Cultivating Employee Engagement

We are all aware that organisations with great cultures create great workplaces. Research by the Barrett Values Centre (2013) concluded that “values driven organisations are the most successful organisations on the planet”. They generate higher earnings, are more profitable, more customer focused and more productive.

Values are basically what is important to us, both individually, and collectively (as a tribe, organisation, society, etc). Following on from the work of Maslow, our potential for happiness, joy and contentment depends significantly on the degree to which environments in which we live and work satisfy our basic needs and nurture and support our growth needs. Table 1 presents an overview of basic (deficiency) and growth needs.

Types of Needs Development Needs Need Requirement

Growth Needs

(Being Needs)

Service Satisfying your need to leave a legacy – to lead a life of significance that will be remembered.
Making a difference Satisfying your need to actualise your purpose by influencing or impacting the world around you.
Internal cohesion Satisfying your need for authenticity and to find meaning and purpose in your life.
Transformation Satisfying your need for autonomy, freedom and independence.

Basic Needs

(Deficiency Needs)

Self-esteem Satisfying your emotional need to be recognised by others as valuable or important because f your skills, talents or qualities.
Relationship Satisfying your emotional need for belonging, protection, and connection.
Survival Satisfying your emotional needs for security – staying alive and keeping your body healthy.



To meet these needs, workplaces need structures, policies, systems and procedures that enable  people to look after their families, form friendships with colleagues, excel at what they do best, nurture and cultivate autonomy, find authenticity, meaning and purpose, have opportunities to make a difference, and where possible, leave a positive legacy.  This results in high employee engagement and performance.

Based on Gallup research (2012), organisations with a highly engaged workforce have 3.9 times the earning per share growth rate compared to similar industry organisations with low engagement. AON Hewett (2012) found that companies with high level employee engagement (upwards of 65%) outperform the stock market, posting total shareholder returns 22% more than average companies.  Companies with low engagement (less than 45%) had total shareholder returns 28% lower than average.

A 2012 report from the UK showed that the four enablers of high employee engagement are:

  • Visible, empowering leadership providing strong strategic narrative about the organisation, where it’s come from and where it’s going.
  • Engaging managers who provide focus for their people and give them responsibility, treat their people as individuals, and coach, support and stretch their people.
  • Giving employees a voice to either reinforce or challenge existing views.
  • Organisational integrity – the values on the wall are reflected in the day-to-day behaviours. There is no “say-do” gap.

Research from the UK indicated that only 27% of UK employees were “highly engaged”, the results of which have huge impact on productivity for the nation (Rayton, 2012). Numbers for Australia were not provided.

Results of high employee engagement workplaces include:

  • Increased productivity
  • Increased profit
  • More customer focus
  • Increased retention rates
  • Reduce safety incidents
  • Reduced absenteeism.

A correlation study over 10 years, utilising the results from the Great Places to Work Institute has demonstrated that workplaces with higher employee engagement returned an annual return of 16.39% compared to 4.12% for S&P companies not listed as one of the top 40 US companies to work. Caring about employees is directly related to wellbeing, and also to financial success.

When organisation have low employee engagement that suffer from “cultural entropy”. Cultural entropy is a measure of the amount of energy consumed in doing unnecessary or unproductive work.  It is reflected in the level of conflict, friction, and frustration that employees encounter in the day-to-day activities that prevent them and the organisation from operating at peak performance.  The main source of cultural entropy is from fear based actions and behaviours of the leaders, managers, and supervisors generally as a result of having their own deficit needs not met (Barrett, 2013).

When we strive to need the basic and growth needs of people we increase their engagement and everybody wins. The starting point is always with ourselves, and our own personal mastery.

The more strategically we review how we operate, and how we foster and enable others to flourish, the faster we can achieve a high performing and engaged workplace, which attracts and retains quality people, and delivers fiscal benefits.

Posted in On Leadership