Prioritize These Values If You Want To Increase Employee Engagement

What makes people feel connected and engaged with their work? And how do you increase employee engagement when it’s low? These questions have been pondered, researched, debated, and written about numerous times. It goes without saying that those who feel connected to their work perform much better than those who are disconnected and disengaged. 

Prioritizing rewards and recognition doesn’t increase employee engagement

When pondering this question, reward and recognition is often the first thing that comes to mind. Surely if we pay people fairly, and look after their material well-being, then they will be present and return the favour? But we know this is not true. 

How many people do you know that earn handsome salaries, yet are not ambassadors of their job? Yes, reward must be fair. But reward alone seldom ticks the box for increasing employee engagement. 

This principle is wonderfully captured in Dan Pinks book Drive, where he explains that monetary reward is, by nature, an extrinsic motivation that has a short-term life span. To do your best work, your motivation must be driven by an internal engine that moves you from the feeling of “I have to” to, “I want to.”

The top 3 intrinsic keys that increase employee engagement

Although there may be many more, we’ve come to find that there are 3 keys that need to be turned on if you want to ignite engagement and motivation in the workplace.  


  • Purpose and Contribution
    When you can connect what you do with who you are, you walk the path of purpose. And as Dan Pink says, “The most motivated people, not to mention those who are motivated and satisfied, hitch their desires to a cause that is larger than themselves.”


  • Belonging and Connection
    The more you enjoy the people you work with, the more you’ll feel a sense of belonging and safety. This is known as ‘relational energy’. When relationships are strong and congenial, focus and energy emerge. Contrary to what some believe, good relationships, make it possible for people to have healthy conflict, hold others accountable, and achieve results. 


  • Growth and Development
    The recipe to finding happiness and resilience in the workplace must include growth and development. The feeling of being stuck seldom produces engagement. Compliance is born from the despair of going nowhere. 
Prioritize These Values if You Want To Increase Employee Engagement

Which is the most important one needed to increase employee engagement?

Although they are all vital, the first one you need to ignite is growth and development. 

Over the past few weeks, we have been focusing on one of our company values that is most important to us, namely, ‘always the student.’ This value, both core and aspirational, speaks very much into the intrinsic motivation of growth and development. And yet it is inextricably tied to the other keys mentioned above.

The base line for this value is quite simple: people are more likely to be engaged when they are in a place of growth and development.

What can you do to promote growth and development?

First and foremost, you must understand that growth is a mindset. We grow because we believe that we can. All too often, organisation’s project an unspoken message that you need to fit into a box. This box lives on the idea that you’ve got a fixed personality that cannot be developed or improved. You might be sent on training, but because we don’t believe people can grow, all we succeed in is ticking the box and spending the budget. I have been involved in training and development for almost twenty years now, and sadly I have far too many examples of people coming to our workshops with no clue what it is about. HR has prescribed the workshop, and the manager has complied. But the manager does not believe in growth, does not take an interest in the growth of the direct report, and therefore does not create the environment for their people to apply insights, learnings, and change. They see there people as fixed people, who cannot change, who cannot learn. 

A learning organisation is the one that believes with the right context, method, and attitude, people can, and do, grow. Does your organisation promote messages that say ‘you can grow’, or does it send subtle messages that you are ‘incapable of growth and change?’ 

Prioritize These Values if You Want To Increase Employee Engagement

What is a learning environment and how do I create it?

Learning environment – that’s an interesting term. A learning environment is an environment where knowleadge is shared, acquired, and created. Every situation, every challenge, is an opportunity to know more and to transfer this knowledge. But for a learning environment to exist there are a couple of building blocks that need to be in place.

1. Creating ways to acquire and transfer knowledge

People are busy. Every day you are bound to experience untold urgencies. Learning and development are not urgent matters. But they are important ones. And important matters tend to be postponed so you can attend to the urgent ones. Some of you might be familiar with the powerful time model of Stephen Covey’s that engages this tension. 

Learning and development needs systems. Such as:

  Time in meetings to share learnings.
– Cross functional engagements to broaden awareness around what others are doing and why
– Technology, to facilitate sharing.
– Mandatory deep dives into discussion following failure or success so we can grow
As Brene Brown says, ‘slogans need systems’, and so does growth and development. The bottom line is, we are unlikely to be a learning organisation without stipulated time in the diary. 

2. Psychological safety so we can share freely

This connects us with the ‘belonging and connection’ component of motivation. People don’t share voluntarily if they don’t feel safe. In fact, it’s even worse; they hide information if they are not feeling safe. 

Bridgewater Associates is considered to have one of the most compelling cultures in the world. This culture is based on its first and most important principle: you have a voice and you are safe to speak up. Their founder Ray Dalio writes, “The greatest tragedy of mankind comes from the inability of people to have thoughtful disagreement to find out what’s true.” How good is that? In a learning environment, people feel safe enough to express difference, which is honored and in return takes them deeper into ‘truth’ and good decision making. Strangely, psychological safety promotes conflict. Not the bad destructive type, but rather the type where people share truth in pursuit of the best way forward. To create a learning environment, focus on safety.

3. Managers must become a resource for learning and development

This means that sometimes managers will be mentors, coaches, and facilitators of insight. Their role is therefore not to ‘catch someone doing something wrong,’ but to develop someone so they can excel within their potential. Sadly, within the pressures of corporate life, far too many managers are unavailable for the growth of those within their organisation and become rather grumpy when they’re asked to develop others. But in a learning environment, managers make time to be the resource of education.

4. Tasks, values, and behaviors are translated into learnable skills

I am terrible at drawing. I concede defeat even before I put pencil to paper. I have always believed that I cannot draw and that it’s a gift that some have been given. Growing up I was never presented with (or perhaps I was uninterested in) the notion that everyone can draw. There are learnable skills to drawing. Yes, I probably wont sell pictures for much, but simply presenting art as something that can be learnt, changes everything. Carol Dweck, in her brilliant book Mindset, refers to renowned and revolutionary artist of the 20th century, Jackson Pollock. As a young boy he was told he could not draw. And with much effort, and the acquisition of skills, he became incredible. In a learning environment, the values of an organisation are translated into learnable skills. For example, if we have a value of courage, then let’s engage the learnable skill of having ‘tough conversations.’ Teach your people the skills and provide the tools so that growth takes place. 

5. Feedback is always orientated around growth

I’m sure we have all been on the other side of negative feedback and walked away scolded yet uniformed and uninspired. It’s a horrible place to be in. But when harsh feedback is accompanied with a desire for growth, people can create change. And this starts when you change the story you tell yourself. Managers can make a difference instead of making a point – if you decide to become the teacher, mentor, and coach. This is not about getting ‘soft’ on wrong doings, but about redeeming the wrong through growth. 

Finally, let’s make quick mention of the motivation of Purpose and Connection. For us in CAFE Life, when we are the student, we live into our purpose. We believe that we live in this beautiful world of mystery and science, of evidence and experience, that calls us daily to learn. A student is therefore a part of who we are, and when we are learning we find a deep sense of purpose. The purpose is learning itself. Maybe not everyone will see it this way, but some will. When you create a learning environment, some might see learning as it’s own deep sense of purpose.  

The world is a crazy place that brings disruption every day. Creating a learning environment is an antidote to disruption and confusion. It connects, redeems, transforms, and ignites.  

Prioritize These Values if You Want To Increase Employee Engagement

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