By Melissa J. Anderson

Employee Engagement shouldn’t be an end goal, says LRN CEO Dov Seidman, in his recent Businessweek article “Why We Can’t ‘Motivate’ Engagement.” Rather, employee engagement should be a side-product of an inspired workforce, Seidman explains. He writes:

“…we must inspire the kind of outcomes we want by rooting ourselves in a set of values, being in the grip of an idea worthy of dedication and commitment, connecting around a meaningful and shared purpose, and aligning around a common, deep and sustainable set of human, societal and environmental values.”

In other words, employees should know what they’re really working for, and be inspired by it.

Employee engagement is thought to be a key measure of workforce happiness (and lately has plummeted to an all-time low). In the past, compensation was the top incentive for workforce loyalty, but studies show that today’s employees want more – they want their job to mean something.

According to Seidman, company leadership must work to convince employees that their work is truly valuable – both for their business and for the larger picture. And working to inspire employees, rather than build employee engagement will pay off. Citing a 2008 study by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, he writes, “Inspirational and ethical leaders were most strongly associated with stronger financial performance,” he writes.

Inc.‘s Issy Lapowsky agrees with Seidman. In her article “10 Things Employees Want Most,” she writes:

“Don’t assume that a hefty paycheck and regular bonuses are the most important things to your employees. They, like you, want to know that what they’re doing on a daily basis has some purpose behind it. ‘What people want most is the chance to make a difference,’ says Alexander Hiam, the Massachusetts-based author of Business Innovation For Dummies. ‘When you have a chance to have your ideas heard and one of them actually gets implemented, it’s such a boost.’

Employees want to know that they are valued as individuals, not just cogs in the wheel – valued in the long term as growth partners for the company.

As Seidman writes, “sustainably engaged employees generate ideas, innovation, creativity, processes and other outcomes that deliver long-term competitive advantages, and they also collaborate with others to make progress.”

Business leaders should work to inspire employees to help the company grow. This requires a long term growth outlook in terms of human capital. HR needs to be seen as an integral part of a company’s business development program.