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7 Employee Engagement Models for a Thriving Workplace
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7 Employee Engagement Models for a Thriving Workplace

An employee engagement model is a pre-determined framework designed to make employees feel more engaged, satisfied, and valued in the workplace, based on proven organizational and human psychology principles.

7 Employee Engagement Models for a Thriving Workplace

A high disengagement rate not only costs companies millions of dollars in productivity each year but also leads to high turnover and absenteeism rates. 

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, in 2022, only 23% of employees were engaged at work.

This is why more and more companies are jumping on the employee engagement bandwagon. But even though companies are only recently taking the matter more seriously, the concept of employee engagement isn’t new. 

Organizations have been coming up with multiple ways to increase engagement among their employees for years. In fact, there are several employee engagement models that have been developed by psychologists, researchers, and well-known companies for others to follow. 

In this article, we’ll cover 7 employee engagement models that can help you guide your engagement efforts. 

What Is an Employee Engagement Model 

An employee engagement model is a pre-determined framework designed to make employees feel more engaged, satisfied, and valued in the workplace, based on proven organizational and human psychology principles.    

These frameworks provide a structured approach that companies can follow to enhance the overall employee experience, covering everything from the most basic to the more complex elements contributing to employee engagement in the workplace. 

Think of each employee engagement model as a roadmap you can use to create your employee engagement strategy from the ground up. 

7 Employee Engagement Models for Inspiration

While your employee engagement strategy should be tailored to your company and your employees' needs, it can be challenging to come up with an entire strategy from scratch. That's why it might be helpful to draw inspiration from existing models. 

Getting familiar with several employee engagement models can provide you with a roadmap toward creating your unique strategy. Or, you might find the perfect strategy to follow verbatim. 

To help you shape your own strategy, here are 7 of the most popular employee engagement models. 

The Zinger model

Created by psychologist David Zinger, the Zinger model is a pyramid-shaped framework that addresses 10 essential building blocks of employee engagement in the workplace. One core principle of the Zinger model is the CARE acronym. 

The entire model focuses on these 4 areas of engagement: 

  • C = Connection
  • A = Authenticity 
  • R = Recognition 
  • E = Engagement (experiencing the moment) 

Each row of the pyramid builds upon the previous row by adding onto the building blocks. Let’s delve deeper into each row of the Zinger model pyramid from the bottom up. 

The zinger employee engagement model pyramid

Bottom row: Meaning 

The bottom row of the pyramid is composed of four building blocks that address the foundational elements of engagement in the workplace.

This includes prioritizing employee well-being through a supportive workplace culture and a healthy work-life balance and creating an environment where employees not only feel motivated to come to work but also draw energy from their work.

This level of the pyramid also focuses on helping employees find purpose in their work while enabling them to grow in their strengths. McKinsey & Company found that for 70% of employees, their sense of purpose is defined by their work.

Second row: Connection 

The second row comprises three building blocks that focus on creating a sense of unity and connection in the workplace, which is crucial to keeping your employees engaged. Research by Gallup found that friendships at work increase engagement among employees. 

Third row: Performance 

This level focuses on practical ways to achieve results by implementing strategies to maximize employee performance and track progress. It also emphasizes the importance of employee recognition. 

Top row: Results

The Zinger pyramid's top building block addresses the necessity of clearly defining strategic engagement objectives, targeting key metrics (like eNPS scores or absenteeism and retention rates), and using tools to track those metrics. 

💡 Best for: Companies whose culture focuses on fulfilling employee needs in all areas to boost their performance at work, including emotional, mental, and spiritual needs.

The Maslow model

You’ve likely heard of the Maslow model back in high school. The Maslow model is, in other words, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, but applied to employee engagement in the workplace. 

Abraham Maslow introduced his Hierarchy of Needs in a 1943 paper called "A Theory of Human Motivation" after studying the behavior of rhesus monkeys. He identified motivation as the pursuit of five basic needs: 

  • Physiological (food, water, warmth, rest), 
  • Safety (order, predictability, control), 
  • Love and belonging (positive relationships), 
  • Esteem (self-worth, accomplishment), and 
  • Self-actualization (personal growth, fulfillment). 

So, how does this translate to engagement in the workplace? The Maslow model states that employees must have their basic needs covered before becoming fully engaged in their work. 

In the workplace, Maslow’s pyramid looks like this: 

  • Physiological needs = Money 
  • Safety = Job security
  • Love and belonging = Positive relationships with coworkers and managers
  • Esteem = Meaningful work
  • Self-actualization = Personal development opportunities 
💡 Best for: Companies that understand the hierarchy of employees' fundamental needs for motivation and fulfillment. Plus, being the easiest one to apply, the Maslow model is best for small companies.

The Deloitte model

The Deloitte model stems from the premise that employees now value their well-being at work more than ever, and companies must make more effort to keep their employees satisfied. 

Nowadays, employees are more likely to leave a job that doesn’t value their well-being. In fact, APA’s 2023 Work in America Survey found that emotional and psychological well-being at work is a high priority for 92% of workers.

So, unlike other employee engagement models, the Deloitte model focuses on the workplace rather than the employees. Its core mission is to help organizations create irresistible workplaces where people actually want to work. 

