Understanding the employee engagement model

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May 2021

When an employee is engaged, they are working at their full potential. This involves innovating, problem-solving and acting as ‘influencers’ for a company’s values. However, it can be rare to find a truly engaged employee. According to a recent study by Gallup, 85% of employees are disengaged in the workplace, costing businesses in the UK £21.2 billion in losses each year. 

This issue has become even more important to address in current circumstances, given that many employees are under increased pressure, and businesses are operating in an unprecedented environment of uncertainty. Furthermore, in today’s remote and hybrid work environment, employees are more likely to feel disconnected from their team.

Employee engagement has been a significant area of study for business professionals and occupational psychologists. This can be seen in the variety of models leaders use to create strategies for increasing engagement and morale. By understanding employee engagement models, organisations are better positioned to take meaningful action, reaping the rewards of a healthier, actively engaged, and driven workforce. Here are two examples of the most common employee engagement models.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

This is the pyramid-shaped employee engagement model that most people are aware of, mapping out what human beings need to feel fulfilled. Once the base level need is fulfilled, a person is motivated towards reaching the next level and so on, up the 5 levels of the pyramid. The theory behind this model is that you cannot progress to the next level unless the need below it has been met.

These levels, from lowest to highest, include:

  1. Psychological needs – These are the most basic needs of an employee and include access to a comfortable workspace, regular breaks and the resources they need to get the job done.

  1. Safety – Employees need to feel as though their personal and work items are secure, and that there is minimal personal risk (e.g. injury or illness) in their day-to-day role. This concept of safety also includes emotional safety and support, trust between employees and teams, and job security.

  1. Belonging – To be productive, employees need to feel that their work has a distinct purpose, as well as having shared values and a sense of camaraderie within their team. More often than not, a sense of ‘belonging’ is critical to people feeling valued within an organisation.

  1. Esteem – Employees also need to feel that they are recognised for their contribution, hard work, good ideas, and skills. As well as this, employees who feel as though they are struggling need to feel supported, be it professionally or personally.

  2. Self-actualisation – Once all these lower needs are met, employees feel like they are doing their very best work. This motivates people to keep working hard, growing and learning new skills, and expanding their careers by seeking more responsibilities.

The Four Enablers of Employee Engagement

Another popular theory is focused on transforming organizational culture through key drivers of employee engagement, or ‘enablers’.

  1. Strategic narrative – This is the creation of an organisational story that pulls your employees onto the same track as your organisation. It frames who you are, where you come from, the future you envision, and why that matters. It’s your big picture, driving a feeling of purpose and knowing your contribution towards the final vision.

  1. Engaging managers – To be engaging managers, leaders have to coach their people and help them see their real potential. This means recognising that each person has different needs, skills and values, and using this as the basis to provide individual support and guidance.

  1. Employee voice – Employees are often the first to know when something is going wrong or where the potential to improve exists – yet they can be among the last to speak up. Leaders need to create a culture where ideas and criticism can be shared freely, so employees feel both valued and empowered to put their ideas into practice.

  1. Integrity - While it is common for an organisation to have a set of values, leaders must have the integrity to embody these values. Without integrity, a company’s values become meaningless. Integrity also means leaders have to deliver on their promises, whether that involves regular performance reviews or nurturing their employees’ growth, development and progression.

Kahn’s 3 Dimensions of Employee Engagement 

A lot of what we currently know about employee engagement can be credited to Willian Kahn. A psychologist, Kahn wanted to understand the factors that affect people’s experiences and performance at work. He hypothesised that people connect to their work in three primary ways:

  • Physical engagement - This can be defined as how employees are active within their workplace. For instance, do they hold meetings or brainstorming sessions? Are they able to move between different interactions with colleagues with ease and confidence? These are just a few examples of ways in which employees engage with the physical work environment.

  • Cognitive engagement - Employees are cognitively engaged when they understand their unique contribution to the company’s long-term strategy. Do they take an active role in driving the organisation forward? Do they embody a company’s values or act as ‘influencers’ in the workplace? These all signify a commitment to fulfilling what the company is trying to achieve.

  • Emotional engagement - How are employees made to feel in their day-to-day role? Emotional engagement is all about feeling valued, trusted and as part of a team. Fostering a sense of ‘belonging’ should be an integral part of any employee engagement strategy. This is often at the core of HR’s efforts to build positive relationships and boost morale within a team.

The Totem platform is designed for leaders looking to create engaged, motivated and supportive teams. Our employee engagement software provides a dedicated space for workplace culture, whilst also offering managers workplace culture insights to help them measure engagement across their organisation. Request a demo of the Totem platform today or get started for free here.

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