The aim of employee engagement isn’t just to stay in business or maximize profitability. It’s also about ensuring your employees are satisfied and fulfilled.
Just three years after the World Health Organization recognized burnout as an official “occupational phenomenon,” caring about your staff as real people with lives outside of work has never been more critical to reduce employee turnover and ensure your business continues to thrive.
And yet, it can feel daunting to design an entire employee engagement structure from scratch. But good news: You don’t have to! There are models out there already that you can use as inspiration to create your own tailored strategy.
To help you decide, this article breaks down six of the most popular employee engagement theories. They are:
- The Zinger model
- The Gallup model
- The AON-Hewitt model
- The Kahn model
- The Maslow model
- The JD-R model
Each of these employee engagement theories offers different tactics and advantages. Let’s take a closer look.
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What is an employee engagement model?
An employee engagement model is a framework that outlines how a company can help its staff members feel happy, satisfied, cared for, valued, respected, and trusted in their workplace. It also respects the fact that employees are human beings with lives both in and outside of work.
Employee engagement models go beyond just pay or the usual perks (although that doesn’t make those any less significant). They set the tone for company culture and inform practices for leadership and management on everything from time off to 1:1 meetings, training, celebrating success, and communication.
Why are engagement models key to a thriving workplace?
The ROI of Employee Engagement has many quantifiable as well as intangible results. The more staff feel happy and valued in their roles, the more likely they’ll be to work hard and stay with the business; this, in turn, boosts productivity and reduces the costs associated with churn and hiring, absenteeism, and poor quality work.
Ultimately, a great engagement model can help make your company a thriving and happy place to work — increasing the chance that everyone will perform at their best and get great results for enduring success.
The 6 best employee engagement models
The following popular models offer different approaches to measuring and improving employee engagement, including recommendations of what questions to ask, what initiatives to implement, and how to structure your workplace for more engaged staff.
1. The Zinger model
Created by psychologist and educator David Zinger, this model focuses on leveraging connections between people to achieve better results. It focuses on strategy and organization, recognizing employees’ finite energy as a key factor in whether they attain the goal of genuine happiness. It also considers professional development as equally important to serving customers.
The acronym CARE is central to the Zinger employee engagement model. It stands for:
- Authentic relationships
- Recognition and acknowledgment of how employee effort gets results
- Engage (as a continuous action)
The Zinger model also sees employee engagement as a pyramid. This includes:
- The bottom row — Necessities like well-being, energy, and leveraging strengths
- The middle row — Uniting the company by building meaningful workplace relationships and fostering recognition
- The top row — Boosting performance, enabling staff to do meaningful work, and marking progress
- Top of the pyramid — Achieving results
💡 Best for
The Zinger model would work particularly well for workplaces that are responsive to the idea that everyone has spiritual, emotional, and mental energy levels that can affect their professional relationships and output.
2. The Gallup model
Devised by the renowned polling and statistics company, the Gallup model measures employee engagement based on the answers to 12 core questions and statements. They include:
- I know what’s expected of me at work, and I have the opportunity to do what I do best
- I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work well
- In the last seven days, I’ve received recognition for my work
- Someone at work seems to care about me as a person, and my opinions count
- Someone at work encourages my development
As these questions show, the Gallup model focuses on whether an employee is able to do their job well and takes their feelings and personal needs into account.
Gallup also states that all leaders and managers should take ownership of improving employee engagement and not see it as an “HR thing.” The organization has surveyed thousands of workers in the US over the past 50 years, giving them the insight that engagement is about giving employees purpose, ensuring development, assigning caring and supportive managers, having regular conversations, and focusing on strengths.
💡 Best for
The Gallup model is very flexible and works well for teams of all sizes and in various industries. It’s particularly useful for remote, hybrid, or distributed teams as it lets leadership ascertain satisfaction with a few core questions in an employee engagement questionnaire sent with a tool like Leapsome.
3. The AON-Hewitt model
The AON-Hewitt model focuses on business outcomes as a core result and driver of ensuring good employee engagement. It understands that engaged employees directly affect customer satisfaction and profit.
This employee engagement model unites six core elements that work together. They are:
- The basics — like benefits, job security, safety, and work-life balance
- Company practices — like communication, diversity, inclusion, and infrastructure
- The work — including collaboration, empowerment, and autonomy
- Leadership — including middle management and senior managers
- Performance — including a career progression framework, further career opportunities, rewards, and recognition
- Brand — for example, corporate responsibility and company reputation
These elements culminate in the qualities of Say, Stay, and Strive, where staff will say positive things about their organization, will want to stay because they feel a sense of loyalty to their workplace, and will strive to perform well.
