9 September, 2020

Using the ‘Drive to Acquire’ Psychology to Enhance Employee Engagement

Evolutionary Psychology is a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding human nature from a historical perspective, based on the study of genetics, archeology, neuroscience etc. Modern evolutionary psychologists have been able to rigorously study human behavior using brain-imaging, pharmaceutical and genetic technologies. Among them, two Harvard professors- Nitin Nohria and Paul Lawrence, have studied people in the workplace and built on previous research to propose 4 human drives that regulate our behavior at the workplace. They are as follows:

  1. The Drive to Acquire – the desire to obtain physical objects like money, cars, trophies as well as intangible goods like status and fame
  2. The Drive to Bond – the desire for harmonious interpersonal relationships and alliances; the need to belong
  3. The Drive to Innovate – the desire to learn new things and try novel methods to solve old problems
  4. The Drive to Defend – the desire to hold on to and fiercely defend the people, things and values we cherish

In this blog, we will focus on the first human biologic drive- the ‘Drive to Acquire’ and its role in driving better employee engagement in your firm.

As described above, human beings are naturally driven to acquire both material and non-material things. This ancient drive has been compelling humans to put immense effort into ensuring not just their survival, but a healthy social status, thereby gaining power and influence. The drive to acquire provides an inherent reward for achievement, in two ways:

  1. A short-term moment of euphoria
  2. A long-term increase in self-worth

The instant euphoria gained upon any achievement, like solving a difficult problem at work or completing a task before the deadline, leads to a quick rush of dopamine, the feel-good hormone, which encourages us to pursue more such achievements. A long-term increase in self-worth is characterized by high amounts of the hormone serotonin and has been found to be present in people with high social status and prestige. While the former type of reward leads to in-the-moment energy and motivation, the latter creates a permanent increase in self-esteem, which can be the ultimate reward for any professional. So how do you implement this learning to engage employees more effectively?

Every time an employee does something good, they need to feel a sense of having acquired something (expertise, mastery, appreciation, money or a tangible prize) for them to be happy and productive. This can be accomplished by public words of appreciation, instant recognition, spot awards, badges etc. It is also important to remember that while every such achievement leads to a mini-high, this euphoric feeling may fade if these moments are too sparse in nature. Thus, for the long term, employees need to be engaged by assuring them of their value in the organization and increasing employer connect. This can be accomplished by active employee listening through surveys, gifting of company branded merchandise, offering non-monetary rewards in the form of “Rendezvous with the Executive Management” etc.  Following are some strategies that can tap into your employees’ drive to acquire:

  1. Breaking down major goals into achievable milestones and creating an incremental rewards scheme
  2. Actively looking out for positive behaviors and daily achievements and recognizing them
  3. Giving spontaneous, heartfelt recognition, right after a significant accomplishment
  4. Making recognition public and status-enhancing
  5. Supplementing recognition from peers and managers with a points-based rewards system where employees strive to earn more points to attain greater monetary rewards

An effective total rewards program helps an employee relive their moment of euphoria and elevate self-worth, thus multiplying the impact of achievement and activating the drive to acquire more of the same. Incorporating these scientific principles into your total rewards program is not essentially difficult. However, the process needs stringent structures and platform flexibility to reflect each firm’s engagement objectives uniquely. Thus, to accelerate the adoption process, choosing the right R&R partner is of utmost importance.

In our next blog, we will examine the role of the ‘Drive to Bond’ in creating a successful employee engagement program. Stay tuned!