How do you unlock employee engagement in the workplace?

Jelly beans and employee engagement

Do you enjoy your time at work?

We all spend a third of our lifetime asleep and a third of our lifetime at work (OWID, 2024), so it would be perfect if we could all enjoy our time at work. Organisations benefit with higher innovation and productivity when employees are highly engaged (Gallup, 2020). Employee engagement is defined as the level of enthusiasm and dedication an employee feels towards their job. It is about feelings, thoughts and behaviour. Understanding whether you enjoy your work is the first foundation in employee engagement.

To enjoy something is to take pleasure in a state, process, activity or action. 

Decades of research and experience has led to Think Organisation understanding how a culture is created to drive engagement in the workplace. People need autonomy, mastery, purpose and affiliation to be engaged at work, or even content in life. This is based on the theory of Daniel Pink (2009), McClelland (1961) and Maslow (1954).  

Being contented is feeling of happiness or satisfaction. 

So think about how much you enjoy being at work? If you had to answer on a scale of 0-10, where would you score? What leads you to this level? How would you increase this level? The chances are it would relate to one of the four categories below.


Autonomy refers to the ability and freedom for individuals or entities to govern themselves, make their own decisions, and act independently without external control or interference. It implies having the authority and capacity to determine one’s own course of action. In the workplace, this means being able to decide how you fulfil your role. You know what needs to be achieved, but it is down to you to achieve it. The opposite to this is often called micro-management. 

To measure your autonomy at work think about how you would respond to the following questions:

  1. How much control do you feel you have over your daily tasks and decisions at work? 
  2. Are you able to work independently and make decisions without constant supervision? 
  3. Do you have the flexibility to choose how you approach your work and manage your time? 
  4. Are you encouraged to take initiative and innovate in your role? 
  5. How much input do you have in determining your goals and objectives? 

It always helps to answer questions such as this using a 0-10 scale, as this gives more perspective. It also then allows you to think about, if I am at 6 then what would getting to an 8 look like?


Mastery is the state or quality of possessing comprehensive knowledge, skill, or expertise in a particular subject, activity, or craft. It involves reaching a high level of proficiency and understanding through continuous practice, learning, and refinement of one’s abilities. In the workplace, this means being able to do things with you enjoy and give you energy, usually based on your strengths. Mastery comes out of having a psychologically safe culture. 

To measure your mastery at work think about how you would respond to the following questions:

  1. How confident do you feel in your skills and abilities related to your job? 
  2. Do you feel challenged and engaged by the tasks you perform at work? 
  3. Are you provided with opportunities for learning and skill development? 
  4. Do you receive constructive feedback and support to improve your performance? 
  5. Are you able to apply your knowledge and expertise in meaningful ways within your role? 


Purpose is the reason for which something is done or created, or for which something exists. It involves having a clear sense of direction, meaning, or significance in one’s actions, goals, or endeavours. Purpose often provides motivation, fulfilment, and a sense of belonging or contribution to something greater than oneself. In the workplace, this means more than making a profit, which is an output of business. 

To measure your purpose at work think about how you would respond to the following questions:

  1. Do you feel that your work aligns with your personal values and goals? 
  2. What motivates you to perform well in your job? 
  3. Do you understand how your role contributes to the overall objectives and mission of the organisation? 
  4. Do you feel a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction from the work you do? 
  5. Are you able to see the impact of your contributions on others or society as a whole? 


Affiliation refers to the act of associating or connecting oneself with a particular group, organisation, community, or cause. It involves forming bonds, relationships, or alliances with others who share common interests, values, or objectives. Affiliation can provide a sense of belonging, identity, support, and mutual cooperation. In the workplace, this is about having a team you can trust, a group of people who work with you and support you to achieve autonomy whilst ensuring you are not isolated. 

To measure your affiliation at work think about how you would respond to the following questions:

  1. How would you describe the sense of community and camaraderie among your colleagues? 
  2. Do you feel connected to your coworkers and the larger team or organisation? 
  3. Are there opportunities for collaboration and teamwork in your workplace? 
  4. Do you participate in social activities or events with your colleagues? 
  5. Do you feel supported and valued by your peers and supervisors? 

In reality, there are no right or wrong responses to these questions, as it is all based on perception and personal preferences. The value of the questions is to get you thinking, and they can apply to work as well as other facets of your life. All of us need to earn money to feed, clothe and house ourselves and our dependents, which is why we spend a third of our life working. However, what if we could improve our level of enjoyment and contentment at work?

