The Top Psychological Drivers of Employee Engagement

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Top Psychological Drivers of Employee Engagement

The psychology of employee engagement has been studied extensively over decades. Similarly, the link between a company’s employee engagement and their productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction ratings is also well established. Yet, measuring the specific ‘drivers’ of engagement and their contribution to overall employee engagement has been challenging.

While there are 14 unique psychological drivers of employee engagement that Qualee references, this article outlines the top seven: why they’re relevant and how you can leverage them to improve engagement in your own organisation.

Employee Engagement

Several studies have shown that engaged employees are more likely to be loyal, and productive. Teams with a high level of engagement have been found to be 21 percent more profitable than others [1]. Employees who believe that their opinions are valued are almost five times more encouraged to function at their best [2].

These are reasons enough for companies to invest in employee engagement. But while every organisation wants its employees to be engaged, few have formalised protocols to encourage it.

More than 65 percent of employees don’t feel engaged at work [3], while more than 60 percent of businesses state that retaining their employees is more challenging than recruiting them [4]. All these are findings from the pre-pandemic era.

In a physically isolated and uncertain world, the challenges have only become bigger. How do you derive actionable insights and create an engaged workforce in a world that has institutionalised remote work and virtual meetings? What are the top drivers of employee engagement for offices in this new reality?

1. Strategy

Strategy is essential for providing a sense of direction for every single in an organization. Studies have found that employees who believe in the mission of their organisation are 72% more productive than those who don’t.

Unfortunately, numerous businesses make the mistake of communicating their strategy from the top down, through layers of org charts and the true company mission is lost before it gets to everyone.

Additionally, management communicates to employees after strategic decisions are made, which creates employee distrust. It is important you share plans as well as the general directions in which the organisation is headed. This doesn’t mean that every decision has to be revealed, but employees shouldn’t be surprised by big decisions.

When employees are onboard with your strategy, they’re more likely to have a clear sense of direction, feel committed, and ultimately, be more engaged.

2. Autonomy

The importance of autonomy has been acknowledged in several academic studies [5, 6] and psychologists have proposed that all humans have a desire to feel in control of their behaviour and that this provides the foundation for intrinsic motivation.

An excellent indicator of good company culture is the level of autonomy its employees enjoy. If you have to constantly supervise your employees, it shows that you don’t trust them enough. In a virtually connected world, those intrusions will also take up precious time.

Once you define a goal and let them know of the expected results, you should give them the autonomy to do it their way. That’s how you get them to feel engaged and empowered. This will also make them accountable for their actions. They’ll know when to take responsibility and correct the course.

3. Peer Relationships

Peer relationships affect our sense of belonging to our organisation. When people feel connected to others and experience a sense of belonging, their motivation to complete tasks increases.

An office is more than a physical collective primed for productivity. It’s also the informal get-togethers, corridor conversations, and shared meals. An employee’s construct of an office is a summation of all these non-structured but human experiences. That’s what instils a sense of belonging and gets them to overlook the minor flaws of an organisation.

COVID-19 has disrupted all that. Now, more than ever, employees need to feel that they are together. “We are all in the same boat” should be a recurring theme for managers and HR units. To effectively do that, management should evaluate employees as individuals and not as nameless units in a system.

4. Management Support

The role of management used to be primarily concerned with execution and efficiency, but focus has shifted towards coaching and empathy. Management support is also about developing and empowering employees to do more without relying on the outdated methods of reward and punishment.

Organisations should institute a system for continuous feedback that encourages employees to actively participate. This is absolutely necessary as remote work gets regularised.

Modern forms of management are all about using empathy, emotional intelligence and feedback to build better relationships with employees. Done right, people are more willing to invest in their work, which results in better overall motivation, engagement and performance.

5. Accomplishment

Feeling a sense of accomplishment is essential for humans to enjoy life, including our work life and it also reinforces our self-image. Doing as little as possible with our time isn’t as wonderful as it may sound for most people, particularly when apply ourselves to meaningful activities creates that sense of accomplishment.

Although the draw towards the big results may be strong, research shows that most people benefit from regular steps of progress than only looking for the long shot. Regular success provides more opportunities for reflection and validation to keep going. Small wins along the way are important. When people consistently make progress on significant activities, they have greater opportunities for creativity and deeper engagement.

Therefore, appreciate consistent progress over mega wins to foster accomplishment and remember, we should not mistake activity for accomplishment.

6. Recognition

It is critically important that employees are recognised for their good work regularly and it is well known that employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to quit within a year.

To learn how effective employees are at work, feedback is required. It allows them to know how well they’re performing against expectations, which promotes feelings of satisfaction and competence.

Feeling competent is a fundamental human need that is required for us to be motivated to undertake a task and to understand how that task fits into the bigger picture as well as understanding how it impacts others.

Therefore, it is imperative that managers take the time to ensure they are distributing recognition evenly amongst various members of their teams.

7. Meaningful Work

What gets people up and going is not the remuneration behind it. What makes them look forward to Mondays is not just the size or stability of the company. It’s the purpose, challenge and respect in the workplace.

Most of us want our work to be valuable to ourselves, our company and in many cases, society as a whole. A lack of meaning can quickly lead to a loss of motivation and a decline in employee engagement. Considering how much time we spend at work, it’s important for companies to consider the value of meaningful work, especially as it’s tied so closely to our identity and sense of self.

Therefore, it is crucial to define your organisation’s purpose beyond financial goals and quarterly results. The purpose should be positioned as a higher-order benefit that inspires and engages your workforce. That’s when your employees will feel motivated because they’ll know that no matter how insignificant their role, what they do collectively makes a difference.

Perhaps never before in recent memory has the need for employee engagement been so significant. An organisation is only as good as its people. For them to feel invested in the company’s future, the organisation must be invested in their emotional wellbeing. That’s when employee engagement initiatives will grow up to be a core function within companies.

Qualee’s platform automates the process of assessing the employee experience, providing actionable insights that can measurably improve employee engagement. Change what you can measure with Qualee and sign up for our FREE Starter Plan today.


[1] https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236366/right-culture-not-employee-satisfaction.aspx
[2] https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2018/02/why-equality-and-diversity-need-to-be-priorities
[3] https://news.gallup.com/poll/241649/employee-engagement-rise.aspx
[4] https://www.zenefits.com/workest/employee-turnover-infographic/
[5] Hackman & Oldman (1976). Motivation through the design of work: test of a theory
[6] Locke (1968). Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives
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