The Impact of Social Psychology on Employee Engagement

By: Christina Zurek
Two coworkers talking

A firefighter. A soldier. A police officer. What do all of these people have in common? They’re engaged with their work on a level any employer would be lucky to inspire. They’re literally willing to put their lives on the line every day to do their jobs.  And it’s not for the money and stock options either. It’s because often, they’re united by a sense of purpose and shared identity that drives their dedication and loyalty.

What we can learn from these types of roles is that the more people identify with the work they do and the organization they work for, the more engaged they are.

Identity is deeply rooted in social psychology and relates directly to the aspirations a person has for who they want to be.

These beliefs are formed by our experiences and strongly drive our behavior, including the degree to which we engage as employees. This is important because companies with highly engaged employees not only boast lower rates of turnover, but also lead in everything from sales and profitability to quality control and customer satisfaction.

While companies are spending millions on programs meant to increase employee loyalty, there has been little research on the psychological benefits (like identity) that strengthen employees’ engagement and desire to stay—until now.

Leveraging concepts from psychology, factor analysis and predictive modeling, Chadwick Martin Bailey—a full-service custom market research firm—fielded research that helped us to identify the psychological benefits that drive employee engagement. Through this research, it was confirmed that Identity Benefits are a particularly important driver. But what exactly are Identity Benefits?

3 Types of Identity Benefits

Identity Benefits play a critical role in employee loyalty and can be broken out into three types:

1. Personal identity benefits are those that address how much the company fuels self-esteem, self-expression, a sense of belonging and importance, and positive self-perceptions. This could come in the form of initiatives like recognition programs, volunteerism opportunities and company-sponsored time to think about new strategies or new processes, to name a few. When people feel they belong, they're more motivated, engaged, productive and 3.5 times more likely to contribute fully and innovatively to reach their potential.

2. Social identity benefits facilitate stronger connections with employees and leadership at the organization. Feeling like the people you work with are your people—an appealing tribe that you want to be part of. Some examples of this might include a structured onboarding initiative rooted in creating social connections or team events. Almost 40% of respondents to EY's Belonging Barometer study said they have the greatest feeling of belonging when colleagues regularly check to see how they're doing, both personally and professionally, so it’s important to make sure you enable that type of connection among your people. If not, research on the risks of low social identity are mounting: EY’s finding also cited that more than 40% of employees from all generations said social exclusion at work makes them feel emotionally and physically isolated, stressed, angry and sad.

3. Cultural identity benefits help bolster feelings of alignment and agreement with the company mission, values, norms, traditions and so on. For example, if your corporate culture is one that prioritizes setting and meeting goals, your individual workers will be more likely to set and meet goals of their own. A great way to infuse consistency in the way you communicate your culture is through a targeted employer brand campaign that is carried through in all company-wide communications.

Impact on Employee Engagement

Many companies tend to focus their employee engagement efforts on quick fixes like promotions, bonuses and raises, flexible work arrangements, or convenient perks like catered meals, game rooms and happy hours. But these types of benefits are just part of the story. Our research indicates that Identity Benefits are actually the top driver of employee engagement, highlighting the need to continually foster employees’ pride, self-esteem and sense of belonging.

By understanding these psychological forces organizations can improve employee loyalty and drive engagement. But we know it isn’t easy. Be sure to check back next month when we dive further into what our research uncovered about other psychological forces beyond the identity benefits that impact employee engagement as well as additional takeaways that you can leverage within your own organization. 

In the meantime, take a look at our latest ebook to find out how to create and sustain a successful employee experience.


Christina Zurek
Christina Zurek

Christina is an experienced leader with a passion for improving the employee experience, employee engagement and workplace culture. Few things excite her as much as an opportunity to try something unfamiliar (be that a project, development opportunity, travel destination, food, drink or otherwise), though digging in to a research project is a close second.