Research over the years has shown that improving autonomy, mastery, purpose, and affiliation in the workplace can significantly enhance employee engagement, satisfaction, and overall organisational performance. 

10 actions your organisation could do to grow employee engagement: 

1. Encourage a Culture of Trust and Empowerment

Foster an environment where employees feel trusted to make decisions and take ownership of their work. Provide opportunities for autonomy by allowing employees to have control over their tasks, schedules, and projects. Understand levels of trust in teams and take steps to improve this if required.

2. Promote Continuous Learning and Development

Offer training programmes, workshops, and resources to support employees in developing their skills and expertise. Encourage a growth mindset and provide opportunities for employees to learn new things and expand their knowledge. Be mindful that some people will have a strong appetite for learning whilst others may need some encouragement. Understanding people’s learning styles can help with this.

3. Clarify Organisational Mission and Values

Ensure that employees understand the purpose and values of the organisation. Communicate the company’s mission and goals clearly and regularly, and help employees see how their work contributes to the larger purpose. Involving employees in the evolution of missions and values helps encourage buy-in but is not essential. The quality of the mission and values is how they help guide decisions and ways of working in the real world.

4. Provide Meaningful Work for engagement

Design jobs and tasks that are challenging, engaging, and meaningful to employees. Align individual roles with employees’ skills, interests, and career aspirations to increase their sense of purpose and fulfilment. With the introduction of machine learning and artificial intelligence, there are new ways of working emerging daily. Utilising technology to enhance meaningful work is crucial for organisations to remain at the forefront of innovation.

5. Offer Opportunities for Collaboration

Create opportunities for teamwork, collaboration, and peer support. Encourage cross-functional projects, team-building activities, and social events to foster a sense of affiliation and belonging among employees. Any team which works in silo will be less innovative, less productive and ultimately less profitable. Ensuring effective communication between teams is crucial for employees to be engaged, and organisations to be successful.

6. Recognise and Reward Achievement for engagement

Acknowledge and celebrate employees’ achievements, milestones, and contributions. Provide regular feedback and recognition to reinforce positive behaviours and accomplishments, which can increase motivation and mastery. This must be done in an inclusive format to suit the needs and preferences of the individual as well as the collective.

7. Promote Work-Life Balance for engagement

Support employees in achieving a healthy work-life balance by offering flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options or flexible hours. Encourage employees to take breaks, vacations, and time off to recharge and prevent burnout. These can be agreed upon through ground rules or ways of working which suit the nature of the business and industry.

8. Foster Open Communication for engagement

Create channels for transparent and open communication within the organisation. Encourage feedback, suggestions, and ideas from employees at all levels, and ensure that their voices are heard and valued. It is vital to understand automatic facial expressions and body language as part of this, as just requesting it is not enough. Leaders need to be open to embracing the information when it is offered. Frequently, this requires training and practice.

9. Invest in Employee Well-being to enhance engagement

Prioritise employee well-being by offering wellness programmes, mental health resources, and support services. Show genuine care and concern for employees’ physical, mental, and emotional health, which can enhance their sense of affiliation and belonging. Often organisations focus on high-level activities (e.g. yoga at lunch), yet there is a much higher return from having a culture which truly supports wellness. Employees who are not psychologically safe will not be engaged, or high-performing over the long term, and yoga at lunch will not solve this problem alone.

10. Lead by Example to grow engagement

Demonstrate leadership behaviours that embody autonomy, mastery, purpose, and affiliation. Set a positive example for employees by showing trust, providing support, communicating purpose, and fostering a sense of community within the organisation. Humans learn from others’ behaviours so role modelling is crucial to ensure high employee engagement is unlocked in your organisation.

By implementing these strategies, organisations can create a workplace culture that promotes autonomy, mastery, purpose, and affiliation, leading to higher employee satisfaction, engagement, and performance. 

Think Performance. Think Excellence. Think Impact.

If you would like help unlocking employee engagement in your organisation then reach out to Think Organisation.

Check our Insights page for more valuable thought leadership.

Think Performance. Think Excellence. Think Impact. 

Check our Insights page for more valuable information.

Share the Post:

Want to know more about how we can help your company?

Related Posts