The Integrated Model of Employee Engagement

There are many theories about basic human motivational needs, and although snippets of neuroscience and specific elements of employee engagement have been espoused and symptomatically described in some of them, they generally don’t attempt to capture and link neurobiology, effort, behaviour and well-being across ALL aspects of employment. This leaves them as observational and statistical – no bad things, but in missing irrefutable explanations for causation there are limitations to how data have been observed and interpreted. The Integrated Model of Employee Engagement recognises that the concepts about needs, motivation, behaviour, performance and well-being are neurobiologically-derived, interdependent and of perpetual influence. From this basis, preferred approaches to engagement, care, management, leadership and workplace environments, structures and practices become more readily apparent.

In my earlier work in organisational and leadership studies I explored many theories and ideas, from older concepts like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and reinforcement theory to more modern ideas like self-determination theory (SDT) and reinforcement sensitivity theory (RST). Although most have much in common (and where they don’t, they don’t attempt to), they are also partial and interpretations, rather than scientific and complete. In the end, the rationality and humanity of Grawe’s basic needs theory (updated by Rossouw) proved to be an ideal foundation for understanding white drives engagement and behaviours in modern workplaces.

Grawe was highly influential in developing the field of Neuropsychotherapy, a neurobiologically-based approach to understanding and optimising psychological well-being. As an aspiring neuropsychotherapist, I learned about his work when studying and in later conversations with Pieter Rossouw, who developed his understandings further and sought to also apply it across other fields, especially education. Pieter was a strong supporter and encourager for my work in translating Grawe’s principles into workplace and leadership practices, and prior to his death expressed keen interest in working together to develop this area of application.

The fundamental need for safety

Grawe and Rossouw both acknowledged basic neurobiology in prioritising the fear response system as the most immediate and powerful influence on emotion, motivation and action choices – if called upon (a basic flaw for Maslow’s popular hierarchy is, that by placing safety above survival, he didn’t).

The purpose of that system, and why it is the fastest and strongest in brain and body, is that it evolved to help our ancestors avoid being eaten by predators or killed by rivals. It is not concerned with rational thought (which is too slow in an emergency), preferring instant response times and action. For this to occur when needed, the super-powerful, multi-connected and highly stimulated amygdalae triggers the hypothalamus to release corticotropin release hormone, which binds to receptors on the pituitary gland that in turn release adrenocorticotropic hormone, with in turn binds to receptors on the adrenal cortex (beside the kidneys) to stimulate an increased release of cortisol and, from the adrenal medulla, adrenaline. This sequence fires up the brain stem in preparation for action, seeing it increase respiration and blood pressure while increasing fatty acids and blood sugar, at the same time redirecting blood flow to major muscle groups (for physical fight or flight-responses) and reducing blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (effectively reducing IQ and EQ). Epinephrine also elevates fear and negativity – important for risk-aversion in life-threatening situations. The other survival option possible is the freeze response, where blood pressure drops throughout the body, promoting incapability to move, think or speak, or perhaps fainting (thought to simulate being dead, in turn dissuading some types of predators).

Clearly, there is little need for any aspect of these responses in modern society let alone workplaces, and the impact of increased but unused fatty acids and sugar in the blood is actively harmful to health (and indeed longevity). Fear (real or imagined) responses that reduce cognitive capacity and increase physical preparedness see us shut down to new ideas and defend those we are attached to, while attacking the ideas of others. The metaphor of being in a fortress and hurling projectiles over the wall is a useful way of seeing this defensive/aggressive “fight” behaviour of arguing. Hiding in a cupboard under the stairs with closed eyes, or simply running away, is another (the flight response).

These types of behaviours dominate responses to workplace (di)stress, with no upsides. Importantly, they are most often triggered by feelings of uncontrollability to incongruences in type, level and satisfaction of basic workplace needs (extremely common – and largely preventable – in modern workplaces). Let’s discuss them now.


