How Gratitude Can Increase Employee Engagement

Employee Satisfaction

How gratitude can increase employee engagement.
This post was written by Geri Marshall and Cecily Jorgensen

Gratitude Can Increase Employee Engagement

Gratitude can increase employee engagement in an organization, but do employee engagement and gratitude go hand in hand? Gratitude is a concept valued universally as a pro-social aspect of human culture. It’s an idea that takes mindful practice in our personal lives, in our families, and even in our jobs. Recently, scientists have researched this concept and have found interesting connections with many aspects of well-being.

How Gratitude Affects Health

The Brain and Creativity Institute at USC’s Department of Psychology conducted an experiment exploring how gratitude affects the brain. As subjects experienced the feeling of gratitude, their brains were being monitored through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A feeling of gratitude stimulated parts of the brain associated with positive emotion and moral thinking; gratitude stimulates patterns in the brain that reinforce positivity.

Measure Employee Engagement At Your Company

The role of gratitude in heart failure patients was examined at the University of California, San Diego. The study found that feeling gratitude was associated with better sleep, a decrease in depression, decreased fatigue, and a more positive outlook on their ability to maintain cardiac function. Patients expressing gratitude also had lower levels of inflammation. The researchers concluded that efforts to increase gratitude may be an effective treatment for improving well-being in heart failure patients!

Clearly, gratitude is more powerful than we may have initially believed. So, what would happen if companies started to incorporate gratitude into their employee engagement strategies?

Gratitude and Employee Values

This past September, our company decided to test the effect of gratitude. We began with a planning meeting in our Employee Experience Council in which we decided that we could help our employees understand our values, get them to interact more, and increase gratitude—while having fun doing so. We created “tokens” (similar to small, paper game pieces) with our company values printed on one side. On the other side of the token, team members wrote how fellow employees were exemplifying and acting upon those values throughout the month.
DecisionWise Company Values
On a personal level, I found it fun to walk away from my desk and come back to tokens that recognized both my small and large efforts. I became more mindful of others’ actions and trained myself to look for the good in others and see all the many ways they not only contribute to our organization but how they do it in a way that truly aligns with our values. This simple exercise created a significant boost in energy and comradery throughout the company.
Research conducted on gratitude by Michael McCullough (University of Miami) and Robert Emmons (UC Davis) has shown that people who frequently experience gratitude are happier, less depressed or anxious, more emphatic, and more helpful than people who do not have a grateful disposition. Interestingly, these characteristics are strikingly similar to those possessed by fully engaged employees. Yet, only 52% of organizations have formal employee engagement programs in place. Why? “Lack of knowledge about the benefits of employee engagement” was the most-cited response.

How Your Company Can Use Gratitude to Build Employee Engagement

Your company may be in that boat; they may not be willing to completely commit to a full-blown strategy. If that’s the case, you may have more luck persuading them to start with something simpler. Take advantage of the holiday season, where hearts are often softened. Try forming a specific team, council, or task force where members can brainstorm ways in which your company can increase an attitude of gratitude. See where that leads you.

Perhaps your organization lacks the time or resources for major “employee engagement initiatives.” Gratitude doesn’t have to be time-consuming, expensive, or extensive. Get creative. Find ways in which teams can nominate other employees for recognition. As we experienced with our company’s “values tokens activity,” this will encourage employees to be aware of and look out for the accomplishments and contributions of their colleagues. Try a company newsletter or a team recognition e-mail. Think about giving shout-outs to the people being nominated, even if they don’t win a Caribbean cruise or $800 for a posh hotel stay. Those shout-outs can be fun to hear, and a big morale booster. The point here is that gratitude isn’t expensive.

It is gratifying to see science verify what age-old wisdom has always known. The key to making this magic happen is to take the time to “experience” gratitude. It is “feeling” grateful and acting on that gratitude that creates the positive side effects in the brain. Commit to really testing the power of gratitude through small steps and goals. We hope that you and your company will enjoy the emotional, relational, and physical well-being that we have experienced here at DecisionWise.
Employee Engagement Survey

How Do You Find Connection In Your Job?

How do you find connection in your job?

“Communication––the human connection––is the key to personal career success.” ­–– Paul J. Meyer

Connection with others is a basic human need and one that is essential for lasting employee engagement. It’s the feeling that being part of your organization makes you part of a community of people who are engaged in something that’s bigger than any one person.

In the book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: Five Keys for Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations Connection is the last key to the ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® formula, Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection. It’s the sense that a place is “special,” that you and your colleagues are a “band of brothers” who have each other’s backs unconditionally.

Connection, is the sense of belonging to something beyond yourself.

The Walt Disney Company is renowned for the experience it creates for its guests at theme parks around the world. One of the reasons for that seamlessness and quality is the employees that the company calls “cast members.” With its many rules and strict appearance and behavior codes, Disney’s not an easy place to work, but it’s easy to find communities where former employees talk fondly about their time working for the Mouse. How many companies can say that?

When employees feel a deep, strong connection, they are more likely to expend extra energy for one another, to give more to the organization, and to be more positive in the things they say both at work and away from it.
How does your organization promote CONNECTION internally to build employee engagement? Here’s what some leaders and employees had to say:

Krystal Rogers-Nelson, A Secure Life

One thing that my work does that helps build connection internally is via Slack and Motivosity. We have different channels on slack to connect with people across teams; we use a lot of gifs and emojis to keep morale high and to encourage each other. It’s also a great way to share articles and best practices in our field.

