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Positive tools – the SCARF model

by | Apr 14, 2024 | Employee Engagement, Psychological safety, Wellbeing


The positive duties that are being introduced in relation to management of psychosocial hazards and prevention of sexual harassment might be new but there are plenty of tools out there already that you can use to explore your workplace culture, areas of strength and opportunities for improvement. This is the first in a series of blogs explaining these tools and how you can use them.  

The SCARF Model

Back in 2008, a neuroscientist by the name of Dr David Rock produced the SCARF model which sets out five key areas of motivation for us – Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness.

The SCARF model can help us to understand and improve social interactions which, when used in a positive way, can lead to better workplace relationships. In turn, that can result in higher levels of employee engagement, wellbeing and psychological safety.

In essence, the underlying theory is about how we view and psychologically and emotionally process situations or circumstances that we encounter in life – whether we see them negatively (ie as threats) or positively (ie as rewards). Equally, it can be about how we see other people – as, if you like, friend or foe – people who we want to have a relationship with or people who we don’t want to engage with.

So clearly there are links between SCARF and a number of psychosocial hazards – poor workplace relationships, inadequate reward and recognition, poor supervisor support to name a few.

Let’s explore these five domains.


Status is about how I perceive my standing in the communities that I live in. Do I perceive myself as having equal status as others or do I perceive myself to be above or below others? Am I recognised by others for who I am and the contributions that I make?  Recognising and appreciating others’ abilities and contributions elevates their perceived status within the organisation. This positive acknowledgment fosters a sense of value and accomplishment, directly impacting engagement and boosting overall wellbeing.


We love clarity because it gives us a solid base to work from – we don’t have to worry about what might be or what that might mean if we have a clear picture of an issue. For example, two of the key components of the “Engaging Management” pillar of employee engagement in the “Engage for Success” employee engagement model are “Clarity of roles” and “Clarity of expectations” – I understand what my job is and what I am expected to deliver. We also know that “poor change management” is one of the most prevalent of psychosocial hazards and very regularly features as the biggest improvement opportunity in staff surveys. Additionally, many conflict situations arise through a lack of certainty or through misunderstandings. Clearly communicating expectations, goals, and changes provides employees with a sense of stability. When individuals feel certain about their roles and the organisation’s direction, they are more likely to be engaged and experience lower levels of anxiety, promoting mental wellbeing.


This is about feeling that I have some control over my own work and that I am trusted to make decisions within the scope of my role. This gives me a sense of both ownership of my responsibilities and empowerment to exercise them. From a psychosocial hazard perspective, we know that micromanagement creates risks in a number of areas – unreasonable job demands, lack of job control, poor supervisor support, poor workplace relationships, inadequate reward and recognition and more. Granting autonomy fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility, leading to increased motivation and job satisfaction. This autonomy contributes to a positive work environment, enhancing overall employee wellbeing.


This is about having positive social interactions at work. We know that humans are social creatures and that having positive relationships at work is a key to employee engagement, organisational cohesion and productivity. It is about having a sense of belonging and acceptance for who I am, not just what I do. Sharing our character strengths can be a great aid to recognising team members and building positive relationships based on trust. Conversely, organisations which operate in a silo mentality or do not encourage teamwork and collaboration create barriers to relationship building. Feeling connected and valued by colleagues enhances employee engagement and contributes to a positive psychological state.


Fairness is all about treating people justly and without discrimination on any issue and about dealing with issues reasonably in the prevailing circumstances. It is about giving people “a fair go” and about applying compassion and understanding while ensuring that designs are evidence-based and fair. You need to look at your policy and practice settings in your organisation which we now see coming very much into play in the context of sexual harassment, gender equality and psychosocial hazards. Ensuring fairness in policies, procedures, and resource distribution cultivates trust among employees. When individuals perceive fairness, they are more likely to be engaged in their work and experience higher levels of satisfaction and wellbeing.

Applying SCARF to psychosocial hazards

Here are five questions that you could ask relating each of the 5 SCARF elements to one psychosocial hazard:

  • Do reward and recognition practices support people in having a clear and valued perception of their STATUS in the organisation?  Hazard: inadequate reward and recognition
  • Does everyone in your organisation have CERTAINTY about organisational goals and their roles and performance expectations? Hazard: lack of role clarity
  • Is everyone free from micromanagement and feel like they have the AUTONOMY to perform their role and make related decisions without unnecessary supervision or review? Hazard: poor supervisor support
  • Do people feel like they are valued members of teams and get a sense of belonging and RELATEDNESS from the way that people work together? Hazard: poor workplace relationships
  • Do people trust the organisation and managers to treat everyone with respect and FAIRNESS on any matter in the workplace? Hazard: Poor organisational justice

There are lots of other ways that you can use the SCARF model in the workplace and elsewhere in life. Use it as a barometer for how you respond to a challenge – as a threat or as a reward. The mindset that you adopt can make a massive difference to your own mental health and wellbeing.


If you would like to explore any of our PosWork programs for your workplace, please call us on 1300 108 488 or email



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