The Employee Hierarchy of Needs: Beyond Engagement Lies Inspiration
Employee engagement is a perpetually hot topic in workforce compliance, HR, and management circles. And for good reason: organizations that invest in employee engagement typically outperform their competitors, retain their talented workers for longer, experience fewer workplace incidents, and see higher rates of customer satisfaction.
But how can you tell your employees are engaged? What does engagement look and feel like? Is it measured in smiling faces or hands raised in meetings? Whistling while working? High-fives? Shorter lunch breaks? Fewer emails? More emails?
Whether you think you know, know you know, or have no idea how to define engagement, a 2015 article in the Harvard Business Review offers some remarkable insights. Remember Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? In “Engaging Your Employees Is Good, but Don’t Stop There,” Bain & Company partners Eric Garton and Michael Mankins take a page from Maslow and divide the ambiguous concept of engagement into an employee hierarchy of needs.
Their pyramid starts with satisfaction—the elements necessary for employees to feel safe, competent, and valued at work.
From there, the authors clarify what we actually mean when we talk about engagement: engaged employees “are part of an extraordinary team,” “have autonomy to do their jobs,” “learn and grow every day,” and “make a difference and have an impact.”
But the pyramid doesn’t stop at engagement. At the top is inspiration: “the feeling that you derive meaning and purpose from the company’s mission.”
Why does inspiration matter? Take a look at Garton and Mankins’ research:
“Most of us know how important inspiration can be in everyday life. In the workplace, as one pundit put it, employees react differently when they encounter a wall. Satisfied employees hold a meeting to discuss what to do about walls. Engaged employees begin looking around for ladders to scale the wall. Inspired employees break right through it.
In the research, we surveyed over 300 senior executives from companies all over the world. We asked them to assess, based on their impressions of employee output, the relative productivity of dissatisfied, satisfied, engaged, and inspired employees. The results point to the productive power of an engaged and inspired workforce. If satisfied employees are productive at an index level of 100, then engaged employees produce at 144, nearly half again as much. But then comes the real kicker: inspired employees score 225 on this scale. From a purely quantitative perspective, in other words, it would take two and a quarter satisfied employees to generate the same output as one inspired employee.”
Read “Engaging Your Employees Is Good, but Don’t Stop There” at HBR.org.
What we love about this pyramid is that it underscores a fundamental truth about workforce management: compliance, safety, and employee happiness are not mutually exclusive. Learn more about how you can improve your culture of compliance while maintaining employee engagement and satisfaction—and maybe, inspiring your employees along the way.