Klaus Grawe and Pieter Rossouw spoke of the need for attachment, based on the work of John Bowlby which explored the deeply significant and impactful parent-child bond, and the important role of oxytocin as an enabler of affection, compassion and trust, as well as a dopamine-accompanied reward. It is why we are attracted to protect and care for people and animals with big eyes, youthful appearances, defencelessness and dependence on the help of others. It is why we like contact, to cradle and to cuddle, which make the cuddler feel as good as it makes the cuddl-ee. It turns out that the neural circuits and mechanisms behind social pain and grief are very similar to, and often overlap, those of physical pain – losing a relationship, or being isolated, actually hurts. Unsurprisingly, medications are also similar.

Robin Dunbar researched and wrote of possible and likely levels of intimacy, which unsurprisingly happened to be similar to ancient family, tribe and village sizes, and were linked to our ability to create and maintain relationships within the time and language skills available (which is why humans have the capacity for building more relationships than other primates, but also why we often fail to do so adequately, leaving us feeling lonely even if the room is crowded). He identified that an individual could have perhaps 5 very close relationships, another 10 or so that are quite close, about another 35 that are comfortable friendships, and another 100 or so acquaintances. This social intimacy and commitment was crucial for tribal survival, and the ability to have people move between levels of intimacy allows us to move on and adapt to the people we are surrounded by. You can only imagine how important this was 20,00 years ago, and how debilitating it would be if we weren’t able to move on from losing relationships for one reason or another. Our clear preference is for stability and trust, especially in the closest relationships.

Combined with the generally accepted use of the word “attachment” as a parent-child phenomenon, along with the task-ahead-of-relationship focus of most workplaces, the Integrated Model of Employee Engagement uses the word “connection”, being more appropriate for the “professional” workplace. It also echoes the concept of a well-connected brain being one that is able to function and experience well-being optimally, along with ideas discussed in interpersonal neurobiology (ref Dan Siegel), which is gaining recognition in the brain’s role as part of a social network, rather than merely a stand-alone apparatus. (As a socially-dependent and integrated species, and considering the role and capabilities of mirror neurons in particular, this element of interpersonal neurobiology in particular seems a very useful concept.)

It is unreasonable, and probably unhealthy, for connection to be entirely satisfied in or by the workplace (although it must contribute). Useful things workplaces can do include:

  • Planning rosters, shifts, standby and out-of-hours work in ways that support employees in being able to create and maintain stable and fulfilling relationships outside of work. This enables them to manage and maintain their own base level of connection, as well as low-pressure workplace relationships without relying on them for basic well-being, in turn reducing gossip and unproductive conversations (although a little of this is the modern form of social grooming used by other primates to build trust and safe alliances– emails and workplace instructions and memos don’t build trusting, safe relationships, but talking about football can.) The more often and well employees can enjoy strong, safe relationships outside of work, the less they are likely to spend excessive time and effort building those things in work.
  • Allowing people to connect – casual conversation is a good thing. But don’t force them. The need and capacity for each individual to connect with others varies, and they will create the number and types of relationships they find safe and rewarding. It is to be expected that those who are more extroverted (anticipating more reward than risk from talking to strangers) will seem better at this and be more open to social events that others, and to help them to do that is great for their need for connection and acceptance, as well as for team-building. For those who see more risk and less reward and are more likely to act in introverted ways in broader social situations, expect them to be easily overwhelmed and uncomfortable. Rather, allowing people to connect at their own pace and in their own ways, sometime socially, and sometimes on working together, is the best way to satisfy this need.
  • Supporting self-management of connection. Our research shows that people are very good at managing their connection need and its satisfaction, the biggest single difference being in line managers who are unable to reduce the number of problem-laden people who call or come to their door.
  • Just as harassment, intimidation and bullying are unacceptable (and in enlightened countries illegal) in the workplace, it is also unacceptable to isolate or exclude. The pain and trauma this leads to, in both the short and long terms, is akin to physical torture and, in Australia at least, is also illegal. If an employee chooses isolation for themselves, it is because they perceive more risk being attached to interacting with others than reward – this is a serious state of affairs and generally unhealthy and unproductive. Social safety is as important as physical safety.
  • Regularly, often, openly, compassionately and with employee thriving and success in mind. Get curious more often than judgemental. Build the relationship by helping employees to reflect on their performances and behaviours, and make their own choices – and then support them – even when disciplining! (Yes, even disciplinary conversations need not violate connection.)
  • Building and maintaining a workplace culture with strong social, performance and behavioural norms. Clarity here allows people to feel safe and certain in fitting in and feeling connected and accepted, in turn allowing them to manage the satisfaction of their connection need.


