What Really Drives Employee Engagement

by Tom Devane

Hint: Show me the money isn’t
where it’s at

Top leaders are shocked when talented employees jump ship. Working with more than 57,000 organizations over the last decade, we’ve seen this reaction before. Leaders left scratching their heads, curiously thinking: But we paid them far above the industry average. Why on earth would they choose to leave?

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 10% 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” at Energage. 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.

What really matters most employees

If pay and benefits don’t lead to employee engagement, then what does? Our research points 15 key culture drivers. Let’s take a look at the top four:

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

Successful organizations are made up of employees who believe in the direction set by senior leadership. But getting Direction right can be challenging. That’s because it requires an authentic belief, a smart strategy, and regular communication.

While human resources can champion Direction, it’s the responsibility of senior leadership to drive it. 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, but it also has an effect on how teams operate, and ultimately, how companies perform.

Employees who feel unappreciated are less likely to have the desire to improve. But when you 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.

Meaningfulness: “My job makes me feel like I am part of something meaningful.”

Work without meaning is drudgery, but meaningful work feels effortless. It’s the difference between employee disengagement and employee satisfaction. Since most people spend the majority of their waking hours at work, they need to know how their individual contributions benefit the organization and the people it serves.

Ensure your organization’s mission reflects meaning that can resonate with many. Encourage teams to talk about how their work makes a difference. Because when your employees find meaningfulness, they’ll be motivated by a whole lot more than a paycheck or perks.

Potential: “This company enables me to work at my full potential.”

People want to stretch themselves, so potential is a huge motivator for most. When employees can’t achieve this, they begin to feel stuck or unrecognized, which makes it more likely for them to start a job search.

Find opportunities to be flexible and give employees the freedom to spread their wings with challenging work. When your people are able to realize their full potential, so will your organization.

Engagement is the outcome of a healthy workplace culture

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.

Know where your culture stands

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