The Psychology of Employee Engagement
What Role Does Recognition Play?
All company leaders want their employees to be engaged, but “engagement” means different things to different people. To some, that means throwing together ad hoc tactics that offer a gift card when they catch employees doing something right. To others, it means an annual team-building event or group dinner. What are the real factors that contribute to employee engagement? What is the psychology behind employee engagement?
Google “employee engagement” and you’ll get a Wikipedia definition along with many reference websites and companies that train executives in employee engagement programs, companies that help design employee engagement programs or that sell employee engagement surveys and engagement software and measurement tools. The one thing we know for sure: no two agencies agree on the degree to which U.S. employees are engaged (or not).
Regardless of the way in which you define engagement or the metric you use to measure it, it all comes down to people, relationships and meaningful interactions between your company leadership, your employees and your customers.
Why is recognition important?
As far back as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we know that recognition is meaningful to human beings. Since the original Hierarchy was introduced in 1943, amended versions have been offered as a way of adapting those needs to current ideology. The following pyramid adapts Maslow’s employee motivation theory specifically to employee engagement:
We see that employees remain disengaged until they feel that they play a part in the success of the overall organization (Belonging) and are recognized and rewarded for their contributions (Importance).
Because humans are social beings – and even though most communication is through their smart phone, Millennials are especially social – peer-to-peer recognition is increasingly meaningful. Of course it’s important to know that management recognizes your achievements and contributions for career progression; it’s also important that peers recognize and appreciate how your efforts contribute to their success.
The Role of Incentives, Rewards and Recognition in Employee Engagement
An effectively-designed incentive program or employee recognition initiative accomplishes more than simply improving employee morale. The benefits of performance improvement programs also include:
- Helping to communicate company initiatives and goals
- Letting employees know the behavior that is expected and rewarded
- Ensuring that everyone is working toward the same outcomes
- Establishing and reinforcing corporate culture
- Lower turnover
- Increased employee engagement
The link between structured employee recognition programs in performance engagement and the financial performance of a company is well documented. A happier workforce is more likely to be more highly engaged, stays with the company longer and will refer additional talent. It’s no coincidence that “feeling valued” appears on just about every list of things that are important to employees.
Managers as well as employees want to see the bigger picture and understand their role in the success of the organization. Organizations that provide on-going feedback are more transparent and have a more positive work environment where employees feel included and supported.
Meeting the Psychological Needs of Employees
According to a 2017 TinyPulse Survey, positive change starts with awareness and action. Creating a culture of recognition is just one strategy for employee engagement. These steps will meet the emotional and psychological needs of your workforce, while ensuring that company goals and objectives are also met:
- Consistently measure how your employees feel about the work culture
- Establish more team-building activities throughout the organization to build bridges between peers across all departments
- Recognize employees for their efforts or go a step further and implement a peer-to-peer recognition program so no good deed goes unnoticed
- Sit down with employees and work with them to map out career paths
- Invest in both internal and external development opportunities to ensure professional growth
- Hold regular 1:1 meetings with employees to provide valuable and timely feedback on their performance
For more information on effective employee recognition strategies, download our Employee Recognition Program Bible.