What Really Drives Employee Engagement

Top leaders are shocked when talented employees jump ship. Working with more than 33,000 organizations over the last decade, we’ve seen this reaction before. Leaders are left scratching their heads, curiously thinking: "But we paid them far above the industry average. Why on earth would they choose to leave?"

What Really Drives Employee Engagement

Top leaders are shocked when talented employees jump ship. Working with more than 33,000 organizations over the last decade, we’ve seen this reaction before. Leaders are left scratching their heads, curiously thinking: "But we paid them far above the industry average. Why on earth would they choose to leave?"

What Really Drives Employee Engagement

The truth is, “show me the money isn’t where it’s at.” 

If the place down the street offers a far better working environment for the same amount of pay – or heck, even 15% less – trust me when I tell you employee retention is at risk. We know this because our employee engagement research has proven it time and time again. 

Now, we’re not saying money is unimportant. It is. Just stop paying your people and see if they show up to work tomorrow. What we’re saying is, money isn’t the most important thing.

You see, pay and benefits are part of what we call “The Basics” or the “Me” factors at WorkplaceDynamics. They’re the part of a job a candidate generally knows in advance of accepting an offer with your organization. And they’re not what drives employee engagement. 

So, if ‘show me money’ isn’t where it’s at—what is most important to employees?

In more than 40 regions across the United States, our employee engagement survey points to the same three statements:

Direction: “I believe this company is headed in the right direction.”

Top scoring companies are made up of employees who believe in the organization and the direction set by senior leadership. Why? Employees are human, and humans want a higher purpose in life.

It can be as simple as making a bumper for a car, understanding how it fits into the car, and knowing how happy people feel when they drive it. Employees who believe the company is headed in the right direction are also aligned around that direction. And there’s an additional biological and psychological benefit for people too. When everyone is aligned behind the company’s direction, it connects them to the common ground of sharing their desire to achieve it. 

Appreciation: “I feel genuinely appreciated at this company.”

Rooted in neuroscience, appreciation impacts people on a deep, emotional level. It increases motivation, job satisfaction, self-esteem—even overall employee health and well-being. It’s the glue that holds teams together. Not only does appreciation help people feel good, it also has an effect on how teams operate, and ultimately, how companies perform.

There’s a lot of research that talks about what happens when you continuously pick at and critique employees. They’re less likely to have the desire to improve. But take the time to recognize what they contribute to the organization—as minor as it may be—and employees will emulate that behavior in the future. Think of appreciation as a magnet that draws people toward better results.

The Leader: “I have confidence in the leader of this company.”

There’s more to achieving organizational excellence than effective leadership alone. Still, the person at the top of the org chart is the person with the biggest influence on the health of the company. 

Energy and commitment dwindle when a company’s leader doesn’t pay attention to the people part of the business. It hits all the levels of Maslow’s pyramid. Sure, a leader who doesn’t listen can squash the self-actualizing tippity-top of individual needs. But the leader can also cause harm to a person’s esteem needs by not listening to or acting on what seems to be common sense. 

When employees don’t think the head of the organization is competent to lead, they’ll begin to wonder about financial performance, the long-term staying power of the company, and job security. And it’s the top leader who can enable—or disable—all of these from happening through their behavior. 

Once you get above the basic human cash needs, intrinsic motivation is what gets the juices flowing to sustain engaged employees who want to stick around, perform at their best, and recommend your organization to others.

** This post was originally shared on Workplace Dynamics blog. 

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Workplace Dynamics, a Ytel Content Partner

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Workplace Dynamics helps businesses achieve organizational health by improving bottom-line results through employee engagement surveys.


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