Motivosity is a helpful tool that we use to recognize each other. We have Motivosity dollars we can give to our co-workers and the dollars we receive we can use to buy stuff at our company store, like hoodies, coffee mugs, concert tickets, etc. It’s a fun way to recognize each other’s birthdays, work anniversaries, and accomplishments!

Clayton Coombs, Utah Advocates

Here at The Advocates we know the importance of building human connection within the organization. For example, during the solar eclipse, our entire company went to a park to enjoy a company-sponsored lunch and the solar eclipse with all our coworkers. This was a simple activity that brought all employees together and was very beneficial for employee engagement.

Deborah Sweeney, My Corporation

Our company is big on human connection. We’ve been accused of being a 50-person family. We build this by enjoying time with each other both inside and outside of work. We have generally flexible work schedules, which allows us to interact regularly with our team members. We also do a significant amount of team building and bonding. We do theme days where we all dress alike. We have fun events around meals (potlucks, specialty drink days, etc.), and we generally create great bonds and human connections within our team.

Matt Anton, NJ SEO

Digital marketing can become extremely lonely because there can be large distances between a client or no immediate need to meet face to face. One of the best ways I’ve found to add human connection is to provide a personal, custom video for each client. Emails can often lack true meaning and sincerity, but when you are on webcam, and showing over your shoulder exactly what can be corrected, it adds a layer of humanity previously lost to cold premade packages and templates.

Within the company, we took the same approach. Although most of the team members work remote, we all hop on Skype video chats, or Facebook Facetime. It’s allowed for team members to understand they aren’t alone in trying to build a great company, but rather part of a larger team, all with the same goal. It’s much harder to tell someone you didn’t value their input via video, versus a cold email, and forces team members to work out solutions to problems, working towards the best possible course of action.

A Key Driver of Employee Engagement

As mentioned in the book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®, Connection may be the key driver of employee engagement. Why? Two reasons. First, it’s the only element of ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® that employees project outward toward others. Meaning, autonomy, growth, and impact are introspective qualities arrived at through personal processes.

The other reason that connection is so important is that connection is the only engagement key that can directly encourage people to choose meaning, autonomy, growth, and impact. A culture that encourages engagement and communication can give employees the push they need to seize growth opportunities, choose to find meaning and impact in their work, and be more autonomous.

Call to Action: Download the ENGAGEMENT MAGIC<sup style=

Read how 15 employees see MEANING in their jobs.
Read how these employees think AUTONOMY is crucial for employee engagement.
Read how these companies promote GROWTH opportunities to their employees.
Read how these employees see IMPACT in their jobs.

Webinar: How to Get Your CEO to Drive Employee Engagement Initiatives

It’s nearly impossible to get traction around employee engagement initiatives without the support of the CEO and senior leadership team. During this presentation, we’ll provide tips and share case studies that not only show how to get senior leadership to “bless” engagement initiatives, but to drive them.
During this webinar we will cover:

  • How to talk about employee engagement with your senior leadership team
  • How to position the objectives of employee engagement
  • How to be bold without risking your reputation
  • How to navigate the politics of employee engagement
  • What to do if you have tried and it didn’t work

Free HRCI & SHRM Credit.
Presented by: Kristin Chapman, Greg Zippi, Matt Wride

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Do You See Impact in Your Job?

do you see your impact

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” –– Jackie Robinson

Most of us work tirelessly to pay the bills, right? Some harder than others, but to really feel engaged in our work, it is crucial to recognize the IMPACT our work has.

Impact, as it relates to work, means seeing positive, effective, and worthwhile outcomes and results from your work.

According to the book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: Five Keys for Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations, Impact is one of the five essential keys that make up the acronym, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® (Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, Connection).

If meaning is the purpose––the “why” of our work, impact is the result––the “what.” Individuals can typically find meaning in their jobs, yet still feel like they are making little difference or progress. The missing piece is impact or being able to see a result from their efforts.

Let Them SEE Their Impact

The book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®, also states that organizations that “close the distance” between work and impact will have higher levels of employee engagement. These organizations break down the barriers between the work environment and the end results of work so employees can see that their effort is producing something worthwhile.

Engaged organizations find ways to make the work real. They remind employees, “This is why you’re coming to work every day. This is the difference you make.” How is this done?

For instance, a medical-device company could have their designers post videos interviews with patients on the internet allowing all employees to see how their efforts impact real patients. Factories might reward employees who make the greatest contributions to increased energy efficiency. Schools could solicit testimonials from former students who get into prestigious universities and put them in the hands of teachers.

Feedback is another powerful tool for creating impact and employee engagement. It may also be the easiest and quickest way to boost engagement. Some managers hesitate because they think if you give someone credit or positive feedback, they’ll become complacent. Research actually says that the opposite is true. People are more likely to become complacent because supervisors aren’t providing enough constructive feedback.

