What Does SCARF Look Like in the Workplace? – How to Increase Employee Engagement with SCARF

by Ayla Lewis

(Note: this post is part 7 of 7 in the SCARF Series.)

SCARF Threats Are Often Subconscious

In the video SCARF Model – Influence others with Dr. David Rock, author and expert David Rock explains:

Many managers, particularly new managers, often threaten people in four out of five of the elements of scarf. They create a danger response:

  1. Firstly, the manager feels like they can do the job well so they give lots of feedback to what the other person should do differently. The person feels that as a threat to their status.
  2. Secondly, they don’t understand the importance of clear expectations so managers may not generate the feeling of certainty.
  3. Thirdly, new managers often micromanage, that’s not giving that person the sense of autonomy.
  4. Fourthly, new managers often don’t connect with people on a personal level, concerned about being too close.
  5. Finally, they don’t understand the important of a sense of fairness, they keep things quite secret.

So many managers accidentally create a threat response in four or all five of these elements. And you end up with people who function at far less the capacity then they could. Many managers are well meaning but don’t realize that their impacting these elements subconsciously.”

Generate the Reward State to Increase Engagement and Productivity

Are you a manager or leader? Do you resonate with any of the above threats to SCARF? Or do you have a manager or leader who is threatening your SCARF, perhaps without consciously realizing it?

In this same video, David Rock asks:

What is it like when you work with someone who:

  • shows you how great you are increasing your status?
  • provides really clear expectations (increasing your certainty)?
  • lets you make decisions (increasing your autonomy)?
  • And what if they trust you and there is a human bond created between you (increasing your relatedness)?
  • And finally, what if they treat you fairly and you know that they are fair (increasing your fairness)?

Now what is happening is that these managers understand how people tick. They’re doing things that generate the reward state; literally making people smarter, more effective, more engaged, and more productive in the workplace.”

Increase SCARF in the Day-to-Day to Generate the Reward State

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.  Throughout this blog series we have learned about each of the five social triggers and provided examples and strategies for how you can increase engagement and productivity by increasing your own and your colleagues’:

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

How have or will you apply David Rock’s SCARF Model to increase engagement, productivity and happiness at work? Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook or Twitter, or by emailing us at

To increasing your–and your coworkers’–engagement with brain science!
– Ayla


Resources for the SCARF series: