· 7 mins · Employee Motivation

The Employee Engagement Hierarchy: How It Works

The employee engagement is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  It reflects an employee’s engagement level as determined by how well their…

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The employee engagement is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  It reflects an employee’s engagement level as determined by how well their needs are being met.

Maslow’s Hierarchy

The following is an employee engagement hierarchy found at HRZone:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

1. Survival

Improving employee engagement is a task that starts with organizations working from the ground up, meaning that leaders must understand the most basic human needs in terms of why a particular individual has chosen to work in their organization. The most basic need of all: survival. Employees at this level of engagement are doing the job to fulfill their most pressing needs, such paying the bills and putting food on the table.

Interestingly, however, though over recent years employers have been pulling away from offering financial incentives to employees, Aon Hewitt’s 2013 report on Global Trends in Employee Engagement has found that pay is the third most powerful driver of engagement (in 2012, “pay” took the sixth spot). What does this mean? That even though pay may not regularly be considered when it comes to employee engagement initiatives, if this most basic of survival needs goes unmet, it will likely pose a significant barrier to having a fully engaged employee. An employee who can’t meet their most basic everyday survival needs will not be able to display actions that require a higher level of engagement like ideation.

2. Job Security

Coming second to pay and also reflecting a basic need is job security. In order to be engaged, employees need to feel as if the job they are in is stable and secure before they invest more time and effort into their work.

But security is not simply a matter of whether an employee is permanent or temporary/on contract. The environment can have a huge impact on how secure an employee feels in his or her job role. For example, being understaffed or having knowledge of other employees being laid off can make an employee feel threatened in his or her own job role. Unless these issues are properly addressed by management, then this, much like pay, can become a huge barrier to employee engagement. Creating employee feedback loops is an effective way that managers can create a dialogue with their direct reports to better understand what may be impacting an employee’s sense of security.

3. Belonging to/Part of a Team

Covering those first two bases lays a strong foundation for building an engaged staff. When in place, organizations can begin to escalate their engagement efforts by first taking steps towards allowing employees to feel as if they truly belong in the organization and are not just there for the job. This is where company culture is key – having recently won the award for Great Places to Work in Canada, here are our 10 ways to make your company a great place to work. An environment that fosters trust, recognizes successes and is lead by transparent and open leaders will allow your staff feel less like “staff” and more like team members.

Fostering trust and transparency can also be addressed by creating that employee feedback loop we mentioned in the previous stage. Creating that relationship sets the stage for the next level of engagement by helping employees be more accountable for their work.

4. Importance/Value

A study “What Drives Employee Engagement and Why It Matters” released in 2012 by MSW Research and Dale Carnegie Training made one thing loud and clear: feeling valued by leadership plays a huge role in an employee feeling engaged in his or her job. According to the study, there are three key drivers:

  • Relationship with immediate supervisor
  • Belief in senior leadership
  • Pride in working for the company

Having a direct relationship with management has a far greater impact on employee engagement than expected.

Trust is the core of high performing employees. In fact here are some of the results of organizations with a high level of trust:

  • 16% greater profit margin
  • 19% greater operating margin
  • 18% greater productivity
  • 2.6 times the earning-per-share growth of less-trusting companies.

Needless to say, trust helps improve engagement and performance! Positive managerial relationships that display trust through openness, communication and regular support engage employees. Concealing information, providing little input or output, and seldom interacting with staff is a sure ticket to disengagement.

5. Self-Actualization

This is the level that every organization should strive to build their employees up towards: self-actualization. In this phase of engagement, experienced and knowledgeable employees actively seek ways to support the organization themselves by sharing their successes and their knowledge with others in the company. This has a cyclical effect and will continue to help create a larger force of engaged employees.

When employee have reached this level of engagement, they are actively trying to improve the way they work. The most obvious sign of a highly engaged employees is a surge of new ideas that they believe can help others perform better or solutions to small problems that cumulatively have a great impact.

Our own hierarchy of engagement meshes with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Here’s how they fit together:

Engaged Innovation Hierarchy

This hierarchy takes off from the middle of Maslow’s, beginning with “Belonging.” Both “View” and “Support” fall within the “Belonging” range. This indicates that to some level, employees believe that they are truly a part of the organization by taking the time to consider their colleagues’ ideas.

Next are “Share” and “Comment.” These two actions fall within the “Importance” category. This sort of action shows that individuals who partake in either activity believe that their thoughts and insight are valuable to others and to leadership. Through sharing and commenting, they show that they are personally investing in an idea.

Last and most ideal is the “Ideas” phase. At this level, individuals are extremely engaged and are constantly coming up with ideas to improve processes will continuing to provide top quality work which correlates to “Self-Actualization”.

Positive managerial practices and relationships create engagement—that we know for sure. Now the task that organizations must take on is figuring out how they can tackle the barriers that may be standing in the way of their own staff’s engagement. There may be no one-size-fits-all solution for every company or even every employee, but with practice and growing experience, any organization can transform their sluggish staff into a happy, high performance team.

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