Seven Real-world Examples of Employees Seeing Impact in Their Jobs

James Rice, WikiJob

I work for WikiJob, a forum, jobs board and careers advice center for students and graduates looking to enter the world of work. I was hired almost three years ago, and was the first marketing employee at the firm. My responsibility was to grow our audience and grow our affiliate marketing revenue. As such, I redesigned much of our website, put a content marketing plan in place, and created more direct partnerships with our affiliate partners. Three years on, our annual traffic has grown from 3 million unique visitors to 6.5 million, and our affiliate revenue has grown by over 200%. This has transformed the business, made it much more profitable, and led to better employee retention (as well as more employees).

Steve Reuter, Inciting Purpose

I run a branding agency that specializes in mission and vision statements. Each time I work with a company or person to help them articulate their personal beliefs, drives, and purpose, I get a front-row seat to the positive outcomes of a person or company coming alive.

One specific example coming to mind is a nonprofit foundation on the West Coast. I spent several hours on the phone, sending e-mails, and writing, as I attempted to put the spirit of the foundation into words. Every step of the process was exciting and powerful. I learned about the immense good these people were trying to achieve and I helped employees ignite their own passions. Once the project was complete, staff were excited to use the script, not because it was especially good for advertising, but because the script put words to why they did what they did. The script gave them the voice they were looking for so that they could share their excitement and passion with the world.

Carol Gee, Venus Chronicles

As a retired educator and university administrator in the Atlanta area, the impact of my job was in the students with whom I interacted. One such student was Gordon. He was my graduate work-study student. He was very smart–he figured out how much my new car payment would be based on my trade-in, etc. all in his head, without the use of a calculator. But with a chip on his shoulder and his mad-at-the-world attitude, I was frightened he would end up in prison–something I was determined wouldn’t happen. We disagreed at times and butted heads a lot. I mostly listened while he did a lot of the talking and processing.

Today, Gordon is a public health analyst, husband, and proud father of three. My job’s impact was on the many student workers I supervised, mentored, and nurtured who are all successful, productive individuals.

Valerie Streif, The Mentat

At Mentat, I get to connect people directly with hiring managers for positions. No need to fill out endless applications on job boards with no responses.

A positive impact that I see at my job is helping people find a job. The rewarding feeling that comes with helping a frustrated or desperate individual secure employment is indescribable. The current methods of finding a job are outdated and basically set people up for failure. Applications get thrown out by applicant tracking systems if they are formatted incorrectly. Thus, some stellar applicants never come across the desk of hiring managers. People apply to hundreds of positions and only hear back from a small handful. It’s awful, especially for someone who has been unemployed for a while and really needs to find a job.

Whenever I feel like I’m hitting a wall at work, I look at our testimonials and all the nice things that people have said about our service, and it reminds me that we’ve done a lot of good for people who need a job. As a team, we all celebrate each placed client as a victory. Everyone whose story I listen to keeps me motivated to keep going and keep reaching out to people who need help.

“Mentat was great, they were quick to respond and made good suggestions for both my resume and LinkedIn profile. Every week I’d receive no less than 12 new positions that they had applied to on my behalf. The application and interview process is daunting, and doing it alone feels overwhelming, but Mentat eased the stress of applying to positions and put the power of choice back into my hands. I appreciate everything they did for me and recommend them to anyone feeling beat down by unemployment. They are the right partner to team up with.” Words like these remind me of the impact I have on other people’s lives.

Nicole Harris, One Last Frog

At One Last Frog we plan events for a multitude of clients. Specifically, our organization gives back by using 10% of our revenue to plan parties for children who are less fortunate, those who have never celebrated a birthday, or children with disabilities. We have also expanded these endeavors to planning weddings for couples with immense financial distress who have never had the opportunity to have a wedding.
A specific example is a Sweet Sixteen party that we planned for a little girl named Jaya. She has special needs, and we went above and beyond to make her event amazing. We had a memorial table set up for her beloved deceased mother and we made a children’s buffet full of gluten free foods for her and her friends from her school and dance class. We designed a mocktail bar so the children could feel a little more grown up, and we made sure that all vendors were aware of the children’s developmental conditions so we could give premier service tailored to their needs.

The impact endeavors like these have on our employees is astonishing. Our employees work harder and want to go the extra mile because they get to see and feel the impact of their efforts. When you see that little girl with her friends and family enjoying the night and celebrating her life, it is beyond explanation.

Our employee engagement and work ethic definitely increase after events where we really create an impact on other’s lives. For example, they move quicker by refilling the water in the vases, making sure everyone in wheelchairs can get down the ramp, and they are more optimistic with how they approach a new or challenging client. As a business owner, I evaluate employee engagement after each event. I gauge our culture, and see engagement increase after each event as our employees witness the difference they make in other’s lives, as we did for Jaya’s Sweet Sixteen.

Ruth Wilson, Brightmont Academy

As a board certified educational therapist and certified school principal, I’m the founder of Brightmont Academy, an accredited private school for students in grades 6-12 that uses an innovative one-to-one instruction model, pairing one teacher with one student. This gives us the ability to customize all educational programs, and to accommodate a wide variety of student needs.

I get to see positive impact firsthand every single time I attend a graduation and shake the hand of a young person who has earned a high school diploma from Brightmont Academy. Because we offer one-to-one instruction, we serve a wide range of students, including those with physical and mental health issues, learning disabilities, highly capable cognitive skills, and extraordinary talents that pull students out of school for competitive tournaments or performance opportunities.

