Thousands of pounds of toner and gallons of ink have been spilled — and trillions of pixels imaged — in emphasizing the importance of employee engagement. But does focusing on employee engagement actually LEAD to employee engagement?

At least one expert in the field says No. Rather, according to Susan Fowler at The Ken Blanchard Cos., engagement improves when organizations address the three core psychological needs that employees have. These are:

  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness, and
  • Competence

The big three
Let’s examine these three areas.

Autonomy means that employees feel they have choices. They’re not locked into an inflexible work routine that is set out for them, and over which they feel they have little control. They have some control over the way they do the work, and also over how they organize their time to get it done.


Relatedness has to do with work relationships. Do employees see meaning and purpose in the relationships they maintain with co-workers, or are these lacking in depth, openness and human warmth?

Competence means that employees have a sense that they are growing and learning, rather than stagnating and/or being exploited solely for one or two skills they happen to have.

A natural flow
When these needs are met, Fowler says, the quality of employee motivation is high, and greater engagement naturally flows from it.

To be sure, there are lots of other motivational levers that managers and organizations can pull — power, status, rewards, guilt, or a fear of disappointing co-workers.

But, according to Fowler, this kind of motivation is low-quality and is likely to result in disengagement, the opposite of what savvy managers want.

Adapted from an article in Human Resource Executive Online.

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