Grawe and Rossouw spoke of the joint need for orientation and control as a basic need. It is easy to recall a time when things changed that affected us but were beyond our knowledge, influence or control, and how upsetting that was for us at the time. Orientation refers to our need for sense-making, for filling in gaps, for understanding and for knowing. It is part curiosity, part rational, and mostly emotional-intuitive. The importance of why, as espoused by Sinek, over how and what, is testament to the need, rather than simple wish, for sense-making. Neolithically, this makes a lot of sense – our ancestors needed to understand their surroundings to be able to make themselves safe. They needed to know what animals could or couldn’t hurt them, what foods they could or couldn’t eat, and even why the people around them, and who they relied on for safety, support and survival, would do the things they do. They even needed to have a feeling for the reasons behind the actions of others or nature so they could better align, predict and respond.

In a modern workplace context, imagine how you’d feel if you came into work and someone had moved the things you used every day. Perhaps replaced your computer keyboard or mechanical controls with new ones using a different layout – or perhaps even moved the contents of your draws or toolbox around! This level of orientation in knowledge and predictability is important for our PFCs to concentrate on the things that are different – simply, if everything we knew, or thought, was different one day, we’d be overwhelmed and couldn’t cope.

Orientation is not only behind gossip, sense-making and other forms of gap-filling, it is also behind why we generalise, stereotype, discriminate and categorise. These things, as inaccurate and ultimately harmful as they may be, allow our brains to reduce complexity and cope with the world and our experiences in it. The challenge with not doing these generally helpful things could be worse – we’d simply be overwhelmed, unable to make the judgements and decisions we need to get by.

The second part of that basic need is control. This is simply the ability to control or influence the things that, directly or indirectly, practically or emotionally, affect us. The need to influence our chances of survival is a deeply held one, and, in the workplace, sees us hating being incompetent, micromanaged, without support or unfairly blamed for things we couldn’t control. In particular this is the source of much upset for poorly trained line managers, who cannot perform tasks themselves but are held responsible for their execution by others. Even the ability to control the satisfaction of other basic needs fits here – simply, feeling uninformed, overwhelmed and out-of-control is highly distressful, intolerable and unhealthy at both sub- and highly-aware levels of consciousness.

With a view to creating a link between problem and solution in the workplace environment, the Integrated Model of Employee Engagement identifies this basic need as “empowerment”, comfortably including the dimensions of both knowledge and efficacy, but also suggesting confidence, competence, support and autonomy. Deci and Ryan, in authoring self-determination theory, also identified competence and autonomy as enablers of intrinsic motivation, engagement, discretionary effort and high performance. Pink also identified autonomy, but swapped competence for mastery (essentially the same thing). Both are covered more thoroughly by orientation and control.

(Notably, Deci and Ryan also noted “relatedness”, defined as some degree of belonging and connection with others (and, at a stretch, socially-related purpose), as the third pillar of workplace motivation, an idea that underestimates its importance but perhaps unwittingly recognises our inherent ability to achieve it without help in most cases. Pink preferred to focus on purpose as his other pillar of motivation – again correct in itself but quite incomplete as a cohesive theory of workplace motivation. Neither pay much attention to neurobiology, most worryingly for their accuracy on the neuroscience of motivation. Reinforcement sensitivity theory (RST), on the other hand, recognises some neurological motivation-related processes, most notably the FF mechanisms described earlier, but doesn’t attempt to link them with broader functions, concepts or underlying basic needs.)

