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How Leaders can Fuel Employee Engagement Using the Science of Human Flourishing

By Ruben Chaumont, Founder & CEO of Intentional Work Communities

Employee Engagement is a critical driver of organizational performance. Research shows that higher levels of employee engagement lead to higher customer satisfaction, higher productivity and profitability, and less employee turnover.[i] What is employee engagement? It is the emotional connection an employee feels toward his or her organization. This emotional connection is important because it influences an employee's behaviors, particularly the level of effort they put into their work.

Unfortunately, many organizations suffer from low engagement. A survey conducted by Gallup revealed that only 29% of employees are engaged at work in the Philippines. Imagine hiring ten employees only to have three of them put in their full effort at work, while the other seven do just the bare minimum or sometimes even less than that. Does that mean that seven employees out of ten arrive at their new jobs already disengaged? In my experience, the answer is no. So if this is not the case, how do so many employees end up becoming disengaged at work?

The Hidden Roots of Employee Disengagement

Over the last seven years, I have been sent into corporations from multiple industries across Europe and Asia in order to help their leaders increase employee engagement. After conducting individual interviews with more than 700 employees, my most important discovery was that many workplace cultures directly generate employee disengagement. In fact, all the employees that I talked to had the desire to perform and create impact for their organizations. They wanted to be empowered, to be trusted, to contribute their ideas, to be given opportunities for learning and growth. So why did they become disengaged? The answer can be found in their work environment. Many work environments prevent employees from bringing their best to their organizations, and little by little they undermine their desire to strive to perform at their best.

The Four Human Needs at Work

I discovered that most of the time when an employee lost motivation, it was because he or she was unable to satisfy one of four types of human needs: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.[ii]   

  • Physical Needs: Resting properly and disconnecting from one's work are critical in order to sustain high levels of productivity and creativity. Unfortunately, many workplace cultures prevent a proper work-life balance. Long hours, constant availability through electronic devices, lack of proper breaks and vacation time, often ends up exhausting people physically and mentally over time and consequently hindering their performance.
  • Emotional Needs: To nurture a sense of engagement, human beings need to feel a sense of trust and self esteem. However, a blame culture, a lack of a strong team, or a lack of support from managers too often discourages people from trying their best.
  • Mental Needs: Achieving great work requires the ability to focus, to be creative, and to take decisions. Unfortunately, more often than not, unclear goals, lack of feedback, and barriers to obtaining information and approvals prevents employees from engaging their brains in pursuit of their work objectives.
  • Spiritual Needs: Waking up inspired and driven to go to work is the strongest guarantee of employee engagement. However, the inability of employees to connect their day-to-day work to a shared vision, values and direction trivializes jobs into meaningless day-to-day tasks.

How Can Leaders Build Workplace Cultures that Fuel Employee Engagement?

A study conducted by The Energy Project in partnership with the Harvard Business Review revealed that organizations where employees are able to fuel their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual (PEMS) needs experience a 91% increase in employee engagement and a 199% increase in employee loyalty. [iii] 

Therefore, one of the most effective ways for leaders to increase employee engagement is to ensure that the work environments and cultures that they build enable their people to satisfy their PEMS needs.

The solutions are often deceptively simple. For example, one manager who took part in our coaching program was responsible for a highly disengaged employee who would not try his best to develop the computer skills that he needed to perform his responsibilities and would consistently submit deliverables of poor quality. Using the PEMS model, the manager was able to design a work environment that fueled the engagement of her employee. She understood that giving more responsibility to her employee and including him more as part of a team would nurture his spiritual needs. She also offered him a closer mentorship for learning computer skills that increased his self confidence and therefore his emotional needs. In one week's time, what appeared to be a lazy and disengaged employee became a highly motivated and productive employee.

I believe it is in the interest of every leader to learn the skills and the tools to drive employee engagement through the Science of Human Flourishing.

[i] http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/163130/employee-engagement-drives-growth.aspx

[ii] Gomes, J., McCarthy C. &, Schwartz, T. (2011). The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs that Energize Great Performance. USA: Simon & Schuster.

[iii] Harvard Business Review & The Energy Project. The Human Era @ Work (2014).

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