One recent graduate signed with a professional sports team during his senior year and needed to begin touring with them in March, well before the end of the traditional school year. We were able to accelerate his studies so that he completed all coursework and earned his diploma just one day before starting the tour. Brightmont graduation ceremonies are as diverse as our students, and his consisted of a series of texts and us overnight-shipping his diploma to his father, but it was still quite an exciting celebration.

Our student was able to earn his diploma and begin a promising athletic career without having to give up or postpone either dream; getting to facilitate that kind of achievement makes my job the most rewarding there is.

Paula Jackler, GiveMeTap

GiveMeTap is a social enterprise that sells BPA-free water bottles. For each bottle sold, we give 5 years of clean water to a person in Africa. As a Growth Marketer, my job is to engage in marketing activities to expand our market presence. My day is really unpredictable. In any given day, you may find me writing a blog post, pitching to an influencer on social media, analyzing our website performance, or looking for events for sponsorships.

Since I work for a social startup, every single thing I do matters. Every person that I talk to, every piece of content I write, every event I attend…. everything counts. Because of my efforts, more people are hearing about GiveMeTap, buying more bottles, and that results in more people in Africa getting access to clean water.
So, when I’m overwhelmed or disengaged, that’s what I remember––what I do changes lives. Every minute that I waste on Instagram is a minute that I could have spent introducing GiveMeTap to someone who would change a life forever. And that renews my strength and engagement!

Read how 15 employees see MEANING in their jobs.
Read how these employees think AUTONOMY is crucial for employee engagement.
Read how these companies promote GROWTH opportunities to their employees.
Read how these employees find CONNECTION in their jobs.

Call to Action: Download the ENGAGEMENT MAGIC<sup style=

Are Growth Opportunities Important In Your Job?

measuring growth

Are growth opportunities important in your job? Employee engagement is essential to a thriving and effective organization, and growth is one of the most important keys to employee engagement. If people aren’t challenging themselves and learning new skills, complacency takes over and the infection of disengagement creeps in. The growth opportunity definition can be described as the chance to grow significantly. Whether that growth be in your career, personal life, or hobbies. Opportunities to grow are key to overall satisfaction and success.

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” – Harvey S. Firestone, founder of Firestone Tire & Rubber Company

Growth, as it relates to employees and work, is being stretched and challenged in ways that result in personal and professional progress.

According to the book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: Five Keys for Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations, Growth is the third key and the one that injects life into the employee engagement formula, Meaning, AutonomyGrowthImpact, and Connection.

Opportunities in the workplace give employees a sense of getting better at something and always expanding into new areas. It is a universal human need. We become bored, distracted, and disengaged when we feel that our work is routine and repetitive. People crave work experiences that challenge their minds and their skills, and that offers them the chance to rise to the occasion and excel even in high-stress situations.

How Organizations Promote Growth Opportunities – 8 Examples From People Who See Growth as Essential in Employee Engagement

Kyle Wente, EcoEnclose

To promote personal and professional growth opportunities, we organize monthly knowledge-sharing workshops. The topic of each workshop is left entirely up to the employees and can include both professional, as well as personal ‘life’ skills. Some of these workshops have included topics like advanced Excel tips and an intro to Adobe Creative Suite. However, we’ve also devoted a monthly workshop to team-building activities including an introduction to rock climbing seminar. As long as there is enough interest and an expert available to lead the workshop, no topic is off-limits.
Employees have really enjoyed the growth initiative and challenge of working outside their current areas of expertise while learning new skills and engaging with colleagues.

Alex Buck, Taher Food Services Management

At Taher, we have multiple programs to help our employees grow personally, physically, and professionally. We have access to our licensed dietitians for input on meal planning and what foods to eat. Included in that is our Healthy-is-the-new-cool initiative that encourages employees to volunteer. The program also exposes them to new foods and experiences like our visit to The Fish Guys to show where we source some of our seafood and try some amazing new dishes!

Cristian Rennella,

We are a technology company composed of engineers, programmers, and designers. In the last 9 years, we have tested 27 different techniques, from tradeshows, brainstorming sessions, motivational speakers every 2 months, and more, to encourage the professional growth of each person who is part of our team.

After all these years and experiments, we concluded that the best opportunities for personal growth and commitment to the company are in educating employees on new technologies that will improve their careers and our organization.

Recently our company has encouraged every employee to better learn Artificial Intelligence through online training at Udacity. Once the course is complete, we allot Fridays to work on newly learned skills, personal interests, and projects that will benefit the company.
Through continuous education of new technologies and the challenge of putting them into practice, employee engagement and growth have noticeably increased within the organization.
The results we have seen with this technique have been amazing.

Matt Collins, Loans Now

At our company, we constantly put in the effort towards helping our staff become more skillful and better equipped for their careers. We often assess our team to define which skills we lack that could make our business more efficient or effective. Instead of hiring new specialists to target one specific skill, we empower our current employees and pay for their advanced training in the areas that would be most beneficial to our business. Not only is this much less expensive than bringing in someone new, but our most engaged employees typically jump at the chance to learn a new skill, as it gives them a way to increase their career development with no personal expense.

As a bonus, once an employee has gained knowledge in a new area, they train and assist other team members. This means that for each employee we support in gaining new knowledge, we can ensure that these new skills will be exponentially valuable to our operations.