Things managers and leaders can do:

  • Teaching, informing, encouraging, trusting and allowing people to control, choose their actions and monitor their own work is empowering for task completion today and learning and increased independent success tomorrow. For managers who see their own success being dependent on the success of their team and each individual within it, whether or not the manager is present when a task is being performed, empowerment is inherent and essential.
  • Feedback, support and safety should be standard inclusions in regular conversation before, during and/or after task completion. This allows and encourages employees to self-direct and self-monitor, to hold themselves and be held accountable, and to engage with their work, efforts and outcomes.
  • Enabling empowerment also involves empowering well-intentioned and high-effort, even when it results in errors or failure. If failure is inevitably linked with threats, risk and loss, employees will choose to disempower themselves for their own safety. There are times to celebrate outcomes, and times to celebrate effort and intentions. ®

Task reward

The mesolimbic dopamine pathway, along with the valuation and self-regulation functions, are constantly active estimating and influencing perceptions of reward or loss in a given moment or in the near-term future, as well as comparisons between competing action options and staying on track. This is described in more detail in the neuroscience of motivation insert link, but the fundamental concept involves opium-like dopamine as a natural incentive and reward mechanism. Our neurobiology sees us addicted to dopamine, just as we can become addicted to opiates, or indeed substances or activities that release dopamine (such as sex, alcohol and sugar).

Dopamine’s role, for our ancestors living in a dangerous, uncertain and nutrient-poor world, was to inspire short-term survival-based action and learning – if it feels good now, do it now. If it feels bad (dopamine deprived), don’t do it. And if it might feel good later, do something that feels good now instead. (Pet dogs are a prime example of this – most would rather over-eat and have to throw up some of that afterwards than risk missing out on nutrition.)

This was a very effective genetically-programmed strategy that prioritised the instant energy of safety, sweet and fatty foods, reproductive habits, familiarity, task completion, curiosity, novelty and many more necessary things. In pleasurable social situations, the addition of oxytocin also made our ancestors feel good while building trust and affection. The dopamine-reward mechanism, perhaps in conjunction with the fear response in some cases, is the basis for Grawe’s need described as the maximisation of pleasure the avoidance of pain. For the workplace, where the extremes of “pleasure and pain” might seem at times irrelevant or inappropriate, the Integrated Model of Employee Engagement reverted to the neuroscientific underpinnings in describing this need as “task reward” – simply, how enjoyable is or was doing, participating in or completing a task likely to be?

In the workplace, dopamine can be triggered or enhanced in various ways and satisfaction in one area can help to make up for shortcomings in others. Certainly, feelings of well-being that arise from safety and the satisfaction of other basic needs is a great start that allows for greater moderation and deliberation in actions. For example, an employee who feels their work is meaningless, unrecognised and unrewarding (perhaps eroding identity), and, as strictly task-related reward is absent, may seek to feel better through connection, so chats, gossips or uses their connected mobile device instead of doing their work. Why? Because, in that moment or near-future, gossiping is more rewarding than working. On the other hand, if the workplace and the work are keeping the mesolimbic dopamine pathway happy to the extent that alternatives to productive work are less attractive, why would an employee feel more persuasively motivated to do something else instead?

Things managers and leaders can do to enable increased task reward, and future task-reward anticipation and task-related motivation:

  • Allow employees to act in ways that allow them to experience feelings of physical, psychological and social safety (including job security and the pursuit of other mutually-desirable goals)
  • Allow employees to create and maintain satisfaction in other basic needs described here, within the boundaries and means that are acceptable socially and productively
  • Design tasks, or perhaps task rotations, in ways that maximise pleasure and minimise discomfort, so that dopamine is enhanced, or at least not hindered, in performing them.
  • Add variety and learning to stimulate the mind – dopamine rewards PFC activation
  • In supplying information, training, trust and autonomy, and allowing employees to pursue their interests and use their best skills, risk for them is reduced and dopamine enhanced through empowerment and identity
  • In setting big challenges with some levels of support and safety as a part of empowerment, the risk-reward sum tilts toward the larger rewards of competence, accomplishment and achievement, rather than short-term non-productive or avoidant impulses. This means that work has to be hard, meaningful and push people to the edge of their abilities but ultimately within their control. This is seen every day where, for instance, even low-confidence people play the most difficult levels of foes on computer games that they feel capable of, even if it includes failing along the way. This combination of task reward and empowerment is immensely powerful as a management tool in achieving high-level performance and problem-solving.

