Forget About Employee Motivation


Forget about employee motivation, it is about employee engagement. Motivation is temporary, engagement is more permanent. As usual our American friends have the statistics: 70% of US employees are dis-engaged. Dis-engaged employees cost the US economy an estimated $450bn per annum. (Gallup 2013).

Definition: employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organisation and its goals.

This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don’t work just for a pay check, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organisation’s goals. When employees care—when they are engaged—they use discretionary effort (Forbes). So now, with the world beginning to turn towards the sun again, and the economy improving, how do you ensure you improve your employee engagement?

What if we address some of their underlying fears? We start by recognising the 5 universal fears (Source: Donald E. Brown in Human Universals, 1991) every human has:

  • Death (our own and our families)
  • The Outsider
  • The Future
  • Chaos
  • Insignificance

Managers who have a responsibility to ensure every member of their team is as engaged as possible, might respond – “addressing their fears is way beyond my pay grade.” Yes and no. Let’s keep it simple, how does an individual or a team best respond to these fears. They look for the correlated need as outlined below. Now the management team need to determine how best to tap into the universal fears to better engage the team members to everyone’s benefit. Some ideas are included below:

Human Universals

Fear: Death (our own & our families)
Correlated Need: Security
Articulated as: 'Can I pay my mortgage?', 'Can I put my kids through college?'
Manager’s focus: With collective commitment the team make the small incremental improvements in doing things right, to better secure their future.

Fear: The Outsider
Correlated Need: Community
Articulated as: 'Do I belong here?'
Manager’s focus: Each individual feels a key part of the team, understands the valuable contribution that she makes, asks how can I work more effectively and collaboratively within my team and the company

Fear: The Future
Correlated Need: Clarity
Articulated as: 'Where is this company going?'
Leader's focus / Manager’s focus: A clear strategy: Vision, Mission, Values / Goals and objectives with actions and owners.

Fear: Insignificance
Correlated Need: Respect
Articulated as: 'Am I relevant?' 'Is what I do valued?' 'Do people care about me?'
Manager’s focus: How are people’s opinions sought out, is their contribution recognised? Is there attention given to their on-going development?

Fear: Chaos
Correlated Need: Authority
Articulated as: 'Things are getting out of control and it could all fall over (too busy or too reactionary).'
Manager’s focus: Authority localised, where the individual takes full ownership and responsibility for their decisions and actions, increasing their sense of control.


The above sounds straight forward, but as usual the devil is in the detail. Every manager needs to take time to reflect on his or her current skill set, and determine what he or she needs to develop and give the time and head space to do so. Nearly everyone in business stumbles into management and the skills that got you there are the wrong skills to be effective as a manager. Like addressing fears above – the most basic question any manager needs to ask is: how would I like to be managed and act accordingly; and more importantly recognise when you did not act accordingly and learn from the experience.



Mike Gaffney is the Managing Director of LEAP Leadership. Mike is passionate about helping leaders understand their role and how to effectively execute it, so that there are improved business results in addition to increased personal satisfaction. LEAP Leadership is a provider to ManagementWorks on our Management Team Development programmes.