and no benefit to themselves,” he shared. “I continue to be awed by our ability to fix what isn’t working.” Seeing peers living up to the mission can strengthen pride in the company.
Social good is about showing people that the company’s work improves people’s lives. Small connections to end users can have a big impact. Adam conducted a series of experiments showing that when university fundraising callers met a single scholarship student who benefited from their work, they spiked 142% in weekly phone minutes and 171% in weekly revenue. This happens often with our global marketing and sales teams, who have regular exposure to their impact on users. The small business team shares stories of people who are affected by our work—like Holzconnection, a family business in Germany that sold loft beds, but was in danger of going out of business due to competition until his son who has “two left hands” convinced him to try digital marketing on our platform. And every Friday, a Facebook company-wide Q&A concludes with a story about someone whose life was positively affected by Facebook. Recently a Syrian refugee family living in Oakland talked by video about the value of Facebook and WhatsApp in helping them keep in touch with their family back at their old home.
In a recent survey across 18 tech companies, the five where the most employees found work meaningful were SpaceX, Tesla, Facebook, Apple, and Google. We think it’s not a coincidence that social good is a fundamental part of these companies’ missions. It’s not about corporate social responsibility—a side project that’s separate from core products and services. It is the products and services. Transforming space technology, conserving energy, connecting the world, leading a digital revolution, and making information universally accessible and useful.
Pride in the company is an engine of engagement. As Voltaire put it, “We are rarely proud when we are alone.” When we feel connected to something bigger than ourselves, we bring more of ourselves to work. We feel a sense of ownership at the office. It’s not just the place we work—it’s a part of who we are.
Lori Goler is the head of people at Facebook, Janelle Gale is the head of HR business partners at Facebook, Brynn Harrington is the head of people growth programs at Facebook, and Adam Grant is a Wharton professor and the author of Originals and Give and Take.