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5 Psychological Benefits That Engage and Motivate Employees

Key dynamics for understanding how to inspire your workers.

Addressing the challenges associated with achieving greater return on investment in engagement initiatives has made it more important than ever to understand what motivates employees in the workplace. A new landmark study by market research and strategy firm Chadwick Martin Bailey has identified five psychological benefits that motivate employees in different ways. With these benefits and their specific purposes in mind, companies can craft individualized and effective engagement strategies that meet their needs.

In an effort to develop a deep, unique and actionable understanding of what actually motivates employees and leads to higher levels of retention, CMB surveyed full‐time employees across a range of industries, positions and tenures about various aspects of their workplace satisfaction. The findings not only underscore the importance of employee engagement, but show that when the following five types of psychological benefits are met, workers are much more satisfied with their companies overall.

Here is what you need to know about the five key psychological benefits and what they mean for organizations that are seeking to improve employee motivation and engagement.

1. Personal identity benefits: These benefits relate to the employee's self‐esteem, self‐expression and sense of belonging within the company. Personal identity benefits are recognized when employees report a positive self‐perception as a result of their work environments and are fueled to have pride in their companies and feel like part of a community.

2. Social identity benefits: Social identity benefits encompass how an employee identifies with his or her company leaders and coworkers. Those who feel that their coworkers and leaders are relatable and showcase a desire to work closely with them tend to exhibit strong social identity benefits.

3. Cultural identity benefits: Understanding how employees relate to the overall culture of their company also is important. If an employee reports having a clear understanding of the company culture (including its mission, values and norms) and feels personally aligned with those standards, the organization is meeting the worker's cultural identity needs.

4. Functional benefits: When employees believe that their employer facilitates professional growth and success while enabling a good work/life balance, their functional benefits are being met. Employees who are satisfied with the overall compensation package, believe they are enabled to achieve their professional goals and enjoy conveniences (such as policies or workplace perks that make life easier) exhibit strong functional benefit support.

5. Emotional benefits: Employees who experience overall positive emotions while at work demonstrate strong emotional benefit support. This benefit is all about how working at the company makes employees feel on measures capturing both valence (i.e., good versus bad) and activation (i.e., the level of energy associated with the emotion).

The study shows that the identity and emotional benefits are the most significant drivers of engagement. Functional benefits, while still important, were found to be less crucial when it comes to indicators like employee motivation, satisfaction and retention. Rather, they are considered "cost of entry" benefits -- people need them to be an acceptable level to join an organization, but they aren't a significant driver of retention. Various initiatives that companies offer impact different psychological benefits, so the combination that is right for each organization will be unique based on their relative strengths and weaknesses.

To put this new research to use, companies should start by gauging the current state of their employee engagement by surveying workers; then, work to design, track and adjust engagement initiative efforts based on the desired results. Successful engagement initiatives give employees compelling reasons to stay and embrace their role day‐to‐day, so by tapping into the deeper psychological forces at play, employers can be more strategic in their choice of initiatives.

Armed with the insight that this research provides, it's safe to say that there is no one‐size‐fits-all solution when it comes to engagement. Each company's roadmap should be tailored based on where the organization stands currently and what its goals are for the future.

Christina Zurek, SHRM‐CP, is insights and strategy leader at ITA Group, where she directs the vision, position and evolution of the employee-experience solution portfolio. In this role, she leverages her passion for motivating and engaging people alongside more than 10 years of consultative solution visioning and development experience to craft compelling strategies for clients in all industry verticals.