Business Results and Happier Employees

The answers to the most important questions related to engagement

What is engagement?

Engagement is the energy we put into work. The degree of engagement tells us something about how much effort we are going to put into a task.  The quality of our engament tells about our understanding and our ability to work creatively, effectively and persevere. Many organizations have difficulty building a strong culture of engagement, even though they use large resources. The problem is that they focus on the degree of engagement rather than the quality. If we want to build strong cultures of engagement, we need to distinguish between the quality of engagement end the degree.

Where does engagement come from?  

Engagement can come from experiencing meaning and joy. It can also come from the promise of reward or punishment. When our engagement is based on meaning and joy, we call it self-determination. When our engagement is based on promises of reward or threats of punishment, we call it controlled. It is important to note that only the self-determined engagement can give us an indication of the quality of our future efforts.

According to the Theory of Self-Determination, SDT we humans have three basic psychological needs that must be activated if we are to find meaning and joy in work. The needs are self-determination (autonomy), mastery and relatedness.

  • Self-determination (autonomy): We have a need to engage based on meaning and joy.
  • Mastery: We have a need to use our knowledge and skills, and to acquire any new competence needed to do our work and make a positive difference
  • Relatedness: We have a need to work in groups where we support one another and bring out the best in one another

For work to make sense, we must, at the very least, experience that our engagement strengthens our basic psychological needs in the long run. For work to bring joy, we must experience that our psychological needs are activated in the moment. Experiencing joy at work is very much about engaging ourselves in a way that matches our own personality, because our personality affects how we best activate our psychological needs.

The Theory of Self-Determination is the most established and verified theory in the field of motivational psychology today and it is used in business, sports, education in the USA, Europe, and Asia.

What does engagement lead to?

Research on the Self-Determination Theory shows that self-determined engagement is associated with at least nine positive results, which all organizations want: greater revenue growth, greater desire to contribute to the job, less experience of exhaustion, better performance, greater loyalty to values and guidelines, greater satisfaction with work and compensation, greater loyalty and trust, deeper learning, fewer complaints about physical health and greater satisfaction with life in general.

Controlled motivation on the other hand can lead to negative stress and a desire to take shortcuts to the goal. Carrots and whips can make us eager, but do not help us to find meaning and joy in work. Carrot and whip can lead to late nights, but it does not necessarily lead to quality work. To go all in can be suboptimal and counterproductive, and it can mean that we turn our backs on complexity and wholeness. Burnout is rarely the result of hard work based on meaning and joy.

Here is the explanation why self-determined engagement trumps controlled. When we choose to be engaged we have a sense of ownership of our work, we have the competency we need and we know how to grow our knowledge and skills, we have a sense of connection with the people we work with, and all of this necessary to do our best work.

When our basic psychological needs are fulfilled and we are engaged, we develop the creativity, efficiency and perseverance needed to do our best work.

Creativity might be said to be matter of combining elements in new ways to create results. A holistic understanding of the complexity involved in our work makes it easier to have a comprehensive understanding of the elements involved, and therefore we see how to combine the elements to solve the task.

Efficiency is a matter of removing elements without losing the desired result. And when we lead ourselves in the optimally engaged way that brings out our creativity and efficiency, we also have the right conditions for working with perseverance.

Perseverance is a matter of finding a way to overcome obstacles, learn from our mistakes and make any adjustments necessary to carry on towards our goal.

For a company and its leaders, engagement not only gives us what we want from our employees – creativity, efficiency and perseverance; it also provides what we want for our employees – psychological health and well-being. When we are engaged, we are more resilient and happier in our work, because our basic psychological needs are fulfilled. And when an organization makes engagement the foundation of its working environment, it provides what is needed for a sustainable, high-performance culture. It is a culture that is sustainable both for the employees and the business.

How do we develop self-determined engagement?

To develop engagement in an organization, we start by explaining what engagement is, where it comes from, and what it leads to. We help employees to consciously choose their direction, to prioritize and to lead themselves in making decisions aligned with their direction and priorities. It is essential that employees can reflect on the alignment of their own engagement and the objectives and values of the organization. When that which is important for the individual is aligned with that which is important for the organization, the individual quite naturally takes on an expanded sense of responsibility.

We can’t control employee’s engagement, but we can facilitate the development of engagement by encouraging and supporting self-determination. This is done by providing structure for reflection, by asking good questions and listening actively.

This approach gives employees training in how to approach their tasks with a holistic perspective, and to process and resolve both external and internal conflicts. In this way, employees learn to take responsibility for the quality of their own engagement. As in the classic story, they are not just given a fish, they learn to fish for themselves.

Our basic psychological needs are the drivers for high quality engagement, so it is a good place to start to ask the following three questions, whether we are considering leadership coaching, employee development, team development, conflict resolution or leadership training:

  1. 1) What make sense and brings joy?
  2. 2) How are we using our knowledge and skills, and acquiring new competence, to do our work and make a positive difference?
    3)How are we  supporting  one another and bring out the best in one another?

We in ICG can help you our colleagues to explore these questions. In this way you will learn to approach your work in way that both serves yourselves  and your organizaton. 

Do you want to experience how we work with engagement and leadership?

You are invited to a free, no-strings-attached engagement dialogue. Contact us by one of the methods listed below and we'll set up a time.

Would you like to have engagement-based leadership training with other leaders?

Join in one of our 3-day training courses in Leading Engagement. Read more here. Read more about the course here.

Would you like to know more about engagement-based leadership? We'd love to hear from you!

Write a message using the form below, send us an email at or call us at +47-90575845.

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