Engagement is a term we hear regularly, but rarely reflect on what it really means. In this blog, we will talk about what engagement really is, how it shows up in our everyday lives and (perhaps most importantly) how we can achieve true employee engagement in our workplaces.

Ultimately, we either engage in something fully, or we don’t. Try paying close attention to the conversation on TV, whilst reading a book for instance. Or try giving your attention to how a loved one is feeling whilst filling in your tax return. It’s simply not possible. Engagement is, quite frankly, all or nothing. You are either engaged, or you’re not.

And the same can be said for engagement in a professional sense too.

In our workplaces engagement is much the same. You are either engaged at work, or you’re not. There isn’t really a middle ground. Where our attention goes we inadvertently follow. So, if we want to engage people in the workplace, then we need to find positive ways and reasons to capture their attention and then most importantly keep it.

As humans, we are (generally) motivated by gain and avoiding pain. You will have heard of people chasing the proverbial carrot or avoiding the stick. In the work context we know that the stick approach rarely helps performance, or certainly not in a lasting way. But even tangible rewards (carrots) only get you so far. For instance, if someone gets a 1% or 2% pay rise, do they work 1 or 2% harder for ever more? I would suggest not. And this is because pay and bonuses are extrinsic rewards, and not intrinsic.

Motivation is best understood in contrast between extrinsic (external) motivation and intrinsic motivation (internal). An intrinsic reward is an intangible award of recognition, a sense of achievement, or a conscious satisfaction. Whilst an extrinsic reward is an award that is tangible or physically given to someone for accomplishing something. It is a tangible recognition of one’s endeavour, but it is not a way to establish true log term engagement.

We believe that many leaders have a misunderstanding of what “employee engagement” really is. Employee engagement is not about the short term response often felt from receiving material benefits, rather it refers to the emotional commitment an employee has to their organisation, specifically its vision, its purpose and its goals. As previously mentioned, to truly achieve this we must tap into peoples deep intrinsic motivation.

As a leader, when it comes to the workplace and ensuring our employees are truly engaged, it’s their psychological needs we can appeal to. Only this will get someone’s attention, engage them and ensure they remain loyal to that company long term. Ultimately fulfilling an employee’s intrinsic needs are by far the best way to garner their full attention and engage them in truly positive ways so that they can show up as the best version of themselves and do the best job possible.

With this in mind, here are five easy ways to inspire intrinsic engagement within your teams:

  1. Recognition: Acknowledging a person for the time, effort and focus they give to their job can have extraordinary results when done properly. To do this, managers will need to give three key things; their thanks, their attention and their time. They will need to go beyond the operational and directive conversations to connect with their team at the human level. Too often conversations are about things that have gone wrong, or things that need doing.  However it’s acknowledgement and recognition at a human level can really make the difference to how connected an employee feels to what they do and how they work with.
  2. Significance: It’s essential to help people see the value ‘they’ add. The key here is managers focusing their attention on the fact that an individual is really making a difference to people. It can be all too easy to get lost in the machine of an organisation. Recognition is good and praise feels nice, but to feel truly significant takes things to another level. To feel there is something about you that is special is a powerful feeling. It’s more than simply doing the job, but how you interact and behave. As a leader, look out for those who are positive, calm, supportive, encouraging, caring or helping create and sustain team work. These behaviours will make a significant difference to your team and should therefore should be discussed and encouraged.
  3. Growth: Many people yearn for change or growth in their careers. For some people the change they dream of may be a senior position with the responsibility to make a mark or leave a legacy on the organisation. For others the change might be having a go at a new job, process or activity for a few hours or days. The motivation is generated by the reward of going beyond their comfort zone, trying something new, realising the world didn’t end, and then relishing that intoxicating feeling of accomplishment and pride by daring to do something new. The key for any leader is creating opportunities for growth with their team members and then nurturing and supporting further activity to build momentum and help fulfil ambitions.
  4. Contribution: For most people helping others in some way promotes a feeling of positive wellbeing. As leaders, we can point out and remind people of how they help keep the organisation going, sustaining livelihoods. Certainly, activities away from standard work practices can help to do this too. Tasking a team, cross functional group or individual to explore and solve a problem, or indeed aid or mentor another team member, can really help to make people feel that they are contributing. Another way to do this is to enable people to share their non-work related skills or knowledge with others and run events to help the local community. Contributions like this helps those who receive it, but also generates a positive buzz for the person who is giving their time effort and energy too, so it’s a win win.
  5. Meaningful purpose: Many employees commit their lives to a career that simply pays the bills or is a job they fell into. But there is more to life than just paying bills. Most people have that inner voice that asks, “what’s the point of all this?”and says “there must be more to life than this?” We all want some form of purpose and meaning, but rarely think about what this may be. Interestingly it’s rarely the job itself that gives a sense of fulfilment and purpose, rather it’s often about the people, helping those around you, having the opportunity to provide and encourage that usually ticks that purpose box. We can choose to look beyond our day to day ‘tasks’ and focus more broadly on what and how we are giving beyond our job. Helping people see this can be hugely powerful. Giving people a life changing reason to get up and come to work. Take this famous example: In 1962, President John F. Kennedy visited NASA. During his tour he met a janitor who was carrying a broom down the hallway. The President casually asked the janitor “what do you do for NASA?” and the janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

These five ways are just a snapshot of some simple things we can all do today engage people. And in doing so, we can enable them to show up as the best versions of themselves at work and ultimately love what they do.

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.