How to Increase Employee Engagement with SCARF–A Mind Model by David Rock

by Ayla Lewis

What if you could better engage yourself and others by better understanding the brain? David Rock and I believe that you can, and David Rock’s SCARF model is a great place to start managing employee engagement with brain science. SCARF stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness.

The foundation for David Rock’s SCARF Model lies in our brain’s need to either minimize danger or maximize reward. The brain switches between these two modes in response to our environment, including our interactions with others. Recent studies support that this switch in state can happen in less than a fifth of a second, below our level of consciousness. In other words, you may react to a perceived threat at work before your brain has even consciously realized that you sense danger.

When your brain feels threatened you experience reduced cognitive performance and make more mistakes. This is because fewer brain resources are available for your “Inner CEO” which impacts your memory, creativity, and ability to deal with stress. When you feel threatened you are more likely to ‘make a mountain out of a molehill’, be ‘penny wise and pound foolish’, and feel ‘checked out’ at work.

However, when your brain is in the ’maximize reward’ state you experience engagement. Maximizing reward increases your willingness to go the extra mile, take risks, and think outside the box. This state of mind is also associated with positive emotions and happiness—and the science is clear, happier people are more creative, resilient, cooperative, energetic, productive, successful and engaged.

In the SCARF Model David Rock summarizes hundreds of studies identifying the five social triggers that can instigate both the ‘minimize danger’ and ‘maximize reward’ responses at work. In the following 5 blogs posts we will dive into each of the five social triggers and provide examples and strategies for how you can increase engagement with SCARF:

  1. Status
  2. Certainty
  3. Autonomy
  4. Relatedness
  5. Fairness

These five factors—that our brain monitors for, mostly below our conscious awareness—have a substantial impact on our motivation and engagement.

Now that you know about the ‘minimize danger’ and ‘maximize reward’ states, pay attention this week to how you are feeling at work: Are you reacting to a perceived threat, thus minimizing your own engagement and productivity? Are you threatening a colleague’s SCARF, thus prompting the ‘minimize danger’ response in their brain?

Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook or Twitter, or by emailing me at

To increasing engagement with brain science! – Ayla

Resources for the SCARF series:

Ayla Lewis

As Director of Operations at Happy Brain Science, Ayla thrives most when helping individuals and organizations to maximize their success through the application of positive psychology and neuroscience.

One thought on “How to Increase Employee Engagement with SCARF–A Mind Model by David Rock

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