Learning & Development Asia 2024
5 benefits of cultivating warm employee bonds for boosting engagement within the workplace

5 benefits of cultivating warm employee bonds for boosting engagement within the workplace

"We have evolved to cooperate, to feel for one another, to be compassionate for one another we are motivated, not just to help our families, but to help our colleagues and also our bosses because they're all part of the same team", Hiroshi Limmell, Senior Assistant Director at A*STAR, reflects. Sarah Gideon reports.

Have you heard of the hedgehog’s dilemma? 

The porcupine dilemma, also commonly referred to the hedgehog’s dilemma, is a metaphor that was introduced by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and was later popularised by Sigmund Freud. 

It describes a situation where hedgehogs want to get close to one another to share warmth during cold weather, but they cannot get too close without hurting each other with their sharp spines. 

This metaphor highlights the balance humans must strike in relationships, where it is innate in us humans to desire closeness and intimacy but fear the pain that can come from being vulnerable. 

The metaphor also suggests that while relationships are necessary for warmth and comfort, they also require careful navigation to avoid emotional harm — very much applying to the workplace.

The relationship between workforce motivation and the psychology of employee rewards is an intricate one. Acknowledging the significance of aligning rewards with individual values and drivers is crucial for creating truly meaningful incentives. However, various workplace challenges persist. 

During his opening keynote sharing at the recent Total Rewards Asia Summit Singapore 2024, Hiroshi Limmell, Senior Assistant Director, Organisation Culture & Employee Wellbeing, A*STAR – Agency for Science, Technology and Research, shared his views on the following talk points:  

  • The impact of generational shifts on organisational dynamics,  
  • The psychological benefits of recognising and rewarding high performers, and  
  • Balancing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for true employee engagement.  

Starting the session, Limmell revealed that globally, two-thirds of the workforce are not thriving. Narrowing the lens to Singapore, many employees are seeking higher pay, more promotions, and would prefer a change in their employers. 

He also introduced the concept of the 'environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA)', a psychological term derived from the study of ancient tribes. 

EEA refers to the conditions under which our ancestors lived and evolved, primarily as small, nomadic hunter-gatherer groups. This concept helps explain why humans have certain behaviours and mental traits that were advantageous in these early environments but might not fit as well in today's modern world. For example, our tendency to form close-knit social groups and cooperate with others can be traced back to these early conditions. 

"So over 100,000 years, those that have survived all the way till now, in our DNA, are the genes for cooperation, compassion, and bonding.  

"That's how we have survived for so long", Limmell shared. 

 He added that in the present, 20% of the world's employees experience loneliness and do not feel engaged. 

Loneliness is not so much of a feeling of 'I don't have anybody'. It's actually a deeper human desire, the desire to connect, the desire to want to engage.

Limmell also talked about the difference between solitude and loneliness, explaining that loneliness, an involuntary state, often brings negative emotions and can increase the risk of death compared to those who maintain strong social connections. 

In contrast, solitude is a choice and can be fulfilling. Building rapport through shared vulnerability fosters deeper connections, as real engagement is a subjective feeling rooted in genuine interactions. 

"Real engagement is a subjective feeling of the participant to feel whether they feel connected," he explained.  

Limmell added that, based on a survey on happiness and wellbeing in Singapore, fun may be the key to unlocking the disengagement in the workplace. 

"If you have a not-so-fun workplace, people are often quiet, they're often quite 'aggro', they don't actually speak to each other.  

"If they don't speak, they don't interact and, most likely, will not know the language and the social norms in the corporate culture within your company", he pointed out.

Keeping motivations high

Moving into another key aspect of the session, Limmell talked about an enhanced workplace motivational system, in which there are three factors – pleasure seeking, pain avoidance, and now, adding a caring system. 

Elaborating, he noted that pleasure seeking involves compensation, salary, words of affirmation from bosses, rewards, and benefits which will provide an employee with a jolt of happiness and motivate them to go to work the next day.  

Pain avoidance comes about when employees are threatened with disciplinary action should they fail to meet the expectations of their bosses.  

The caring system is a new approach based on empathy and compassion. When employees show compassion and empathy towards others, our brain registers these actions as rewarding and fulfilling. 

"We have evolved to cooperate, to feel for one another, to be compassionate for one another we are motivated, not just to help our families, but to help our colleagues and also our bosses because they're all part of the same team.  

"The reward that we get is this part where we feel elated and excited.  

If I'm able to help my fellow colleagues who are in distress, it's a win-win situation.

To that effect, he listed out five benefits of having warm relations among colleagues in the office: 

  1. Absenteeism decreases, and fewer medical certificates are submitted because connected employees are more motivated to go to work. 
  2. Safety incidents decrease as employees naturally look out for each other. 
  3. Employee turnover decreases because a positive work environment fosters high loyalty to the organization. 
  4. Productivity increases in both sales and output. 
  5. Profitability rises as a result. 

These are some of the insights shared at our Total Rewards Asia 2024, Singapore.

Held at Shangri-La Singapore on 3 & 4 July 2024, the Summit saw more than 200 HR & rewards professionals gather to gain insights on how to stay ahead of the curve in the ever-evolving world of employee benefits, rewards, and compensation.

Human Resources Online would like to thank all speakers, moderators, panellists, facilitators, and attendees for being valuable contributors to this event.

We would also like to extend our gratitude to our sponsors & partners for making this conference possible:

Gold sponsors:

  • AIA
  • Grab For Business
  • O.C. Tanner

Silver sponsors:

  • Deloitte
  • TELUS Health


  • Giftano
  • Lockton
  • Pacific Prime CXA
  • Thoughtfull
  • Zora Health

Lead image / HRO

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