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14 factors influencing employee engagement

Nowadays it's hard to find an HR leader who doesn't have Employee engagement thinks - after all, the importance of the topic can hardly be exaggerated. However, when it comes to improving employee engagement, it is not always that easy to know where to start.

For decades, organizational psychology has dealt with the various factors that influence employee engagement - from the obvious, such as the workload, to the more difficult to grasp, such as the degree of autonomy that the employee enjoys in his position.

At Peakon we look at it overall 14 factors of employee engagement, which we will go into in more detail below:


According to a 2016 Gallup study, employees who do not receive adequate recognition in the workplace are significantly more likely to leave the company the following year than employees who experience the opposite at work.

However, how do you know that attempts to express appreciation are actually bearing fruit? The best way to start with is to understand the psychological effects that feedback can have on employees.

The organizational psychologists Hackman and Oldham in 1976 noted the relevance of feedback in their Job characteristics model out. In doing so, they explained that a good workplace should give employees the opportunity to experience how well they are fulfilling their position and achieve the desired results. Accordingly, feedback tells us how well we meet expectations, which in turn promotes a feeling of satisfaction and competence.

Deci and Ryans too Self-determination theory- a study from 1985 on the subject of human motivation - already identified the feeling of personal competence as a fundamental human need and a prerequisite for our motivation. In addition to competence, Deci and Ryan emphasized “reference” as a psychological need - i.e. how a task relates to the bigger picture and how it affects others.

Regular interactions with our managers and colleagues can help establish links and understand our own position and task in the context of the entire organization.


In 2001 the psychologist Christina Maslach published a study with the title Job burnout, in which she identified six factors as triggers and in which she identified workload as the main cause of fatigue in the workplace.

Maslach's research also revealed that an unreachable workload can pose a problem for employee engagement, but that the perception of one's own workload also causes our risk of burnout.

The connection between workload and burnout is based in large part on the concept of fit, or in other words, how closely our professional requirements match our capacities. Even if the demands are not that high, our perception of these demands can still be sufficient to trigger exhaustion.

When managing teams, it is therefore essential to also keep an eye on the employees' perception of their workload.


Why autonomy is such an important requirement for employee engagement is very simple: Having a sense of control in our lives is an essential human need. If we have no control over how we approach a task, our motivation to complete it will wane.

The relevance of autonomy has been described in many scientific theories, but the most relevant is that Self-determination theory by Deci and Ryan. The aim of the study by the two American psychologists was to identify the most important factors influencing human motivation.

They built on an earlier approach by deCharm, which assumed that all humans need to feel that they are in control of their behavior and the triggers for it - and that this is the basis for intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is the need to pursue a task for which we are already interested or curious, instead of doing externally imposed tasks. Deci and Ryan found that actions that we perceive to be externally imposed reduce our overall motivation because we feel like we are being controlled from the outside. If we don't have freedom in how (and why) we do a task, then we will ultimately lose interest in the task.


It is undoubtedly extremely important that we are appropriately remunerated and, if necessary, rewarded for our work. However, the impact of financial thanks on employee engagement depends much more on the context and interpretation of the gesture than on the actual value of the cash gift.

John Stacy Adams, for example, first considered the topic of rewards in the workplace and understood even then the importance of one's own perception of reward. Adams highlighted the relevance of "fairness" - employees want pay to reflect their efforts equally as well as what their colleagues are getting - in general, financial incentives are still a good way to drive company performance.

In your Self-determination theory Deci and Ryan postulated that rewards or bonuses for completing a task as an extrinsic factor not only have short-term positive effects, but can also undermine intrinsic motivation in the long term if the person concerned feels that their behavior is being controlled.

Nonetheless, when used properly, rewards can greatly increase intrinsic motivation. If rewards are perceived in such a way that they honor our efforts and demonstrated skills, then they can support our sense of competence and thus increase our intrinsic motivation.

Sense of achievement

Successful experiences are essential to have fun at work and strengthen our self-image in the workplace. In the Self-determination theory by Deci and Ryan they defined a sense of "competence" as one of the three basic psychological needs of our daily life.

Competence describes how much we perceive ourselves to be capable when we interact with the world, i.e. other people, things and tasks. If we perceive ourselves as competent in a certain task, this strengthens our motivation to complete the task.

Professor Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer described in their 2011 book The Progress Principle again, in great detail, how progress can crucially improve performance. By studying 12,000 diary entries from 238 employees from seven large companies, they found that continuous progress on major projects (no matter how small) led to greater creativity, productivity, and increased employee engagement.

