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7 Employee Engagement Theories and Models for Success

Company Culture
October 4, 2022
Rad time: 10min
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You probably already spend a lot of time thinking about how you can retain employees and reduce turnover. A major aspect of employee retention is a focus on employee engagement. In this article, we will share employee engagement theories and models, as well as answer the big question of: “What is employee engagement?” 

We’ll also see how a focus on employee wellbeing is absolutely necessary to maintain an engaged and motivated workforce.

What is an Employee Engagement Model?       

An employee engagement model is a roadmap that explains how to make employees feel valued and empowered in their role. From senior leadership behaviors to the implementation of policies, an employee engagement model can work to improve a company’s culture. 

Employee engagement models have foundations in organizational psychology. Any company can make use of an employee engagement model in an effort to better their business. 

Why are Employee Engagement Models Important?       

A happy workforce is more likely to be a productive workforce. Employee engagement theories and models promote employee satisfaction and establish a strategy to protect it. Since these models have already been tried, tested, and proven, they can empower organizations to support their employees effectively. 

It’s necessary to note that an employee engagement model alone will not get the job done. It is meant to serve as a guide and can be tailored as needed. There are multiple employee engagement theories and models to choose from, so we will share some popular models so you can decide which is most aligned with your business and its goals.

What are the Employee Engagement Theories and Models?   

Each employee engagement theory and employee engagement model are comprised of the same main elements, namely:

  • The capacity to engage
  • The freedom to engage
  • A reason to engage
  • Employee and organisational alignment 

Here’s a look at some of the various theories and models to consider:

1. Maslow’s Theory

Out of all the employee engagement theories and models, this one may ring a bell because Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a famous pyramid developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow. The bottom of the pyramid includes basic needs like shelter and food. 

At the top of the pyramid, there are less urgent needs like self-actualization, and the theory holds that in order to reach the top, the foundational elements must first be covered. Similarly, in an organizational setting, employees must feel safe and supported in order to reach their highest potential.

2. Kahn Model

Psychologist William Kahn was one of the first people to use the term “employee engagement.” His model is focused on three crucial factors to attain employee engagement, including: meaningfulness, availability, and safety. 

Meaningfulness is the purpose behind the work, availability is the notion that the employee is physically and mentally capable of performing the role, and safety refers to feeling a sense of psychological protection where employees don’t feel judged or criticized by management or peers. 

3. AON-Hewitt Model

The AON-Hewitt model focuses on three main outcomes of employee engagement. These include: Say, Stay and Strive. Say refers to the notion that engaged employees tend to become brand ambassadors, so what they say about the organization internally and externally can help the brand grow. 

When employees feel supported and aligned with organizational values, they’re more likely to stay rather than look for employment elsewhere. Lastly, strive is the idea that engaged employees are invested and are always looking for opportunities to grow and thrive. 

To accomplish these outcomes, organizations should focus on the foundational drivers of: fulfilling basic needs, setting up company policies accordingly, and ensuring employees feel challenged by their work and have the right resources to get the job done. 

Differentiating engagement drivers can further help the cause, which include: a strong brand image, well-equipped leadership, and recognition of employees.

4. Zinger Model

Named after management consultant and its creator David Zinger, the Zinger theory is focused on the importance of employee connections. These connections happen with the organisation, peers, the community, and customers. 

Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the Zinger model can be thought of as a pyramid made of ten blocks. The four foundational blocks are: (1) the need for meaning, (2) enhanced wellbeing, (3) leveraged strengths and (4) energy. 

The next row of 3 consists of: (1) foster recognition, (2) master moments, and (3) build relationships. Atop the pyramid sits two blocks for maximizing performance and a path to improvement. 

5. Deloitte Model

Deloitte, one of the world’s Big Four accounting firms, made its own model for employee engagement after completing countless employee interviews. Through the feedback, Deloitte found that there are five elements that are central to engagement and can be referred to as the core pillars of engagement. 

These include: (1) meaningful work, (2) positive work environment, (3) trust in leadership, (4) opportunity for growth and (5) participating management. 

6. Gallup Model

Ever looked up statistics regarding employees before? You probably have run across Gallup’s path. With millions of survey participants globally, Gallup developed the Q12 model, which is focused on how productivity relates to employee engagement. 

