Four Emotional Drivers for Employee Engagement

We’ve previously examined how you, as a business leader, can create high performing business units to boost your company’s productivity – along with how to hang onto your people by establishing goals and maintaining the communication momentum.

We’ve also delved into the basic truths of how people are emotional – and how emotions affect everything we do and every choice we make.

As a business strategist and executive coach I want to share the importance of boosting your company’s value through a new model of workforce engagement after recent research of 1.4 million employees by Gallup reveals that employee engagement not only boosts morale – but also increases success rates, productivity and quality of work. Additional benefits include lower absenteeism, safety incidents and staff turnover.

Discussed in a recent blog for Harvard Business Review, by Nitin Nohria, Boris Groysberg, and Linda-Eling Lee  the new model is one that all CEOs, MDs and business leaders would be wise to invest in.

Aristotle, Freud and Socrates – who are among the most influential in the study of human behaviour – conducted careful investigations based on direct observations. However, Nohria, Groysberg and Lee compare this to “trying to work out how a car works by examining its movements (starting, stopping, accelerating, turning) – without being able to take apart the engine”.

Unearthing the centuries-old puzzle of what motivates us, and how this can be applied to boosting motivation in the work place, they investigate, not only observable behaviour, but with neuroscience, biology and evolutionary psychology available today – concluding that people are guided by four basic emotional drivers that motivate everything we do:

Acquire – to obtain scarce goods, including intangibles such as social status

Bond – to form connections with individuals and groups

Comprehend – to satisfy our curiosity and master the world around us

Defend – to protect against external threats and promote justice

To apply this to the workplace, they surveyed employees from 300 Fortune 500 companies, which concluded that an organisation’s ability to meet the four emotional needs explains about 60% of employees’ variance on motivational indicators (compared to 30% on previous models).

When addressing employee engagement, it is vital to address each of the emotional drivers equally.


Recognition of good work through a regular reward system will, not only give a tangible reward, but will help employees feel recognised and respected as individuals.


Acknowledge and nurture a spirit of camaraderie amongst employees – organisation of staff activities, charity days or out-of-work social events can help colleagues bond with each other.


Discuss the business and its plans for the future with employees so they can comprehend their role and feel their work is meaningful.  Supporting workplace development and personal growth will also help to fulfil this need.


Employees need to feel that they are treated justly and are able to work in a non-hostile environment.

What are your top tips for securing the emotional needs of your people?  Let us know through a comment below, or for further information on employee engagement, e-mail, follow @richardwhatif on Twitter, connect with me on LinkedIn or post on

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