Cody Clifton, Wholesale Lanyards

We send our employees on business retreats that are designed to provide training as well as a little rest and relaxation. We are also offering to pay tuition for classes that are related to our industry. Additionally, we are sending our employees to national or international conferences where industry experts will be speaking.

By providing opportunities like these, we are showing our employees that they’re worth the investment. Offering growth opportunities like these are valuable to our employees. They understand that expanding their knowledge base and skillsets translates to promotions and increased income. These opportunities also help our employee engagement and our recruiting process. Job seekers see these benefits as a bonus to our other company perks.

Megan Larsen, Arbor Financial Group

I used to work at a public relations firm in Beverly Hills, where I was the definition of MISERABLE. I now work as the Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator for Arbor Financial Group in Orange County.
The difference between the two companies is night and day. Arbor promotes growth. They commonly send their employees to conferences and trade shows to help us network and grow! This past April I was sent to the National Association of Professional Mortgage Women Conference in Las Vegas with two other Female Co-Workers. Two other employees recently visited Michigan for the UWM Fast Track Growth Seminar for Mortgage Professionals and they said it was an amazing experience.

Working for a company that promotes growth and has an open-door policy is truly amazing. The Principal of the company sits each employee down and asks where they see themselves growing within the company. I think it’s a total game-changer working for an employer that is so in tune with employee’s personal and professional growth. I don’t see myself ever looking to leave this company––I’m very happy here.

 Augustin Kennedy, ShipMonk

One thing I’m very grateful for is that our CEO promotes and funds our professional development on the job. We have a program in which we take a course online either in our field or in any niche of our interest, and then we present what we’ve learned every quarter. This opportunity has enabled me to learn things on the job that I’ve never actually thought about, and it has made me a better-rounded employee overall.

Aaron Udler, OfficePro

It’s mandatory for employees to take continuing education classes. I don’t care about the subject matter. It can be business-related, learning a new language, or something else. Being an education company, I want my employees to always be learning new things and keeping their brain active.
We encourage employees to attend tradeshows each year. We either attend or exhibit at 3-5 trade shows a year. I use this as both a bonus and an educational opportunity for members of my team to see what else is out there. It’s usually pretty eye-opening for them to see industry trends first hand.

Growth Opportunities aren’t (ALWAYS) About Advancement

These were all great examples of leaders and employees seeing growth opportunities within their organization. It’s interesting to see that most of the comments focused on intellectual growth or advancing skills. Not many mentioned growth as related to advancing in position or pay.

As stated in the book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®, “Growth does not necessarily equal promotion. In fact, when we (DecisionWise) survey employees about growth, their responses aren’t focused on near-term promotions. However, a significant percentage of managers automatically assume that employees equate growth with job promotion and a fancier title.”


Growth opportunities are essential to employee engagement. They go far beyond a higher position or a better parking space, these opportunities enable individuals to grow as a person and become their best selves.

Further Reading

How 15 employees see MEANING in their jobs.
AUTONOMY is crucial for employee engagement.
How employees see IMPACT in their jobs.
Finding CONNECTION in your job.

Webinar: Employee Engagement Survey Best Practices

Busy Office - Employee Engagement

During this webinar we’ll share the best methods for preparing, administering, and rolling out the results from your employee engagement survey based on over 20 years of experience conducting surveys around the world. We’ll also identify the most common mistakes organizations make when conducting an employee engagement survey and how to avoid them.
During this webinar we will cover the following topics:

  • 6 anchor questions that measure employee engagement
  • How to achieve high participation
  • Ensuring confidentiality to collect honest feedback
  • 3 common survey administration mistakes
  • Effective ways to roll out the results
  • Training managers to conduct action planning meetings
  • Holding leaders accountable to improve engagement

Receive HRCI and SHRM credit for attending.
About the Presenter: David Long is an Engagement Consultant at DecisionWise and leads a team of consultants who conduct engagement surveys for clients around the world. He is an expert on how to conduct employee surveys and get the most from the results.

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Best Practices

Is Autonomy Important In Your Job? They Think So.

is autonomy important in your job?

“Control leads to compliance; AUTONOMY leads to engagement.” ­––Daniel Pink

Is autonomy important in your job and does it promote employee engagement? According to the book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: Five Keys for  Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations, Autonomy is the second key to employee engagement in the ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® formula, Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection.


Autonomy, as it relates to work, is: The power to shape your work and environment in ways that allow you to perform at your best.

That’s Not Autonomy; That’s Lack of Leadership

Despite this clear definition, there are a lot of misconceptions about autonomy. Autonomy is NOT:

  • Working in isolation. Being autonomous doesn’t give a person the right to work without supervision or collaborators.
  • It’s not doing whatever you like whenever you like. In an organization with high levels of autonomy, the employer defines the boundaries of the employee’s control and decision-making power.
  • It’s not working without a net. Autonomous employees receive strong, clear guidance from supervisors, established procedures, manuals, and so on. Employees shouldn’t be left to figure things out on their own. That’s not autonomy; that’s lack of leadership.

Autonomy is not about leaving people alone. Employees typically don’t want to be left alone. They want clear directions, rules, and expectations. In other words, hire GOOD people, give them what they need to do their jobs well, and get out of their way.

Is autonomy important to you and your job?