Like other overlapping needs, the mechanism behind task reward, being its close association with the neuroscience of motivation, is influential for all types of workplace motivation, interactions, behaviours and performances.


Grawe identified self-esteem protection and enhancement as sitting with the other three basic motivational needs, but Rossouw argued that because it cannot be linked to any specific brain region or function, and that it develops through life experience and brain growth to become apparent from about the age of three, it is a high-level order relying on the others as a foundation.

While, in practical terms, this sees self-esteem preservation and enhancement as less observationally evident through specific neurobiology, fMRI or qEEG scanning than the other needs, and is therefore perhaps more open to interpretation, there is no doubting the relevance for common behaviours, powerful emotions, primitive survival and modern workplaces.

As a highly social species, it is crucial that we know where we fit in and interact with our social environments, just as orientation (as part of empowerment) sees us feeling that we know how we fit into (mostly) and interact with physical environments. And fitting-in matters – observe any group of social mammals, from wolves to lions and apes, and it is apparent that there are strong social hierarchies, structures and roles that enable the unit to function efficiently and effectively. It is also apparent that social competition is normal, as are short periods of social instability.

Primal leadership arises from this, and the breeding rights and other entitlements that in nature come with leadership see a common desire for contenders to progress upwards, while others settle for social stability. In a tribal situation this had our ancestors acting in ways that met with the respect and support, or at least acceptance and protection, of others. For individuals that did not act to find the acceptance, support and protection of others, life was likely to be short.

This primal drive for fitting-in is why culture is so strong – it influences individuals to act in ways that fit it in, virtually irrespective of whether that culture is objectively helpful or healthy for them or their organisation. The other option is for individuals to attempt to change culture, and we often see disruptive behaviours that attempt that to suit the needs of individuals or groups, with varying success, where cultural leadership and its coercive influence are absent or weak.

Whether it be through home address, brands people associate with, size, height, career level, income, possessions, fashion, appearance, power, influence, connections, achievements, skills, popularity or many other social measures, the basic need for self-esteem protection and enhancement gives rise to a highly competitive and socially stratified society, especially with larger and more complex social groups.

Because it is a social need, self-esteem enhancement and protection relies on feedback from others. This is why we are so sensitive to compliments and criticisms – one makes us happy, even if it might be at times perceived as a little insincere, while the other is often upsetting, even if minor and contextualised. It also explains the need for purpose in our lives and work – for if our work and life have no meaning, what does that say about us? (Dan Ariely has studied, written and spoken of this in some detail). This need for purpose and outward focus extends to giving of ourselves for others, which might also have been linked to ensuring the success of the tribe and future generations carrying our DNA.

The power of this need is immense. The preference, identified by Kouzes and Posner through their extensive research, for leaders to “share an inspiring vision” as the most desirable leadership trait, even beyond safety (which may have been taken for granted by participants or excluded), speaks of this need for externally-focused meaningful purpose. It says, “Show me how my work can be purposeful, meaningful and worthwhile, and so how my life can be worthy of social place, respect and pride”. This need, in conjunction with attachment/connection, is likely to be at the heart of compassionate feelings and acts including charity, triggering both dopamine and oxytocin – especially if there is direct contact with the beneficiaries of that effort.

This need also links intrinsic and extrinsic motivation quite clearly – we are intrinsically driven to find the acceptance, respect and approval of others, identified generally as an extrinsic reward. The insula, the brain region that monitors internal states and feedback of body and brain, so can be linked closely with “heart” and “gut” feelings, has been identified as being involved with intrinsic motivation but not extrinsic motivation, and, as an internal system, it will sense low self-esteem and attempt to influence us toward elevating it, including being extrinsically-rewarded by others on the proviso that we feel that reward is a result of our actions. This is a difficult line to tread, as increasing the extrinsic component of self-esteem enhancement can reduce the intrinsic part, making us more reliant and susceptible to the opinions of others. For this reason, internally-held self-esteem is also recognised as desirable for efficacy and well-being – but, as a social species, it can never be that entirely.