This, in turn, leads to positive business outcomes — including talent retention, lower absenteeism, operational productivity and safety, customer satisfaction and loyalty, and financial growth.
💡 Best for
The AON-Hewitt method can work well for larger companies with its clear Say, Stay, and Strive messaging.
4. The Kahn model
Created and named after organizational psychologist William Kahn, this employee engagement model prioritizes the importance of staff, seeing their strengths reflected in their work roles.
Overall, the Kahn model aims for each employee to feel safe enough to “bring their full self to work” and harness individual strengths to achieve great results.
In his seminal paper on the concept, the 1990 study Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work, Kahn wrote: “The more people draw on themselves to perform their roles (…) the more stirring at their performances and the more content they are”.
The Kahn model, outlined in the study, identifies three employee engagement outcomes for a successful system: physical, cognitive, and emotional. Kahn said that to be fully and effectively engaged, an employee must:
- Find meaning in their work
- Feel safe bringing their full self to work without any risk of negative pushback
- Feel mentally and physically able to bring their full self to their workplace
In a 2015 interview, Kahn said that the best way to improve employee engagement was to:
- “Approach employees as true partners”
- Involve them in continuous conversations about “how to design their roles”
- Make the work environment “safe enough for employees to speak openly of their experiences at work”
💡 Best for
This model could work particularly well for companies that want to encourage staff to be open, empathetic, and compassionate in their workplace.
5. The Maslow model
This model focuses on Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs theory and how it can apply to employee experience in the workplace. Maslow’s hierarchy lists human necessities in a pyramid, stating that each must be satisfied on one level before individuals can move to the next.
They are as follows, from basic level to highest:
- Food, water, shelter, air, clothing, sleep
- Safety and security
- Love and belonging
- Self-actualization (defined as fully realizing one’s potential)
The Stress Management Society summarizes how Maslow’s model can be applied to employee engagement, with the top four levels of the pyramid being the most compelling.
Employees must be satisfied at the very least at the first level to feel engaged — including making enough money to provide the basics and having enough time to sleep. However, managers can make major employee engagement gains at the next levels.
When applied to the workplace, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs looks like this (from least engaged to most engaged):
- I’m here for the money; I’m not excited or satisfied; I’ll leave as soon as I can
- I take more sick days than I should; I don’t like my team or manager; I read job ads
- I feel part of something bigger; I like working here but wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to others; I feel there are no development prospects for me
- I feel like a vital part of the business; I’m busy and achieve good work; I would only leave if something much better came along; Sometimes I’m quite stressed
- I love working here; I’m a high flyer; I inspire others; I ask how I can help others
Ironically, studies into Maslow’s hierarchy have also found that non-hierarchical thinking can motivate and drive performance better than a rigid power structure.
💡 Best for
Maslow’s original hierarchy is well-known and simple, so it may be easier than other models to communicate to staff and implement company-wide.
6. The JD-R model
JD-R stands for Job Demands-Resources, and defines workplace stress and strain as an imbalance of these two core elements:
- Job demands are defined as any job elements, whether physical or psychological, that cost employees something. This includes work pressure, social stress, effort, or the use of skills.
- Job resources are defined as any elements that offer employees something, such as development opportunities, autonomy, or clarity over their roles.
If too demanding, the job can physically and mentally exhaust employees, leading to reduced performance, excess strain, low engagement, and health problems.
With abundant resources, employees are more likely to achieve their potential, perform well, avoid burnout, and feel supported.
💡 Best for
This model may work well for demanding roles (like high-pressure or physically demanding jobs) or companies that want to focus on ways to offer employee development or extra resources.
Build meaningful employee engagement with Leapsome
Building a successful employee engagement plan for your company may mean choosing one of these models and digging deep into it or picking a few elements that make the most sense for your company.
Employee enablement tools like Leapsome offer the best features to strengthen employee engagement, like regular engagement surveys and 1:1 meetings to gain powerful insights into staff satisfaction levels. From there, managers can take tangible actions to continually improve and create significant, lasting change.
And because Leapsome doesn’t require you to follow any particular engagement model or theory, you can develop a custom strategy perfectly suited to you and your staff.
Regardless of the engagement model you choose, all strive to help you have happy employees who feel respected, rewarded, and safe; and have the skills, tools, and drive to do great work and maximize their performance. That’s true employee engagement!
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