Collegial relationships

At a time when organizations are continually moving away from rigid hierarchies and adopting more fluid, team-based structures, good collegial relationships are all the more important. It is imperative that employees are free to express their thoughts, share information, and build real human relationships - which we help with psychological security have arrived.

Psychological security is the general assumption of team members that the team provides a safe environment in which interpersonal risks can also be taken.

Amy C. Edmondson, professor at Harvard Business School, emphasizes the relevance psychological securitybetween colleagues and presents them as a key element in their concept of Teaming out - a form of project management in which teams always grow with their challenges and are further developed or reshaped.

To apply the concept of Teamings In the workplace, Edmonson highlights three key features:

  • Curiosity - Team members need to be motivated to learn more about the skills and expertise of others.
  • Passion - Team members should be motivated and willing to give everything to take on a challenge.
  • Empathy - the key to successful collaboration. Team members need empathy to understand other points of view and to search for the best compromise solution.

This agile approach is used by some of the most innovative companies in the world, including Google. The technology giant also identified as part of its own very extensive two-year study psychological security as one of the five crucial dynamics that distinguish successful teams from others.

Management support

Management support is about developing emotional intelligence as a leader and empowering employees to do more without using outdated methods of reward or punishment.

The historian and Pulitzer Prize winner James MacGregor Burns formulated it in his work Leadership the idea that there are two different approaches to management support:

  • Transactional leadership style focuses on supervision, organization and performance. The focus is often on specific tasks and reward and punishment are used as motivational techniques.
  • Transformative leadership style occurs when executives and their team members inspire each other to be more morally and more motivated.

Kathy Kram, now professor emeritus for Organizational Behavior at the Questrom School of Business, proposed the concept of the Development relationships suggest an approach that says that mentoring is not a one-way street, but rather involves mutual support.

Classic mentors may often be more useful for young professionals, Development relationships however, bring benefits in the long run. Krams study showed that in some cases Development relationships even lasted for almost 30 years.

freedom of speech

You're excited about an idea for a new project at work. What's next? Do you share the idea with your manager and colleagues and hope they will be equally excited, or do you keep the idea to yourself for fear of rejection?

Your answer will certainly depend a lot on how comfortable you are in the workplace, being yourself and being free to express your opinions, or in other words, yours psychological security.

The relationship between employee engagement and psychological security was first mentioned in 1990 by William Kahn in his article Psychological Conditions for Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Workdescribed.

Kahn described psychological security as "being able to be yourself without having to fear negative consequences for self-image, reputation or career" and showed that employee engagement without having to fear psychological security is impossible.

Organizational Fit

Each of us has our own individual skills, values ​​and goals that must be in harmony with the organization so that we can do our best.

In organizational psychology this is called Person-Organization (P-O) Fit described. This fit has already been identified many times as a key element for high employee loyalty and employee engagement.

In this context, there is, on the one hand, the concept of the, which is now quite controversial Culture Fitwhich can lead to hiring people who you would like to spend time with, but who are not necessarily the best hiring decision for the company.

At the Organizational Fit it is more about values, motivation and viewpoints of the employee. When the values ​​of the company and those of the individual match, it leads to higher employee satisfaction and better performance.

Most scientists describe it P-O-Fit than the compatibility between the organization and the individual. However, Amy Kristof, Professor of Management at the University of Iowa, distinguishes between different types of aptitude for an organization and how they together shape the corporate culture:

  • Complementary Eligibility - occurs when an employee complements, enhances, or shares characteristics of other individuals.
  • Complementary aptitude - occurs when a person's characteristics complete the environment or add to what is missing.

The relevance of the Organizational Fit is very high and cannot be overemphasized: it has a major impact on employee turnover or, conversely, employee retention, employee attitudes towards work, social behavior, personal performance and the performance of the entire organization.

Meaningful work

Meaningful work can mean different things to different people. A lack of meaningfulness, however, can quickly lead to a loss of motivation and reduce employee engagement.

In the world of organizational psychology, meaningfulness encompasses two things. On the one hand, the meaningfulness of the activity, or in other words, how connected we feel to the purpose of a task. On the other hand, and more importantly, the term also describes the psychological meaningfulness - i.e. to what extent do we feel that our work is valuable and valued.

Psychological meaningfulness is one of the critical phases that Hackman and Oldham have in their Job characteristics model described. In their model, meaningfulness exists when we have the feeling that we are contributing to something bigger - that could be the team, the company or society as such.

Her research also emphasized that our job must involve a range of different skills and tasks. When we work on tasks that address both our skills and our values, we feel like we are doing our best every day. This strengthens our sense of competence and automatically increases employee engagement.


