Climbing The Employee Engagement Pyramid.

A lot has been said and written about employee disengagement in the past few years.Thousands of conferences, training programs, seminars and consulting fees paid, etc. in an effort to find the best formula for employee engagement. Employee disengagement has become a tremendous concern for many companies and their executives, all over the world.

The main reason why it became such a burning point for executives, is the huge impact in terms of productivity and profitability that disengagement is causing, which was certainly less critical during bonanza times.

Executives, HR experts, management consultants, and psychologists, all seem to hold different views about what drives employee disengagement.

While some HR consultants insist that people do not leave their jobs, they leave their bosses; most senior managers and executives would argue that the key motivator is money.

The truth is that there is a real problem behind this debate and nobody seems to be happy with this situation; something needs to radically change in order to fix an issue that costs millions of dollars to the corporate world every year.

Some recent statistics about this issue are really shocking.

  • 70% of US workers are not engaged at work.
  • 89% of employers think their people leave for money while 12% do leave for more money actually.
  • 90% of leaders think that an engagement strategy has an impact on business success, but barely 25% have one.
  • Only 40% of employees knew about their company goals or long term intent.
  • Companies with high levels of engagement make 2.5 X more revenues than their direct competitors.

There is one key reason why people leave their jobs

The reason why people leave their jobs is because their jobs and working environments do not fulfill their needs as human beings.

Human´s needs range from the need of survival, to the need of self-actualization, with stability, sense of belonging and esteem falling in between; but at the end of the day, the intense focus on profitability is what drives most business decisions.

What most businesses do not seem to realize is that the best formula for sustainable financial results and real differentiation works as follows:

Fully engaged employees will improve Customer experience and loyalty, which will result in better long-term financial results.

In the past century, Dr. Abraham Harold Maslow gave us the answer to this question when he developed The Maslow´s Hierarchy of Needs.

In his theory, Maslow defined very concisely the five innate human needs in priority, as well as how needs and expectations grow and vary, according to what needs are already fulfilled.

But for the past two decades, most companies focused entirely on the acceleration of financial results, forgeting about the most valuable asset of all, their PEOPLE.

Thus, I have designed a basic tool to help translate human needs, into employee needs. I have called the tool, The Employee Engagement Pyramid.


Level # 1. Monetary compensation.

Engagement driver: Money.

In the Maslow´s hierarchy of needs, the need for survival comes first; air, water, food, clothing and shelter sit at the base of the human needs hierarchy.

In the employee engagement pyramid, monetary remuneration sits at the base of the pyramid, as money is what pays for shelter, clothing, water and food. Thus, effectively and as many executives think, money is the primary and most basic engagement driver, but it is not the only one.

Paying employees a salary that allows them and their families to pay their bills, and live decently every month, is the primary way to engage employees.

Level # 2. Safety and stability.

Engagement drivers: Benefit programs – medical care, pension scheme, etc.

The second level of needs has to do with the level of protection – for employee and family – provided by the benefits program, as this is what provides a sense of stability and protection.

Also, building the necessary confidence in the company future thru a clear understanding of long term intent and business goals – clear communication from the management team – will certainly help improve employee engagement.

Thus, in order to reach the second level in the employee engagement pyramid, you need to make sure that your employees feel:

  • Safe and protected against unexpected adversities.
  • Confident about the company future.

Level # 3. Sense of Belonging.

Engagement drivers: Career development programs. Project team assignments. Common goals and incentives.

Again, in the Maslow´s pyramid level 3 is related to sense of belonging. Once level 1 and 2 are covered, humans need to experience the love.

In the employee engagement pyramid, these needs translate as social needs. The need to feel part of a group. The need to develop positive relationships with your working colleagues.

If the individual employee relationships with managers, peers and team members are positive and robust the engagement levels will dramatically improve.

This is why HR experts insist that people do not leave their jobs, they leave their bosses. The sense of belonging is the bridge between vital needs – survival and safety – and more complex human needs, such as love and self-actualization.

I tend to agree with HR, in most cases if this bridge is broken, people will inevitably leave their jobs. Thus, the best way to secure engagement at this level is thru a strong culture of collaboration, and the definition of common goals and inventives.

Level # 4. Love and esteem.

Engagement drivers: Reward programs, talent retention programs, succession plans.

At level 4 of the pyramid we find individuals who have all the vital needs fulfilled, so how can we get them satisfied and engaged?

At this stage, people feel motivated by respect and recognition, as well as increased responsibility and status. Promotions, rewards, talent pool programs, succession plans should make a compelling case for employees to stay.

Equally speaking, the absence of reward programs and the lack of opportunities to move their career upwards, will generate a strong feeling of frustration and disengagement.

The sense of achievement and the recognition associated to it, plays an instrumental role in the fulfillment of needs at this level, so reward programs and promotions can help engage these employees in the long run.

Level # 5. Self-actualization.

Engagement drivers: Opportunity to create the future. Innovation projects. Thinking roles.

Employee motivation at this level is related to the resolution of complex problems, the ability to create the future, the opportunity to influence and improve other people´s lives, and most importantly, to the opportunity to use their minds and achieve their full potential as human beings.

It is important to emphasize the fact that self-actualization cannot be reached until other lower order needs in the pyramid are fully satisfied.

Maslow defined a self-actualizer as a person who is living creatively and fully using his or her potentials. In the business world, entrepreneurs tend to be the best expression of sef-actualization.

When needs at this level are not fulfilled, the individual will try to find self-actualizing activities outside the working environment. A good example is the amount of C-level executives in Sylicon Valley who devote their spare time to altruistic initiatives, after long hours at work and for nothing in return, but self-actualization..


Humanism is a philosophical stance emphazising the value of human beings, individual and collective, which generally prefers critical thinking and evidence over establish doctrine and faith. The evidence here is clear, we just need to click on the link.

Many companies claim that they already have put all the necessary policies and engagement drives in place, but still, people does not seem to be engaged. People engagement does not happen so much in the form of handbooks and words, but in behaviors and actions.

Companies need to incorporate, and most importantly practice execute, humanism in the business world, in order to help people get higher in the engagement pyramid.

A strong culture of cultivation and collaboration, instilled, refreshed and practiced top to bottom, everyday, in a healthy working environment, combined with a humanistic leadership style, are the three common elements of organizations achieving high levels of employee engagement.

Help your people climb the pyramid, as the higher the get, the more engaged they will feel.

I hope you enjoyed the reading. If so, don´t forget to click on “Like” and share it with others who may find it useful.

You may also like to read my recent posts on Linkedin.

Jordi is the Managing Principal Consultant at Key Strategic Chain Solutions, a management consulting firm specializing in Executive Coaching, Organizational Strategy and Portfolio Management.

Best regards,

Jordi Alemany


About Jordi Alemany

I am a multi-cultural and multi-lingual (English, Spanish, Catalan and Italian) executive coach and management consultant, specializing in Humanistic Leadership, Organizational Strategy, and Portfolio Management disciplines. I am an energetic, creative and resourceful, with an innate passion for helping others reach their full potential.
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