5 Must-See TED Talks to Improve your Employee Engagement

Employee experience and engagement are at the forefront of every HR leader’s mind; whenever Gallup releases its employee engagement research, we are reminded of the consistently low levels of engagement that continue to burden organizations and leave HR teams scrambling.

With only 34 percent of workers feeling engaged, enterprises face real problems with productivity, turnover, and a host of other factors that cost them dearly. As leaders seek to remedy this situation via new ideas to improve engagement, it can be helpful to learn from those who have successfully engaged their workforces. This is where the TED Talk becomes an invaluable resource. The following five talks provide insight and inspiration to improve your employee engagement.

1) The Happy Secret to Better Work

“If we study what is merely average we will remain merely average.” ~Shawn Achor

In his laugh-out-loud TED Talk, Shawn Achor challenges the traditional belief that employees should work hard and achieve success to be happy. Rather, he argues the inverse is true: happiness inspires us to be productive and raises intelligence, energy and creativity. In fact, according to Achor, a positive brain is 31 percent more productive than one that is negative, neutral or stressed.

This TED Talk focuses on how companies can adjust their organizational culture in order to leverage this “happiness advantage.” Achor argues that companies should be wary about implying that happiness comes from success. In that model there is always something new to achieve: once you hit one sales target, you have another sales target to achieve, and the cycle goes on and on. Achor shares specific ways that companies can help employees train happiness, thus engraining positivity into their organizational DNA. In turn, employees’ brains will work better than they could with neutral or negative emotions, sparking a revolution of intrinsically motivated productivity.

2) What makes us feel good about our work?

“The bad news is ignoring the work of people is almost as bad as shredding the result of their work in front of their eyes. The good news is simply looking at what somebody has done and scanning it and say ‘aha’ that seems quite sufficient to dramatically improve people’s motivation.” ~Dan Ariely

In his TED Talk, Dan Ariely argues that people thrive more from a sense of purpose and progress than from happiness. According to Ariely, in order to engage their employees, leaders need to understand the importance of creating an environment where workers care about what they do and feel cared about in return. Sometimes the process of working harder makes people love what they do more, because if things are too easy, there is no pride in the experience. Sometimes, the reverse is true.

Ariely presents two revealing experiments—“The Meaningful Condition” and the “Sisyphic Condition”—to discuss unexpected, nuanced attitudes towards work and human disposition. Ultimately, Ariely argues that in today’s high-pressure, digitized work environment, money is not enough to motivate individuals. While adequate pay is crucial, it doesn’t replace the pride of being challenged, rewarded, and recognized. While even a little acknowledgement can be motivational, its absence can be paralyzing for a business. While Ariely doesn’t propose clear answers in his talk, he does provide powerful food for thought for organizational leaders regarding feedback loops they choose to put into place.

3) Why We Need To Treat Our Employees As Thoughtfully As Our Customers

“Companies spend 1,000 times less understanding and shaping the journeys of the people they depend on most, their own employees.” ~Diana Dosik

According to Diana Dosik, companies spend approximately 1 trillion dollars per year to understand customer behavior, from mapping out customer journeys, to creating personas, to developing content to attract each target demographic. Many enterprises claim it’s the foundation on which their marketing and sales are built. Yet, they spend only 750 million per year understanding employee behavior.

What if companies directed some of that customer-centric energy at understanding and engaging their employees? What are the potential payoffs for a better motivated, more loyal and imaginatively innovative workforce? During this insightful talk, Dosik challenges leaders to turn the tables of customer research and borrow customer journey mapping from their marketing teams to map out employee journeys in their companies, analyzing their pain points and concerns. Adopting Dosik’s methodology can provide answers to the questions that HR managers often face—“How do we improve engagement?” or “Why are we seeing higher turnovers of female engineers?”— and create smarter, more productive enterprises.

4) The Puzzle of Motivation

“If you look at the science, there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.” ~Dan Pink

In this TED Talk, New York Times bestselling author Dan Pink shares the results of several experiments that demonstrate how incentives often have the opposite intended impact, especially in the context of complex tasks. For example, providing money or similar incentives to improve right-brained conceptual tasks typically back-fire; and on the whole, too many organizations base their talent decisions on outdated, unexamined information instead of focusing on intrinsic motivation.

So what does motivate people? According to Pink, for people to feel motivated, they must be interested and feel important. To do so, they need to have autonomy in what they do, when they do it, how they do it, and whom they do it with. Companies should also encourage their people to pursue mastery—the desire to get better and better at something that matters—and to feel a sense of purpose—a yearning to work in the service of something larger than themselves. Pink dives into how companies can integrate these building blocks of motivation into their modus operandi. In his talk, he provides tools to repair the mismatch between science and how we’ve come to do business.

5) Stop Trying to Motivate Your Employees

“The high-performance cultures in the future are going to be those that invest in their people.” ~Kerry Goyette

After three of the last four TED Talks focusing on how to motivate employees, you might be surprised that the fifth one’s title says to stop trying. But once you watch Kerry Goyette’s TED Talk, you will see that it actually builds very naturally on all of the themes in the talks above. Communication is certainly important for leaders; as Simon Sinek argues in his TED Talk, people want to work for people who inspire them. However, Goyette reminds us of the many employers who mistakenly think they can walk into an office, present a rousing speech, and get an entire team of people excited about the work they do in a matter of minutes. But motivation is not one-size-fits-all. Some employees are extroverts; others are introverts. Some are wired for risk-mitigation; others are risk-takers. It’s easy to write off an employee because they don’t fit into a narrow definition of “motivated.” However, Goyette points out that in doing so, leaders might alienate valuable assets and undermine their organization in the process.

According to Goyette, it is critical for leaders to understand the differences in how their employees are motivated when building teams, working with them, and making organizational changes. By matching motivational styles with projects and applying principles of continuous improvement to HR, organizations can unleash the motivation held in every single one of their employees.

These five TED Talks do a great job at not only challenging traditional methods of engaging employees, but also providing concrete steps to implement cultural change in your organization. If you implement even one of the talks’ insights in your engagement strategy, our bet is that the coming year will be more productive than the last in more ways than one.

Having an engaged workforce can make a significant impact on your bottom line. So engaging your employees is something that your company must be striving for. What better way to derive inspiration to accomplish this than from experts who have actually created healthier and happier workplaces for employees?