The Q12 model is an employee engagement survey made up of 12 questions, along with a pyramid that breaks down four “types of needs.” These are: basic needs, individual needs, teamwork, and growth. The goal of the Q12 model is ultimately growth

7. JD-R Model

Created by Arnold Bakker and Evangelia Demerouti, the Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) theory is geared towards predicting employee burnout before it occurs. An employee is ultimately up against their job demands and their job resources. 

Demands consist of how an employee is burdened emotionally, physically, organizationally, and psychologically. Resources refer to their support systems, whether it be processes, systems, or tools like employee wellbeing platforms, for example. 

In essence, the JD-R model would operate optimally if job demands and job resources are balanced. In this scenario, employees not only feel challenged by their work, but they have what they need to get the job done without excess stress.

What is the Best Approach to Create an Employee Engagement Model?   

Now that you have an idea of some of the many employee engagement theories and models, there are important approaches to create your own model or modify an existing one to your liking. These include a focus on:

1. Mental Wellbeing

Employee engagement models and theories are often focused on employee mental wellbeing, such as Kahn’s model. The idea here is that employees who are aware of and understand their own mental wellbeing are equipped with inherent resources to prosper and remain engaged on the job. 

Employee wellbeing platforms and tools can be implemented to guide employees along this self-fulfilling journey, which ends up benefiting themselves as much as the organization. 

Employee engagement platforms like LUME are designed to offer actionable insights for employers and provide employees with learning journeys and opportunities to strengthen their own mental fitness. This model is extremely useful for any organization as the heart of employee engagement is mental wellbeing. 

With LUME, employees can better understand their own mental health and what impacts it, as well as spot the signs and support colleagues. Along with daily check-ins, employees can take part in educational journeys at their own discretion to strengthen their mental fitness and resilience. 

Equipped with these skills and techniques, employees are able to overcome challenges, manage their stress levels, and remain actively engaged with their job. In turn, organizations can reap the benefits of reduced turnover and lowered employee absenteeism, along with having a more motivated and satisfied workforce. 

Employees will be able to show up to work and perform at their highest potential because their mental wellbeing is being supported and cared for.

2. Job Satisfaction

Employee engagement is often conflated with (and definitely correlated to) job satisfaction. Employees who feel satisfied with their job experience role clarity, meaningful work, resources to succeed, and adequate rewards and recognition for doing so. 

A focus on job satisfaction may be a good start for your business if:

  • Many employee tasks are repetitive 
  • The organization wants to maximise the strengths of its workforce 
  • Employees are responsive to rewards and praise 
  • Employees are proactive in improving their own processes

3. State of Mind

Piggybacking on the mental wellbeing approach is the state of mind starting point, which is increasingly popular, especially as organizations and employees feel the effect of the pandemic. If you are to define engagement as “a fulfilling work-related state of mind,” then it’s imperative to advocate positive psychology, reduce stress levels, and avoid burnout. 

This engagement framework is focused around the individual and can be aided with employee wellbeing platforms that offer individualized support to address every employee’s individual needs and current state of mind. 

These resources help employees reach their desired state of mind by helping them to develop self-management skills and increase their mental fitness.

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How to Choose an Employee Engagement Model?       

With all these employee engagement theories and models in front of you, how do you choose one that will work? It could be a game of trial-and-error, but to help you get off on the right foot, keep in mind the big picture. Depending on the sector you operate in, different theories may be more fitting. 

For example, psychological-based frameworks that focus on employee needs are often well-suited for knowledge-based sectors. 

Every person is different, so it’s always beneficial to gain feedback from your employees to better understand their needs and motivating factors. Also, take a look at your current processes and engagement drivers to assess what has or hasn’t been working in your favor. 

You can always blend theories and models together to create your own recipe for successful engagement!

Closing Words

The challenge of improving employee engagement doesn’t have to feel like an uphill battle. When you look at all of the listed employee engagement theories and models, the recurring aspects include employee needs, resources, and company culture. As an employer, you hold it within your power to consider and monitor each of these components. 

But, beyond these theories, it’s absolutely crucial to understand that resources are not only physical or monetary, and include mental wellbeing tools and support. By caring for employees’ mental wellbeing, you can help them ensure that their basic needs are met, which then triggers the effect of supporting their growth and promoting feelings of engagement. 

Put simply, employee wellbeing is the primary foundation that sets the stage for all else to fall into place.

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