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5 Social Needs to Maximize Employee Engagement

By February 2, 2023LTEN Focus On Training

Engagement – By Patrick Veroneau, M.S., and Christi Green

Improving relationships is how you win the war for talent

Many leaders of organizations providing services, products and treatments to healthcare providers today are faced with the challenges of attracting, engaging and retaining top talent during a time when the relationship between the industry and healthcare is changing.

To effectively address these challenges, leaders will need to shed ineffective, command and-control leadership styles and adopt a learning mentality that will help them understand what employees need to experience to maximize their engagement and strengthen their loyalty to those they are asked to follow.

The leaders who accept and commit to improving the relationship with their employees will not only position themselves to win the war for top talent but will also create a culture that successfully navigates the challenges ahead.

You may be thinking, “Sounds great but where do I start?” This article is meant to provide that answer, and it will focus on identifying and leveraging some important research by Dr. David Rock’s SCARF (status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness) model, which identifies five important human social needs.

The SCARF model is based on growing research in social neuroscience focusing on one’s drive to minimize threats and maximize rewards in social interactions.

Researchers in one study found that when they created a threat response in trial participants, their level of cognitive function and ability to solve problems was reduced.

It is believed that our need to minimize threats and maximize rewards is treated by our brain the same way as it treats our need for food and water. With these findings, it becomes very clear why it is vital for leaders to gain a solid understanding of each of these needs and how they can create greater reward responses with their employees.


In the SCARF model, “status” is not about holding a certain title. Instead, the social need of status is often about feeling valued or feeling a sense of importance. Being talked down to, being ridiculed or even being ignored are all examples where one’s level of status can be threatened.

A poor performance review can also create a threat response. To improve one’s status level, a leader can focus on improving their ability to listen to their employees, demonstrate greater empathy for them and increase the number of times they demonstrate appreciation for their employees.


A person’s social need for certainty is often focused on predictability. When one does not understand what is expected of them, how they are being evaluated or where their company or the market is headed, it creates uncertainty. This uncertainty forces them to work harder mentally because they need to process more.

To address certainty effectively, leaders should focus on being clearer about what they expect from their employees as well as gaining better clarity on what their employees need from them.


Human beings have a desire to feel as though they have control over their destiny. While most realize they can’t just show up at their jobs and do whatever they feel makes them happy, that does not mean employees don’t want to feel they have a say in how their roles are performed.

When leaders dictate what they expect of their employees or they micromanage the day-to-day functions of their employees, most will experience a threat response. To help an employee experience a reward response with autonomy, a leader can encourage an employee to provide feedback on how their job function could be improved.

Any time a leader can sincerely elicit feedback on any aspect of their role, their products or the company, they create an opportunity to enhance the feeling of autonomy.


Relatedness is the desire to feel a sense of connection to others. It is also strongly correlated with trust, meaning that the more an individual feels connected to the group, the more trusting they are of the group member. This also has an enormous impact on a group’s ability to collaborate effectively.

When a leader has a team where some members are treated as part of the “ingroup” while others are part of the “out group,” the threat response is activated. In one experiment in which participants were led to believe they had been left out of a group activity, the same area that experiences physical pain was activated in their brains. This effect can play itself out when employees feel their manager is playing favorites.

To avoid a threat response, leaders must focus on ways to ensure that their employees experience a sense of belongingness.


As humans, we want to experience fair exchanges with others. When a leader is seen as having favorites or if it is believed that not all employees have to abide by the same rules or expectations, a threat response is activated. Areas where this can create great challenges involve adherence to a company’s mission statement or values.

When employees don’t feel the leader or other members of the organization adhere to these values, employee engagement suffers. To create a reward response, a leader must ensure that what they say and what they do are in alignment.

As a leader it is important to set clear expectations and then make sure you are walking the talk as a leader.


Eric Hoffer, a social philosopher and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, once said, “In times of change learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

As leaders in the industry continue to navigate a myriad of changes such as access and engagement, it is those that behave as learners who will have the competitive advantage to attract, develop and retain the best talent in the industry. Focusing on your employees’ core social needs with the SCARF model will be a powerful place to start.

Patrick Veroneau, M.S., is CEO of Emery Leadership Group.Email Patrick at Christi Green is an HR consultant and a former chief HR officer in healthcare. Email Christi at


About LTEN

The Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network ( is the only global 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization specializing in meeting the needs of life sciences learning professionals. LTEN shares the knowledge of industry leaders, provides insight into new technologies, offers innovative solutions and communities of practice that grow careers and organizational capabilities. Founded in 1971, LTEN has grown to more than 3,200 individual members who work in pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device and diagnostic companies, and industry partners who support the life sciences training departments.

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