Here are some real-world employees that find autonomy to be essential in creating true employee engagement:

Bryan Clayton, GreenPal

As CEO of GreenPal, the Uber for Lawn Care, I recommend never telling people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. That is one of my favorite quotes from General George S. Patton:

“To empower and get the most of your teammates you’ll need to outline what the big picture objective is and then get out of their way and let them show you they can do it.”

Last year we had a new hire that we placed in a similar situation. Online reviews are a big part of our platform’s success. Our new customer experience manager was tasked with getting new online reviews for our company. I started to outline my ideas for tactical ways to do this, but then I realized that I wanted him to own the project. I simply told him that the objective was to get 20 new reviews for every city in which we operate.
Well as it turns out he was a big dog lover.

He came up with the idea of placing into our sign-up process a questionnaire about what kinds of pets our customers have. He then studied that data and mailed each of those customers a thank you note along with a one dollar dog bone.

The response was tremendous, and our online reviews came pouring in, and we also got some great social media coverage out of as well with our customers sharing the card, and treats to their Instagram Facebook pages.

Put your people in positions where they get to own the results and If they are unable to deliver, then odds are you don’t have the right person on your team anyway. This is especially critical for employees for small businesses as the first 2-10 teammates you high will make a break or success.

Julie Ozlek, Soom Foods

As a new member of the startup tahini company, Soom Foods, the owners have given me the freedom to develop my role, skills, and relationships within this position. Whether it be creating social media copy and collateral, writing blog posts on our website, analyzing metrics, or working with third-parties, they allow me to work autonomously because they trust my thought-process through my holistic understanding of the brand and the company’s goals. Not only does this sense of autonomy shine within my role, but also amongst all the other employees at Soom.

Steven Benson, CEO of Badger Mapping

Everyone at Badger Mapping, even interns, is encouraged to join whatever projects they’re most interested in. We have the projects that we have to get done, and I basically let people gravitate towards the areas where they want to contribute. Because people choose to run the projects and take responsibility for them, it’s up to them to make sure they build the team and get people’s help to complete the project.

For example, one intern was interested in HR and came up with a complete strategy and HR program. She built it from the bottom up and launched it on her own. She was given autonomy to make all decisions in terms of how it should be set up and what it should contain while I was only there for guidance if she had any questions or concerns.

Every Monday at our company, we have a full team meeting for 15 minutes, and everyone who is running a project will update the group on where things are at and ask people for help where they need it. People then join the projects they want to join, even if it’s different than their job description. If an engineer or an engineering intern wants to get involved in a marketing project, they’re encouraged to do so. If a salesperson or sales intern wants to get involved in a QA project, the same thing––I want them to do it.

Getting people to work with and understand different parts of the company is good for their development and good for employee engagement in the company. This type of autonomy gives people the experiences that build empathy for other parts of the organization and helps the whole company function better. I really believe that when you give employees autonomy, they dig deep and find the best version of themselves.

Without Trust, Autonomy Doesn’t Exist

One quality that each of these examples have in common is TRUST. Without trust, autonomy is impossible and trust is earned, but supervisors need to learn to stop “running the machine” and let employees do their work.

How to Promote Autonomy

So, what can a leader do to promote autonomy and employee engagement in his/her organization?

  • Grant employees ownership over projects.
  • Create an environment that offers both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators (Read the book) 
  • Provide your people with tools and resources they need to reach your goals and theirs.
  • Show your people you trust them and get out of the way and let them do their thing.

Once employees have a taste of true autonomy, they won’t want to give it up. So, tread carefully if attempting to take it away. It will be a surefire employee engagement killer.

Read how 15 employees see MEANING in their jobs.
Read how these companies promote GROWTH opportunities to their employees.
Read how these employees see IMPACT in their jobs.
Read how these employees find CONNECTION in their jobs.

Do You See Meaning In Your Job? These Employees Do.

Doctors who find meaning in their job

Can you find meaning in your job? Some people can’t seem to find meaning in their job or see the difference their job makes. Think about the tasks you perform on a daily basis. Are you bored just thinking about them or do you feel engaged and energetic because you know there is something MORE to your job? Others look beyond the daily tasks and see more in the end product, user, or outcome of their jobs. They see MEANING in their work.

Meaning as it relates to work is:

Your work has purpose beyond the work itself.

According to the book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: Five Keys for Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations, Meaning is the first key that builds an engagement that lasts, produces results, and creates joy and happiness in an individual. The other keys finishing the acronym ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® are Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection.

What creates meaning for employees? So many different things create meaning for employees in their jobs that we didn’t want to guess. Instead, we asked the masses, and here are 15 real-world examples of how employees find meaning in their work:

Katie Schwartz, Business Speech Improvement

I provide speech coaching to professionals. This may include training in presentation skills, American-English pronunciation for bilingual speakers, those with strong American regional accents, or communication skills needed for leadership. When my clients say they are able to make a successful presentation, get promoted or simply feel more confident about speaking, that gives my work meaning.

One client is a highly skilled professor, but his pronunciation of American-English was so hard to understand that I had no idea what he taught until he drew me a picture. After speech coaching, he reported that his students understood him better. They got better grades and he felt more successful as a professional. My clients are highly motivated to learn, and that makes working with them very meaningful for me!

Scott Toal, Oeveo

One of the core values of our company is helping others, and we apply this value not only to our customers and coworkers but also to serving those in need outside our company.