Strategy is essential if everyone in an organization is to pull together: from the CEO to the customer service staff.

A 2013 report by Carpenter and Gong for the Institute for the Study of Labor found that employees who believe in the company's mission are 72% more productive than their counterparts who do not share this belief.

In 2013, Gallup found that just 41% of employees know what their company stands for and what sets them apart from their peers. When employees know and identify with the company's strategy, they know better where the journey is going, are more motivated and, in the end, are more committed.

Mary Welch of Lancashire Business School and Paul R. Jackson of Manchester Business School originally had theirs Internal Communication Matrix designed to illustrate the important relationship between internal communications, the various stakeholders, and the impact on employee engagement.

Their model highlighted how an efficient internal communication strategy can influence employee engagement and the achievement of strategic goals by creating a sense of belonging and promoting understanding of corporate goals.


How comfortable are you right now? Is it too warm in the office? Too cold? All of these factors can affect how well we do our jobs. However, the effects of the work environment on motivation and employee engagement are more complex than you would initially think.

True, found that of Frederick Herzberg and his colleagues in hers 2 factor theory basically found that a pleasant work environment does not lead to increasing motivation to a previously unattainable level, but nevertheless reduces the possible causes of dissatisfaction.

Because a well thought-out work environment has further psychological effects. In short, a comfortable office with various amenities ensures that employees feel valued - which in turn leads to an increase in employee engagement and intrinsic motivation.

They also showed Hawthorne experimentsthat even the smallest changes in our work environment are effective, not because they increase our well-being, but also give employees a feeling of appreciation.

Further development

One of the most important concepts for understanding human psychological needs is Abraham Maslows Needs pyramid. In his 1943 theory, Maslow placed basic human needs - food and security - at the base of the pyramid. At the top of the pyramid is self-actualization - the desire to get the best out of yourself.

Maslow noted that the most basic needs (security, a sense of belonging) must be met before we can devote ourselves to self-actualization. Although this view has been widely criticized, the relevance of self-actualization remains beyond question.

The concept of personal and professional development is part of the path towards self-realization. Since our job is an essential part of our identity these days, it is particularly important that our employer supports us on this path. When we feel like our job is helping us become our “best selves” it can have an incredible impact on employee engagement.

Two decades after Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the American psychologist Clayton Alderfer used his core ideas to make his accepted ERG theory (Existence-Relatedness-Growth). Alderfer divided human needs into three categories:

  • Existence - the need for physical and mental security
  • Sense of belonging - the need for human interactions and external self-esteem
  • Further development - the need for inner self-esteem and self-actualization

The path from basic survival needs to self-actualization is often a very personal matter. Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of the organization to create an environment that is conducive to growth and development because, after all, we spend a large part of our lives in the workplace.

Most organizations know how to meet the needs of their employees, but it takes more to achieve real employee engagement.

Goal setting

Goal setting is about setting clear expectations, giving employees more control and giving the team the feeling of being in harmony with the mission of the organization.

Too often, however, goal setting is all about performance management. However, setting the right goals can also have a huge impact on employee engagement. If goals are too limited or too vague, they can very quickly reduce intrinsic motivation. Context and feedback are two other key factors that managers often overlook.

The truth is, setting goals isn't as easy as you've been taught. Among others, Edwin A. Locke did with his publication Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentivefrom 1968 laid the foundations for our understanding of motivation in the workplace. The main findings of this work were that ambitious goals lead to higher performance than simple ones and that specific goals like “make 50 sales calls today” are more effective than vaguely formulated goals like “give the best”.

No action without diagnosis!

Employee engagement is an area that is theoretically very well understood - there is a whole range of scientific research on this by organizational psychologists and management theorists, as shown.

This research has helped understand the basic psychological factors that determine human motivation in the workplace. However, in order to sustainably improve this motivation, companies also need to understand what to focus on.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it

Peter Drucker

The employee survey is still the best instrument for a “comprehensive” organizational diagnosis, that is, for HR departments and managers to understand how the organization and corporate culture are in their entirety - from the point of view of the employees and not from the ivory tower.

Building the employee survey on scientific concepts and proven psychological theories will help companies understand what really drives employee engagement. Without a solid and well-grounded approach, it becomes too easy to just trust your gut instinct and allow prejudices to be made. This often leads to unreliable results.

author - Martin Daniel

Martin is the "go-to-guy" in Berlin and works tirelessly to spread the Peakon story by building events and partnerships in the DACH region. When he's not planning and running exciting new events and campaigns, he works on Berlin's numerous artificial turf pitches on his big dream of a football career, with limited success (so far).