The message to leaders, managers and other stakeholders could not be clearer. In the post-COVID world of organisational performance, following the pivot to remote and flexi-working, the leadership is going to have to work hard on the inevitable change in culture, as well as on the level of engagement that flows from that. All the evidence makes a compelling case that employee engagement is key to a quick recovery and increased productivity.
Traditionally, accepted research shows that the three pillars of ‘employee engagement’ are ensuring that your people feel valued, involved and developed. In the new world all those things are more difficult to engender, require greater planning and more agile leadership.
A national employee survey from EachPerson suggested that over 90% of employees feel recognition is important. However, 62% of workers stated that they were rarely appreciated by their employers. 72% of employees also said that they would work harder if they were appreciated.
We have no doubt that forward thinking companies are already working hard to re-engage their teams. However our work in helping leaders engage people’s hearts and minds, even remotely, suggests there is an equally important fourth pillar.
This fourth pillar is the need to feel inspired which, in turn, requires that employees find meaning in their work.
To understand the process of employee engagement beyond mere research figures we must start by reminding ourselves about basic human nature. This is where Abraham Maslow started over eighty years ago. It is no coincidence that there is a correlation between the three pillars of feeling valued, involved and developed and Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’.
The feeling of being valued, both economically and socially, links directly to Maslow’s need for security and esteem. One of the deepest hungers of the human heart is to be valued for who we are. The desire to be involved and have one’s talents utilised and recognised links to the need to belong. In an era when many people feel alienated and disassociated from the world around them, there is a need to feel a part of the company rather than apart from it. Finally, the need to be developed, to unlock one’s potential, relates to the drive of self-actualisation. As children we can’t help but develop and there is no reason why this should stop the moment we hit adulthood. To learn and extend oneself is evolutionary.
Self-actualisation is not in fact the highest need, but something Maslow called ‘self-transcendence’ where people feel that they make a difference and serve some purpose. It is when people feel this connection to a bigger idea, to something significant, that they feel inspired. Inspiration in turn gives rise to new levels of enthusiasm and engagement.
Leaders therefore need to know how to create meaning if they want true engagement. For example, employees respond to organisations that have a reputation for social responsibility or for being a leader in the community.
Rousing people to outstanding performance firmly rests on the fourth pillar of inspiring meaning at work.
Therefore, ask not ‘how much do you want?’, but ‘what matters to you?’