The evolution of employee engagement
  • leadership
  • Blog post

The evolution of employee engagement

Does science hold the key to what drives employee engagement? Possibly.

Consider a psychological concept called “attachment theory.” According to the theory, attachment offers an evolutionary edge: In ancestral times the genes of offspring who maintained close proximity to caregivers (initially a mother and father, later a tribe) survived better than those who didn’t.

Due to genetic selection over thousands of years, modern humans are driven to seek security by attaching themselves to a group. It’s why people try to stick together in dangerous situations. And why we form close bonds not only with our families, but with all the “tribes” we belong to – the school we attended, the team we root for, the fraternity or sorority we joined, the political party we identify with, our nation, our religion.

Team as tribe
So how does this apply to the workplace?

In organizations, employees seek to attach themselves to a team led by a person who is exceptionally competent and trustworthy. The payoff for them – and this is in their very genes – is a feeling of security.

When employees have a strong attachment bond with leaders, and see their team as a “safe haven,” the emotional energy that might otherwise be used to cope with fear of rejection or destructive conflict with others is channeled directly to the work. Because of this, such employees are more productive.

3x effort
How much more productive?

Employees who feel actively engaged and attached to their team put in three times as much effort as an employee who is actively disengaged and feels no attachment to a team.

As a leader, you can see why it’s worth your trouble to foster the bonds of engagement that your people are itching in their very makeup to feel. You can do that by:

  • listening to them
  • keeping your word, and
  • taking the heat yourself rather than reflecting it onto your people if a third party — inside the organization or outside — criticizes the team’s work.

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