Understanding the Employee Engagement Hierarchy

More and more studies reveal that positive workplaces are the key to driving productivity, reducing employee turnover, and preventing disengagement. Where the real dilemma lies, however, is how to create those positive workplaces that engage employees in the first place.

There’s a fantastic diagram based on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs called “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Applied to Employee Engagement” found at HRZone:

This variation of the hierarchy reflects an employee's engagement level as determined by how well their needs are being met. This post will break down the hierarchy by taking a closer look at each step in the pyramid.  


Employee engagement starts with employers working from the ground up. Employers must understand the most basic human need as it relates to why a particular individual has chosen to work at their organisation. Employees at this level of engagement remain at the company merely to fulfill their most pressing needs, such as going to work every day to pay the bills.


In order to be engaged, employees need to feel as if their job is stable and secure. The environment can have a huge impact on this. For example, being understaffed or having knowledge of other employees being laid off can make an employee feel threatened in his or her own job role. Unless these issues are properly addressed by management, this can become a huge barrier to employee engagement. Managers and leadership can prevent this feeling of insecurity by maintaining a high level of transparency with employees.


Covering the bottom two layers of the hierarchy lays a strong foundation for building engaged staff. Organisations must make employees feel as though they truly belong in the organisation and are not just there for the job. This is where company culture becomes key. An environment that fosters trust, recognises successes, and is lead by transparent and open leaders will allow your staff to feel less like “staff” and more like team members.


Feeling valued by leadership plays a big role in employees feeling engaged in their jobs. Having a direct relationship with management has a far greater impact on employee engagement than most realise. Positive managerial relationships that display trust through openness, communication and regular support keeps employees engaged, whereas concealing information, providing little input or output, and seldom interacting with staff results in disengagement.


This is the level that every organisation should aim to build their employees up to. In this phase of engagement, experienced and knowledgeable employees actively seek ways to support the organisation themselves, by sharing their successes and knowledge with others in the company. This has a cyclical effect and will continue to help create a larger force of engaged employees.

Positive managerial practices and nurturing relationships result in engagement. Organisations must figure out how they can tackle the barriers that may be standing in the way of this engagement. There may not be a one-size-fits-all solution for every company or even every employee, but with practice and growing experience, any organisation can transform their workplace into a high-performing team.

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