Organization Development

Aug 17, 2021 14 min read

Prosocial Emotions as Lever for Employee Engagement

Employee engagement refers to being psychologically involved in, connected to and committed to getting one's job done. Engaged employees experience a high level of connectivity with their work tasks" and work hard to accomplish their task-related goals.

Employee engagement is important because it drives performance and productivity. Based on a Gallup survey, business units with the highest level of employee engagement have an 83% chance of performing above the company median; those with lowest employee engagement have only 17%.

In a nutshell, engaged employees work with passion and feel profound connection to their companies. On the other end of the spectrum, the disengaged employees vent their unhappiness by undermining the efforts of the engaged employees.

Organizations across the globe having realised the importance of employee engagement have been taking lot of initiatives, committing several resources for addressing various levers of engagement. A Gallup survey finds that supporting the employees can practically eliminate active disengagement.

With the above background, the purpose of this article is to provide some practical and implementable behavioural support systems for enhancing employee engagement and for actively eliminating disengagement.


Our own personal happiness depends heavily on our relationships with others. By attending to the needs of other people, we enhance our own emotional well-being. The same is true within organizations; organizations (through their agents and/or through their culture) that foster trust, cooperative relationships, psychological safety are more likely to have a satisfied, engaged, productive and innovative workforce, with greater employee loyalty and retention.

Drawing on research and real-world case studies, it is validated that honing these skills i.e. display of prosocial emotions at work by leaders promotes well-being within an organization. Managers and leaders who are high in empathy are known to have employees in their team who report being happier and take fewer sick leaves, display effective teamwork, trust, and resilience in the face of stress and are also found to be good at problem solving. Psychological and neuroscientific roots of E.Q. make a strong case that these are not just soft" skills, but core aspects of human nature that serve basic human needs as well as the bottom line.


Most human emotions fall within the universal category of happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear and disgust. In contrast to the notion that each emotional state is an island, the studies find that there are smooth gradients of emotion between say,

awe and peacefulness, horror and sadness. Emotions are not finite clusters because they are interconnected.

Readings from Darwin and Emotion Expression" also give theoretical premises about human emotions and how Darwin's thinking has saved decades of research on emotions. Darwin's basic message was that emotions are evolved and adaptive. They not only originated as part of process that protected organisms but had an important communicative function too.

In 1872, Darwin published The expression of the Emotions in Man and Animal", in which he argued that all humans including animals, display emotions through remarkably similar behaviours. For Darwin, emotion had an evolutionary history that could be traced across cultures and species. Today, psychologists agree that certain emotions are universal, regardless of culture anger, fear, surprise, disgust, happiness and sadness. While basic emotions remain same, they are subjected to Display Rule" i.e. cognitive component is added to expression of basic emotions, which is largely due to cultural differentiations and conditioning and also due to job requirements e.g. cabin crew of airlines are expected to display certain behaviour irrespective of their emotional state on a daily basis.

The building blocks of human emotions are psychological (what happens in body), mental (conscious experiences) and expressive (action and behaviour). Many of us consider our bodies as somehow distinct from our minds or brains (Descartes, a French philosopher of 16th century belonged to this school of thought), biologically they are hard to distinguish.


David DeSteno in his book emotional success, profiles the role of prosocial emotions (gratitude, compassion etc.) play in fomenting morally guided professional success which in turn helps organizations in having an engaged workforce.

The healthiest kind of emotions and regulations does not require training with the thoughts, rather in accepting and embracing emotions with their values in prompting adaptive response supporting morality. Guiding success involves balancing emotional and cognitive input in different degree and different situation capitalize on positive events at work.


We've all wished for more willpower sometimes. If only at some point when we feel for allurement, we had more self-control, grit or the ability to delay gratification, we would be more persistent in pursuing our goals.

But there's a problem with this scenario: Willpower doesn't usually work. Willpower alone can't ensure that you'll delay gratification or resist temptation to achieve your long-term goals. It will fail and probably just when you need it most.

Cultivating positive emotions of gratitude, compassion and pride helps us act in prosocial" (kind and helpful) ways; it effortlessly brings out our better natures and encourages a long-term view of our present-day actions. These emotions have three advantages over reason, habits and willpower. Their strength doesn't wane even after repeated use, they can't be hijacked to favour immediate rewards and they improve our decisions in different areas of life at the same time.


Gratitude's benefits for self-control also extend to being willing to sacrifice to help others. In one experiment, some people were made to feel grateful by having an actor come to their aid in solving a problem which was rigged in the lab. After leaving the lab, participants were asked to help out another person with a project that involved doing hard problems. Those who had experienced gratitude volunteered to persevere with the problems longer, in spite of not being watched or paying a price for doing so.

Gratitude leads to perseverance in other contexts as well. For example, researcher found that doctors who were nudged toward feeling grateful were more willing to spend the time necessary for a proper reading of a patient file, which led to more accurate diagnoses. Other experiments have shown that gratitude helps people be more future-oriented and exhibit more self-control. Unlike willpower, gratitude doesn't require much effort. Practise it as a leader and start with maintaining a gratitude diary - you will start enjoying the process right from day one.

Gratitude is a non-monetary way to support employee motivation by thanking people in organization who might not get acknowledged in routine. Lastly, don't force people to be grateful as it runs the risk of inauthentic expression of gratitude and may undermine the initiative itself.


While gratitude stems from realizing that others have offered us something of value, compassion is caring about others without having received benefits. Interestingly, compassion also has a prosocial side that seems to help us prepare for a better future especially if we can direct it towards our future self. Compassion also means taking the perspectives of others into consideration and not ousting one's own point of view.

So compassion makes us wise about difficult choices, More compassionate people also seem less reactive toward others and better at decision making having long term implications. While criticism impleads journey towards transformations, compassion accelerates this journey.

In the organization, when we came across certain behaviours requiring correction, empower the person in correcting or overcome that instead of punishment.


Though perhaps more nuanced than either compassion or gratitude, pride can also help us to achieve our goals as long as it doesn't turn to arrogance.

Pride is a natural response to successfully accomplishing your goals and being recognized by others for your abilities. When it is authentic, it signals to others that you are a capable and reliable person, which is how it evolved in the first place as a way to raise one's status in a group. People with greater authentic pride tend to attain their goals and have higher self-control.

We can encourage authentic pride in ourselves and others by recognizing the importance of a growth mindset: the belief that we learn from our mistakes and that effort matters. Praising others who show effort rather than simply success can help protect them against hubris, as well.

Cultivating these states of Pride, Compassion and Gratitude in oneself increases our motivation to act in ways that benefit others, including our own future selves. So, stop trying to push through your actions instead, start practicing gratitude, compassion and pride, you and those around you will be happy and feel satisfied.

In conclusion, honing and display of prosocial emotions at work by leaders and key influential persons at work will definitely act as lever for much enhanced employee engagement.


  1. Empathy and emotional Intelligence at work of University of Berkley
  2. Discourse of Brahmakumaris

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash


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