In a recent company meeting it was shared that a 17-year old boy in Honduras was treated for hearing loss and through Oeveo’s donation was provided with a hearing aid that allowed him to hear for the first time. The fact that my company gave someone the ability to hear, someone who would have never been afforded the opportunity except through our donation, truly showed what meaning is. See video here.

David Haines, Stratus

I already thought my cloud-based bookkeeping business was pretty cool when we founded it. However, what has become incredibly meaningful to me, and something about which I am now obsessed is that by helping my clients automate and outsource their accounting needs, it has given them so much freedom that they never thought was even possible.
The buzz you get when a client emails you to ask what you need from them, and you respond and say, “Nothing” is great. Clients are finding more saved time than they ever expected. Some spend it with family, taking up hobbies, or planning an expansion––it’s very exciting to see clients liberate themselves from the shackles of hated tasks!

Abby Jeisenkraft, Choice Tax Solutions

When I first went into private practice as a tax professional, it was a bit scary. You took anything that walked, crawled or hopped into the office. You didn’t say no to any tax work.

I met a client who had a tax problem that spanned 10 years. She came in initially for tax preparation on a current year but told me that she had been through 5-6 tax professionals, about 3-4 IRS agents, etc. No one could help with her problem and it just seemed endless. Just as an IRS agent was working through her case and the client thought it would be over, the IRS agent would be transferred, or would retire, etc. and she had to start all over again. The previous tax practitioners she went to couldn’t help. I asked her if I could take a shot at it. You could tell she didn’t think there was a snowball’s chance in settling this. I took the case on. I was able to go back to the initial 10-year old problem, obtain some old microfiche from the IRS, make our case, and get the whole thing closed successfully. An employer had duplicated a W-2 and for 10 years, the IRS tried to say the client had double the income she did.

It was exciting to help someone with an ongoing tax problem that was considered unsolvable, and I got to do some good detective work to sort the whole thing out and to argue the case before the IRS and win.
Tax problems really knock people for a loop, and it’s a burden many people carry with them for years, until it’s settled, so this case had great meaning for me. And many years later, I still have this client.

Lori Bredemeier, Little Toader

I started my company that makes teething toys and pacifiers for babies in 2009 with no experience in the consumer products industry. My background is in Information Technology and Finance, but in 2008 when we had our first baby I knew that I wanted to focus my career on a more meaningful path. I wanted to show my children that life wasn’t about money and that it was about doing what you believe in and finding meaning in that passion. This involved leaving a very comfortable career making 6 figures to move in the direction that I felt God was leading me. It hasn’t been easy, but there isn’t really any career that is.
Through faith and tenacity, Little Toader is a success. Our products are sold around the world and in stores like Walmart, Toys R Us, Destination Maternity, Barnes and Noble and buybuy Baby.

Sophia Lemon, Sophia Lemon Photography & Ridiculously Happy PPL Podcast

I photograph ridiculously happy people. I specialize in weddings and portraits, and just this past June I photographed a fantastic wedding for the sweetest young couple, Marlee and Dan. For each wedding shoot, I make a list of family photos I am to take, and Marlee and Dan’s included a photo with Marlee’s grandmother. She wasn’t super mobile, so Marlee and I came to her at her seat and I snapped a few photos of them talking with one another. I included one in their sneak peek video the next week.
Not long after the wedding, I received a message from Marlee asking if they could please have a copy of the photo as Marlee’s grandmother had recently passed away, and this was the most recent photo of her. The family wanted to use it at her funeral.

This was so significant. We photographers prattle on about the importance of preserving family memories, but we rarely experience these things so shortly after an event like a wedding. In this sad time for Marlee and her family, I was able to bring them smiles and relieve a little bit of stress. I could actually see how my work can brighten my clients’ lives. It’s not just about decorating my clients’ walls, but actually helping them heal and remember the good times fondly!

Danielle Kunkle, Boomer Benefits

Twice a year, my Medicare-related insurance company offers a $1000 scholarship for students age 50+ who are returning to school to get a degree. Our clients are baby boomers, so we designed the scholarship to give something back. Several of our employees are on the scholarship committee, which spends several weeks every Spring and Fall reviewing hundreds of applications to find a winner. While grades are important, we weight the scholarship heavily toward students who have a history of community service, especially if it’s to the elderly.

My brother and I own this business and we both went to college on scholarships. It’s awesome to be able to pay it forward to other worthy students. It’s been a meaningful way that we can give back to the community from which we earn our living and also foster and encourage community service that helps and supports older people.

Jake Tully, Writer for Truck Driving Jobs

As the content writer for I find myself frequently engaged in crafting content for our online presence that is informative to truck drivers who visit our site and read content that may educate those who new to or considering a career in the commercial trucking industry.
I recently wrote a piece for our site entitled, The Problem With Using A Lot Lizard – How to End Human Trafficking. The unfortunate truth is that human trafficking is still a problem in the United States and our audience (truckers) may see instances of this all too commonly. I wrote the piece to serve as an update to the issue as well as to give drivers resources in which to aid the problem if they wished to help.

The piece received a great deal of attention within our inner circle of readers as well as networks adjacent to us including driver advocacy groups, human trafficking organizations, and individual truckers who took note and shared the piece. In the time that followed publishing the piece, I had several drivers email me and thank our site for the information found within the article and several others asking if they had permission to share the piece. It made me feel great to know that something I helped contribute had the ability to cause such a visceral reaction within the trucking community.

