Do what we’ve always done

Too many times my heart has sunk when meeting leaders within businesses and something akin to this is said:

“We prefer to engage our employees with financial/material rewards over anything else… because that’s what we’ve always done”

It makes for a real sorry state for the human spirit – often lost in the work environment and replaced with fear, anxiety and stress – that sadly this deeply ingrained habit of “materiality-solves-all” in the business-employee relationship exists. 

This mental habit is a key driving factor in why engagement is at an all-time low, retention is at an all time low, detrimental decision making is high, and productivity is at an all-time low too.

Because what does this approach do for the expert employee who seeks knowledge and mastery, or the creator who seeks innovation, or the spirit who seeks autonomy or the searcher who seeks meaning, purpose and wants to make a difference?

Money shouldn’t be the default lever to improve engagement.

These are all very real different states of being for an employee. If materiality alone is utilised to engage by the business, it stifles each and every one of them, and may even encourage personality traits that we don’t want to see – especially at management level. This leads to deep unhappiness, mental anguish and, in HR-terms, what we call disengagement.

So long as we stay in the same stasis as we’ve been for the last eighty years (since WWII) in offering material gratification, and neglecting the inner world of a person as the source of fulfillment, employees will remain in the state of grasping at short-term pleasure over living fulfilled lives through their work, and disengagement will be the inevitable consequence.

Employee engagement will remain low, attracting diverse talent will remain a problem, productivity will remain low, and inevitably retention will remain low. Aren’t all these key objectives for business leaders, especially now?

The power to make a real difference

If only people leaders knew the power they yield to transform the business world! 

After all, businesses are simply a tribe of individuals. Encouraging people to find and develop their individuality is the key to overcoming engagement issues, and it is people leaders like you who are the ones to transform businesses from the inside out, by nurturing individuals. To really search deeply and understand what is it that gives an employee fulfilment, happiness, or joy in the workplace.

In studies of happiness (which is a forgotten word in many an organisations), there are two general ways that people go about experiencing it:

(1) The first is the hedonic approach, where a person’s main objective in life is to experience as much pleasure as possible while generally avoiding any painful experiences. Financial and material rewards would likely fit into this bucket, things like sweets, cinema tickets, financial bonuses, etc. Short-term, transitory pleasures. This is where we need to move away from.

(2) On the other hand, there is the eudaimonic approach, which is more concerned with living a deeper, ‘good’ life, rather than momentary fleeting delights of the senses.

This is where we need to move to. Meditation, volunteering, doing things for others, collaboration, a caring work environment, and expressing creative energy may be less pleasurable for the senses, but fulfill the spirit and allow humans to work naturally as who they are. That’s all that anyone is looking for.

I believe the cycle is clear. A eudaimonic approach to HR = happiness = engagement = retention = productivity = better triple bottom lines. Everybody, and everything wins.

At Ethical Angel, we observe many HR functions being transformed into people functions, and that’s a great first step. 

Humanising the employee experience.

Humans are not resources, they are individuals and must, must, must be treated as such and in order to create an engaged environment. 

They must be valued for who they truly are, which in turn leads to more successful businesses. Alex Edmans in his book Grow the Pie, “the 100 best companies (based on employee satisfaction) typically deliver 3% more, each year, than their peers”.

If we were to give you three pieces of advice as to the non material ways you can positively impact engagement it would be this:

(1) Consider the whole individual – gain feedback from employees and actively seek to understand what motivates individuals eudaimonically.

(2) Meditation, volunteering, doing things for others, collaboration, a caring work environment, and expressing creative energy are all levers to improve engagement of employees.

(3) Gain senior-level buy-in to your new approach to engagement by linking directly to bottom-line benefits like retention and productivity.


Callum Demicoli, Ethical Angel

About Ethical Angel

Callum Demicoli is the Business Lead at Ethical Angel, an employee engagement engine with a social impact by-product. We believe that giving people the freedom to connect with eudaimonic projects matched with their personality, skills and interests, is the way forward.  

The HR and business leaders we work with are the ones taking the brave steps out of the darkness of hedonism and materiality, and into the light of individuality and expression for employees in work – inevitably driving the triple bottom line. And it doesn’t always have to cost you a lot of money to do this.

You can get in touch with Callum or Ethical Angel using any of the social channels below.

➡️ LinkedIn –

➡️ Website –

➡️ Facebook –

➡️ Twitter – @ethicalangels

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