The model defines 5 core areas companies must improve to create an “irresistible workplace” and outlines 20 strategies to make it happen. These areas are: 

  1. Meaningful work: Much like Zinger’s model, Deloitte’s model states that employees are more engaged when they attribute purpose to their work. 
  2. Hands-on management: Deloitte’s model believes that supportive and transparent management is vital to employee engagement. 
  3. Positive work environment: This means creating an inclusive and supportive company culture that promotes flexibility and encourages employee recognition. 
  4. Growth opportunities: Employee tend to be more engaged if they can see the future within their organization. Pew Research Center found that in 2021, 63% of workers quit their jobs due to a lack of growth opportunities. 
  5. Trust in leadership: Employees are more likely to stay with an organization when they have confidence in their leaders. 
💡 Best for: Companies of all sizes willing to work on becoming a great workplace for their employees.

The AON-Hewitt model

This model developed by AON-Hewitt, a global human resources consulting and outsourcing firm, identifies six main engagement drivers that lead to positive business outcomes, such as increased customer satisfaction, productivity, and profitability. 

The six core engagement drivers are: 

  1. The work (tasks, sense of accomplishment, autonomy) 
  2. The rewards (pay, reputation, benefits)
  3. The people (collaboration, sense of belonging and community)
  4. Quality of life (work-life balance, job security, psychological safety)
  5. Company practices (communication, innovation, inclusion, etc.)
  6. Opportunities (career development, bonuses and promotions, skills training)

The main goal of the model is to achieve three engagement outcomes summarized by the motto “Say, Stay, and Strive”: 

  • Say: Employees say positive things about the company to their network. 
  • Stay: Employees stay with the organization because they enjoy their work and feel connected to the people and the company. 
  • Strive: Employees make a continuous effort to improve their performance and do their best work. They want to contribute to the company’s success.  
💡 Best for: Large and multinational companies with a diverse workforce looking to improve organizational performance, retain talent, and create a positive work culture.

The Kahn model

This model was created by William Kahn, a social psychologist known for his research on organizational behavior, stress, and well-being. 

In his paper from 1990 titled "Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work," Kahn wrote that employees bring different degrees of themselves to work. These varying levels impact how they experience their work, influencing their overall performance.

The Kahn model identifies 3 levels of employee engagement - physical, emotional, and cognitive. This model assumes that to feel engaged at work, employees must: 

  • Feel that the work they do has a meaning and a purpose, 
  • Feel psychologically safe in their work environment without fear of judgment or negativity from their manager and coworkers.  
  • Have opportunities for growth and skill development within the company. 
💡 Best for: Companies that want to encourage employees to bring their full selves to work by creating a safe environment that cares for their workers’ physical, emotional, and cognitive well-being.

The JD-R model

The JD-R model was developed by two researchers, A. Bakker and E. Demerouti, in 2016 and stands for “job demands-resources.” Here’s how the model defines demands and resources: 

  • Job demands: These are the aspects of the job that require physical, psychological, or emotional effort. When the demands surpass an individual's ability to cope, it can lead to stress and burnout. Examples of job demands include high workload, time pressure, and conflicting roles.
  • Job resources: The word “resources” in this model is used in the context of “job positives” - the benefits the job brings for one’s well-being and development, such as opportunities for growth, psychological safety, and meaningful relationships at work. 

The JD-R model stems from the premise that when the demands of the job are higher than the benefits it brings, it causes burnout and stress that lead to employee disengagement. It also assumes that high job resources (positives) can offset the stress of high demands. 

Therefore, it provides companies with a framework to identify demands that may be leading their employees to burnout and disengagement and address them by providing resources to support these high-demand roles. Resources can be, for example: 

  • Training and skill development opportunities 
  • Coaching and mentoring 
  • More autonomy and decision-making authority 
  • Clear communication and constructive feedback. 
💡 Best for: Companies operating in high-pressure sectors with high-demanding roles where employees are often stressed and burnt out.

The Gallup model

The employee engagement model created by Gallup, the well-known workplace research and consulting agency, assumes there are 4 main elements that contribute to employee engagement in the workplace. 

These elements are: 

  1. Basic needs (What do I get?) 
  2. Individual contribution (What do I give?)
  3. Teamwork (Do I belong?)
  4. Growth (How do I grow). 

To measure engagement across these 4 areas, Gallup developed its Q12 employee engagement survey. The survey asks employees the following 12 questions, which they must either agree or disagree with. 

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

These questions have been proven by Gallup to be the most effective employee engagement survey questions and are based on research. 

With these questions, Gallup’s survey aims to determine whether employees clearly understand their roles and feel a sense of meaning and belonging. 

💡 Best for: Companies of all sizes that prioritize employee feedback. It’s great for remote teams due to its flexibility.

How to choose the right employee engagement model 

Each employee engagement model addresses engagement differently, following a different organizational philosophy. So, to find the right model for your company, you must not only define what you want to achieve by increasing engagement but also how you want to achieve it. 

For instance, if your organization values a holistic approach that considers not only the work tasks but also the overall well-being of employees, you might lean towards the Zinger or the Deloitte models. But if the main disengagement issue in your company is incredibly high job pressure, then the JD-R model might be best for you.  

Your company culture, size, and organizational needs will all play a significant role in the process of choosing the right employee engagement model for your company.

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