Because of potential negative stigma around words like self-esteem in workplace contexts, and the relationship with often ostensibly selfless purpose, meaning and effort and the underpinning of social place, the Integrated Model of Employee Engagement identifies this need, as it applies in the workplace, as “identity”. This also allows it to be much broader than ego, rivalry or neediness (although those who have high identity need levels, as identified in our assessment, tend to be more socially motivated, competitive and demanding. It also links to the desirability of a sufficient level of internally-maintained self-esteem as a part of sustainable and healthy identity).

As identity, there is also room to recognise the impact of challenges to beliefs – not only do challenges to beliefs reduce orientation, they also challenge identity. For example, if someone identifies as believing in a particular God or political view, and you tell them that God doesn’t exist or their politics are wrong, then this is not a rational discussion – this is a direct attack on their identity, and they will quickly revert to protective FFF responses. Beliefs are reflected in values, ethics and morals – these things live below cognitive deliberation, and requiring someone to perform a task, even if it is for benefit rationally, that conflicts with their values or ethics, or even preferred way of working, will create an incongruence that may lead to FFF responses (to avoid performing the unconscionable task) or deep regrets (from performing the unconscionable task).

Things managers and leaders can do:

  • Explore, capture and share the purpose you and the organisation (should be pretty much the same) are pursuing. The bigger, broader and more selfless, within credibility and practicality, the better.
  • Lead authentically and by example – match words to actions for credibility, consistency, reassurance and to display moral certainty, especially when the pressure is on.
  • Be careful and specific about considered feedback – make external praise and criticism about the action choice, NOT the individual. (This allows people to associate preferred identity with specific actions, rather than having it seen as a character trait they can’t influence. E.g. Your actions resulted in a mistake or achievement versus the mistake or achievement being who you are.)
  • Be clear on values when defining purpose, methods and preferred culture. Be specific – including making financial and personal sacrifices where values are challenged or shortcuts to values are possible.
  • Explore shared values and listen for clues on preferred identity when hiring.
  • Ensure workplace social rewards are based on desirable, productive and healthy actions and behaviours – for example teamwork, accountability, sensible risk-taking, honesty, collaboration, flexibility, self-management and so on, rather than competitive or avoidant behaviours such as cheating, blame-shedding, politics or gossip.
  • Be available and committed to the success of individual employees. If you have an appointment with a team member, keep it, prepare for it, and be fully present in it and remaining focused on what they need and need to do to be successful. You don’t have to give in, back down or agree, but you need to be present, engaged, positive and focused on the employee, even if only for a few minutes at a time.
  • Through empowerment, support, encouragement and recognition, allow people to excel at their work, feeling competence, achievement and respect.

The Integrated Model of Employee Engagement

When employees feel they can achieve these things, and they do so in ways that are oriented toward preferred performance, behaviours, contribution to culture and well-being they are likely to feel and be seen as engaged with their work and workplace.

Because basic needs act as intrinsic motivational influences, if they are met for little or no effort, there is little intrinsic reason for action, and although the employee is happy enough, that would not be a productive state. Rather, without demands and challenges, purpose and other elements of identity and empowerment are likely to inadequate in any case. Where this happens, we see long-standing but low-performance (passively or actively disengaged) employees who typically place more focus on the workplace social system and extrinsic rewards (eg pay, hours, artificial goals and inconsequential symbols). Where stability is valued over performance, this might be OK but expect unionisation, complaints, politics, cultural problems and resistance to almost every change.

The preferred state is to not provide need satisfaction on a platter, but to enable, encourage and support employees to achieve need satisfaction through actions and behaviours that benefit the organisation and support the well-being of the individual. In this way, they are self-motivated and largely self-managing. This achievement of congruence in basic needs through their own choices and actions motivates repetitions of those sorts of ways of thinking and acting, and because those methods are aligned to workplace culture and goals, the employee will be as highly engaged with working in ways that benefit the organisation as they are with meeting their own needs.

