8 Emotional Drivers of Engagement

By Bill Hogg

We’ve all seen the lists — the definitive rundowns that describe what drives employee engagement. Unfortunately, every research company and consultancy has a slightly different list. If it’s not on the list, is it not important? Who’s right?

As an association, how does the list change when your team is largely composed of volunteers versus paid employees? Or does it change at all?

Volunteers versus Employees

First, let’s consider the differences between volunteers and employees. For me, the key difference is motivation. Volunteers are not motivated by a financial relationship.

Consider this scenario: Research indicates that three out of four paid employees are not engaged and one is actively disengaged. Too many employees are just there for the paycheque and perform at a level that allows them to get by while doing less than their best. Employees underperform because they are disinterested or not challenged in their current role. That is an emotional relationship with the organization – not a financial relationship.

To change this situation and get the most out of employees, organization leaders need to recognize that engagement is an emotional reaction to the work environment.

Is this any different from an association which is reliant on volunteers to get things done?

Purpose Inspires Passion in All Organizations

In any organization, engagement is driven by emotion. Purpose inspires passion and becomes the primary driver of engagement. So the key elements of building engagement remains consistent whether in a paid or volunteer capacity.

Understanding the core emotional drivers that engage your teams is the key to achieving a high performance culture in your association. It is only when you make the emotional connection with volunteers that you will see a measurable increase in engagement.

To a certain degree all the lists are right – and equally relevant to associations. The problem is trying to create that definitive. Lists aren’t bad, but too often they encourage leaders to tick boxes, which suggests that certain processes can be deemed absolutely complete or incomplete. However, creating a culture of engagement is never complete.

Emotional Drivers Of Engagement

So let’s talk about some of the emotional drivers that foster engagement. Dare I say it — here are eight emotional drivers — in no particular order — that association leaders need to leverage to develop engaged volunteers/members:

  • Clarity: People are more engaged when they have clarity around the vision and mission of the organization. When people understand their role, and see the connection between their role and how it influences outcomes, they are more likely to be engaged. Provide clear expectations and role responsibilities so your volunteers understand how their work contributes to the association’s goals. Do they know how they fit into the big picture and the impact they have on overall performance? Do they understand what outstanding performance looks like in their role?
  • Pride: People are more willing to engage when they are proud of what they do and believe that what they do plays an important role in your association’s success. If they work for an association that has a good reputation based on trust and integrity and they feel the role they do offers value to their members, they feel valued and enjoy a sense of pride and willingness to contribute. Is their role something that makes them proud to tell their friends? How do your people feel about being linked with your association? Do they take pride in working for your association? Is your association contributing to society?
  • Recognition: Everyone likes a kind word and to be recognized for having done a good job. Regardless of if the recognition comes from members, team members or colleagues, we all feel good when someone says something nice about our work. Take an interest and recognize their efforts. Show your appreciation when it is warranted and show that you care for their wellbeing. Make sure that when people say good things about their experience that it gets passed on to everyone who helped make that experience great. When was the last time you recognized a volunteer for a job well done? How do you recognize your volunteers? Is recognition built-in as an intentional part of your culture?
  • Stimulating Work: People are more engaged when they are in a position that is stimulating and challenges them on a daily basis. Challenge your volunteers by offering projects that help them grow and develop their skills. Are their skills and abilities a good match for the role they perform? A bored volunteer is a disengaged volunteer.
  • Personal Development: In addition to having stimulating work, people want to feel they are growing. Give your volunteers the opportunity to grow and develop their skills year over year. Can you offer special training, coaching or mentoring? What opportunities do you make available to expand their capabilities? Do they see this role as a growth opportunities which can lead to additional opportunities within the paid organization?
  • Positive Work Environment: People perform better in positive work environments. Being surrounded by positive, supportive people significantly impacts a person’s willingness to engage. Creating personal relationships and networks within the association also builds emotional bonds and creates a stronger sense of team and commitment. Does your association have a positive work environment that produces engaged and productive people? Do you have planned activities that build a team environment based on personal connections with co-workers? If not, what can you do to improve your work environment?
  • Relationship with Leaders: Within a volunteer environment, a leader can make or break a person’s willingness to be engaged. A bad leader can destroy a good work environment, while a great leader can make a bad work environment bearable. Great leaders in great work environments trump all. Great leaders who build strong relationships with their people create positive work environments. Do your leaders, volunteers or association staff listen to feedback from volunteers and build personal connections with each as individuals?
  • A Voice: People are more willing to engage if they are given a voice and are given a platform to be heard, especially when it comes to strategy and issues within their team or committee. Do you allow your people to have a voice and provide feedback related to their role with the association?

If you pay attention to these emotional drivers, you will find that all the lists are covered. Associations that are committed to engaged people understand that it is an ongoing process which is never complete. Hopefully thinking about these emotional drivers will keep you driving in the right direction, but never feel you are ready to tick the box on the list of drivers.

Leaders that focus on creating a culture that incorporates these emotional drivers will not only improve their organizational culture, but also the overall attitude, commitment, and performance of their people.


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Bill works with individuals and organizations to achieve next level performance. For over 30 years, Bill has been the go-to guy when the world’s most recognized brands are faced with challenges that require change — to improve passion, productivity and performance with their people – and bottom line results. Bill provides world class executive consulting, dynamic keynote presentations and transformative workshops.

For additional articles and information on how to achieve next level performance in your organization, or to book Bill for a leadership speaking engagement, contact Bill Hogg or visit us online at www.BillHogg.ca