Amanda Ponzar, Community Health Charities

On Father’s Day our CEO, Tom Bognanno wrote a Huffington Post article called, Skip the Tie and Help Save Dad’s Life This Father’s Day to raise awareness for men’s prostate cancer. Tom wrote about his personal battle with prostate cancer and encouraged men to get tested and for families to skip the tie and save dad’s life on Father’s Day. My husband and our CFO, Molly’s husband read Tom’s piece and immediately contacted their doctors. ZERO: The End of Prostate Cancer named Tom their Zero Hero of the month––and we spread the word through our website, social media, email newsletter, and more. Every day we come to work knowing we are building stronger, healthier communities, and helping everyone live healthier lives. Very rewarding!

Chris Gronkowski, Everything Decorated

Customers always leave us reviews telling us how special their personalized gift was and how much the recipient loved it. This always makes you feel good about your work but one customer’s comment really touched me.
A woman purchased a personalized whiskey decanter as a wedding gift for their father. It was engraved with a special note saying, “Out of all the walks, this one is my favorite.” She explained that this gift gave her the opportunity to express how much she truly loved her dad. She later told us that when she gave the gift to her dad, they had not spoken in years and that her father started to cry when he opened the personalized gift. They now talk all the time and have become very close. She wanted to thank us for helping make it happen.

Customer experiences like this give me meaning in the work we do and gifts that we send. Finding meaning in my work motivates me to continue to produce memorable gifts for our customers.

Mary Grace Donaldson,

I worked for a year at an organization benefiting career-oriented women. We provided networking events, professional memberships, opportunities to be featured in online newsletters, press releases, and more. But, what I loved best about the organization was not so much the products and professional memberships; rather, the fact that the organization was so rooted in feminism. I was surrounded by employees who believed in equal rights, equal pay, and equal treatment — and I was proud to share my own views with my colleagues. I felt that we all worked together to help professional women earn the respect that they deserve.

Stan Kimer, Total Engagement Consulting

After a diverse and successful 31-year career at IBM, I retired and formed my own diversity and career development consultancy in 2010.
For 4 years I was IBM’s global corporate LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Diversity Manager. It was so exciting to help create an equal playing field and having a positive community impact on an often maligned and oppressed minority. Addressing discrimination and lack of understanding on one side and providing hope and inspiration that things are getting better on the other side gave me great satisfaction in work that impacted lives.

Pooja Krishna, Maroon Oak

As a mom, I know hundreds of others whose career choices are impacted by family reasons and life events. Many have struggled to make an impact or find the right resources. So my longtime friend and I were motivated to co-found Maroon Oak, a free career platform to connect women locally and virtually.

Build the career you love!
As entrepreneurs and moms, our life is very demanding––running a lean startup needs both a huge time commitment as well as sizable resources. Lots of learning, many pressures, late nights and crazy days. And most of all, you need tons of motivation and support to keep going!
Every career connection we help make on our platform forges an ever-growing link! That’s why we do it––it’s exciting and fulfilling for us to see the numerous women members who have connected successfully though us.

Lisa Banks, Enjuris

I am the editor and marketing manager for, a website that provides resources to people after life-altering accidents. Over 10 years ago, my sister nearly lost her life in a motorcycle accident. Knowing how impactful that accident remains for her and our family, I wanted to create a way to let her, and others like her, share their stories. It can be therapeutic for survivors to share their experience with others. Knowing that I can be the catalyst for that brings meaning to my work.

Jennifer McDermott, Consumer Advocate at Finder

Seeing people break through financial roadblocks, save more money and secure better futures is incredibly rewarding, however, there is one project I worked on recently which held particular significance for me.
The international money transfer industry is big business in America, with more than 84.3 million people in America sending $140.7 billion to people in other countries last year. Research shows the number one reason people send money overseas is to support friends and family, a significant portion of remittances are necessary transactions for those who rely heavily on them, a fact some institutions appear to exploit through inflated fees and rates.

To help bring some transparency to the industry, and more competitive choice to those making and receiving international money transfers, Finder embarked on a three-month research project into the industry and best practice.
The research findings lifted the lid on the international money transfer industry, such as the fact Americans spend an estimated $2.59 billion in fees they don’t know about.

We saw the industry set a new benchmark, with a number of providers amending services to lift their standard, providing more competitive choice to consumers. Knowing that people are getting a better deal on their international money transfers, with friends and family receiving more on the other end has given real meaning to the work we do.

Meaning, an Essential Key to Lasting Employee Engagement

We’ve seen some examples of how employees find meaning in their work. People can find meaning in seemingly routine and distasteful work. The opposite is also true––employees working in seemingly engaging, challenging, fulfilling jobs can become disengaged if they cannot find meaning in them.

There must be something inherent in the workplace that enables the employee to serve a purpose uniquely important to him or her. It’s up to the organization to till the soil and lay down the nutrients that allow people to create their own meaning out of what may be mundane or exhausting, then stand back and let that meaning find its own form.

Read how these employees think AUTONOMY is crucial for employee engagement.
Read how these companies promote GROWTH opportunities to their employees.
Read how these employees see IMPACT in their jobs.
Read how these employees find CONNECTION in their jobs.

Call to Action: Download the ENGAGEMENT MAGIC<sup style=