Similarly, by environmentally minimising inconsistency, employees are less likely to experience unresolvable distress which detracts from the ability to engage or perform well. For example, where employee and organisational values and belief systems are well-matched and inviolable, especially by leaders under stress. Consistency is also be enhanced by management and peer fairness, transparency, selflessness and authenticity.

In this way, the Integrated Model of Employee Engagement describes, from a neurobiological, anthropological and behavioural base, the foundations for employee engagement and well-being.

Graphic: The Integrated Model of Employee Engagement, illustrating links between basic need congruence- and consistency-seeking as core motivators, and the effects of perceptions of loss, gain and control on motivational response type and, ultimately, employee engagement and wellbeingThe Integrated Model of Employee Engagement, illustrating links between basic need congruence- and consistency-seeking as core motivators, and the effects of perceptions of loss, gain and control on motivational response type and, ultimately, employee engagement and well-being

Key points from the model:

  • The satisfaction of basic needs, anchored by safety as the foundation, drives intrinsic motivation.
  • Gaps in need level and satisfaction act as motivators for changes to current action or inaction
  • Current need satisfaction acts as a motivator for continuing current levels of action or inaction
  • Internal conflict (e.g., between emotional and rational processing) inhibits decision making and committed action choices
  • Internal consistency supports decisive decision making and committed action
  • Empowerment (both at a daily action-level and in the greater ability to satisfy basic needs and resolve inconsistencies) is an essential factor in response type
  • Feelings of inability to protect need satisfaction or resolve inconsistencies trigger avoidance responses (indicated by red arrows).
  • Motivation based fear of loss to need satisfaction (avoidance schema) is self-focused, reactive and compromised in cognitive capacity in rationality, emotional management and (re)action choices
  • Motivation based on feelings of efficacy and oriented toward increasing the satisfaction of one or more basic needs (approach schema) is likely to be self- and others-focused, considered and supportive of cognitive capacity in rationality, emotional management and action choices
  • Avoidance response-dominance in the workplace have a best-case outcome of compliance and partial engagement requiring strong processes and reasonably close supervision
  • Approach response-dominance in the workplace, when aligned to workplace needs and sustainable self-care, have a best-case outcome of high employee engagement, seen through high productivity, cooperation, attendance, tolerance, initiative, problem-solving, discretionary effort, quality work, customer care and so on.
  • Approach response-dominance, when not aligned to workplace needs and/or sustainable self-care, can easily see employees performing work that meets their needs but are undesirable for the organisation or healthy for the individual.

Despite the apparent complexity of the model and its variables, a simple pattern appears:

Graphic: basic needs and how they lead to employee engagement and staff wellbeing

  • Employee behaviours and action choices are a response to a compulsive drive to meet basic needs whether or not those choices are desirable or objectively effective.
  • Originating from basic needs, intrinsic motivation is felt as deep emotional urges that heavily influence perceptions of objectivity or rationality to energise focused action choices.
  • The perception of control an individual has over their ability to satisfy basic needs and eliminate internal inconsistencies (e.g ethical dilemmas) influences two competing major neurobiological systems, each with different attributes and limitations.
  • Workplaces that focus on control, coercion, errors, omissions and blame (i.e., threat to need satisfaction is more likely than enhancement) are likely to push employees toward dominantly “avoidance” motivational system responses, with a best-case outcome of basic compliance.
  • Workplaces that focus on enabling employees to enhance basic need satisfaction through productive effort and desirable behaviours (e.g. through shared values, mutually compatible goals, training, support, certainty, information, autonomy, recognition, respect etc) are likely to see employees adopt dominantly approach motivational system responses, with a best-case of high engagement and well-being.
  • Engagement, well-being and productivity outcomes originate from the perceptions, available options and habits associated with the intrinsic motivation for basic need satisfaction.
  • For high-engagement outcomes and well-being, employees need to feel they are empowered to enhance the satisfaction of their basic needs by making action choices that are most consistent with the organisation’s values, purpose, goals and culture.
  • Prior to employment, hirers need to be able to reliably assess whether workplace environments, management practices, culture and role are likely to enable a candidate to satisfy and enhance their basic needs through preferred and likely action choices.