Taking an informal and non-hierarchical approach similar to that popularized in Silicon Valley can create a confident and innovative workforce. However, behind all the quirkiness lie policies that recognize the importance of the individual. As Kahn highlighted, engagement occurs when a person is able to “harness their full selves” to their work.
Google’s Project Aristotle studied 180 teams within the organization, looking for patterns of successful collaboration. They found that teams built on “psychological safety” were the most successful. These teams were characterized by empathy, openness, and not wearing a “work face”—all key factors for engagement.
The most important thing an employer can do is develop a supportive culture that allows people to be themselves, where they are “safe” from unwarranted control or criticism. You don’t need a big budget or sophisticated facilities to understand the needs of your employees through focus groups, feedback surveys or working parties. It pays to listen.
Understanding Kahn’s Theories as Employee Engagement Drivers
How can we act on Kahn’s employee engagement theory, and use his research to motivate our teams? To answer that, we can look at the drivers in the Workday Peakon Employee Voice platform.
Kahn’s “meaningfulness” is embodied by our “meaningful work” driver. In practice, that means businesses need to make sure that each employee understands the value and impact their role has on the whole. It’s this genuine appreciation for making a contribution that motivates individuals to commit themselves fully to their role.
We see Kahn’s concept of “safety” in our “freedom of opinions” driver. Work should be a safe space for employees to voice their views without fear of reprisals. Without psychological safety, employees won’t feel able to contribute actively on a daily basis.
Kahn’s “availability” concept encompasses many aspects of the workplace. The physical “environment” needs to be right for a person to apply themselves. For example, does an employee have all the equipment they need to get their job done, and do they have the space to work individually and collaboratively?
Meanwhile, “management support” and “peer relationships” reflect the interpersonal connections that enable an employee to harness their full self. All in all, the goal is to make sure that we are creating the right environment and culture for engagement to flourish—and that’s something Kahn would’ve been a big proponent of.
It’s fair to say that employee engagement theory revolutionized management practices. Its impact is extensive, from increased customer happiness, to high staff retention and, of course, the satisfaction of knowing that your team is genuinely happy. Thanks to William Kahn, every business can better understand how best to improve employee engagement.