Employee engagement is crucial for wellbeing

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Employees who feel engaged with their jobs, colleagues and the values of their organisation tend to report more positive wellbeing, making it essential to focus on approaches like ensuring good relationships between managers and staff.

It has been said many times, but the pandemic changed our world of work. In many, if not all sectors, it revolutionised how we do our jobs. However, in accelerating change, it also brought greater urgency to the ongoing challenge of keeping people well at work.

Photograph: iStock/SDI Production

In industries that shifted towards hybrid and remote working, maintaining a strong company culture with a disparate workforce was a whole new ball game. Leadership teams struggled in the first two years of the pandemic and the impact on worker wellbeing was felt. We recently passed anniversaries of the lifting of Covid restrictions in the UK and other countries, but organisations continue to face wellbeing issues arising from having a hybrid workforce today.

Have we made progress? Of course. Everyone involved in managing workplace wellbeing, from safety and health practitioners and hygienists to HR leads and C-suite, have been busy reassessing and formulating new strategies. And what is striking, if not surprising, is to find a central theme of the many conversations I’ve had with leaders on workplace wellbeing: employee engagement.

Especially in those sectors where the trend towards hybrid and remote working now seems irreversible, the links between employee engagement, wellbeing and performance are stronger than ever. The connection between engagement and productivity has long been recognised, of course.

During my time as director of employee engagement and change at Sony Europe, I worked closely with Sony Europe’s president, Fujio Nishidia. Fujio would say that he instinctively felt the positive difference of an engaged workforce, and thought it was absolutely central to sustaining a culture of long-term innovation in the business.

Jane Sparrow is director of The Culture Builders. Photograph: The Culture Builders

Strong organisational engagement has many business benefits, including better employee retention, increased profits and a more confident workforce. However, in recent years, a number of studies have also explored its positive impact on worker wellbeing. Gallup, for example, found engagement levels could be predictors of sickness absence, with more highly engaged employees taking an average of 2.7 days sick leave per year, compared with disengaged employees taking an average of 6.2 days a year.

If follows then, that people working remotely reported that a loss of ‘employee voice’ has had an impact on them since the Covid-19 outbreak.

So, how can senior leaders and managers enhance the wellbeing of their colleagues by engaging with them? When I talk to businesses about what organisational engagement means in practice among people at work (and how to assess and improve levels of employee engagement), I cover four levels:

  1. Understanding – I (the employee) understand where we are going and what I need to do
  2. Commitment – I feel and am committed to delivering for this organisation
  3. Attachment – I have a positive emotional attachment with the organisation
  4. Significance – I see significance in what I do each day as part of this organisation and it aligns with my personal values and what gives me meaning in life

I strongly believe that if an organisation works through each of these four levels, the positive impact on the wellbeing of its employees will be remarkable.

‘Understanding’ is the base camp of organisational engagement. This is about ensuring your team has strategic clarity and a day-to-day understanding of what is going on in your organisation.

You will get commitment if you effectively communicate your organisation’s clear purpose. Give your team shared ownership of the journey and build that emotional bond by focusing on the relationships between your managers and the people they manage.

Employees will feel attached to the organisation they work for if you pay attention to their wellbeing, have a package of meaningful benefits, care about their career development, recognise the role of family in success and treat people like the individuals they are.

And then you get to the mountain peak of employee engagement: significance. This is when you start to see the real impact of engagement on your people’s wellbeing. It’s clear that high engagement levels come when people see a deep connection between the values of an organisation and what’s important to them.

Studies have shown that people maximise their psychological wellbeing when they’re engaged in meaningful work that provides positive emotional experiences. As our working lives grow longer (due to factors like later retirement ages), we increasingly want a greater sense of psychological wellbeing and meaning at work. We’re also increasingly seeing this desire for a greater sense of psychological wellbeing and meaning at work among younger generations entering the workplace.

So, how do you achieve significance? Here are four areas to consider:

  1. Define and communicate purpose: the first step is to define and communicate a clear purpose and values. This helps to create the environment in which people can see more alignment between their sense of meaning and that of the organisation.
  2. Recruitment: it may be obvious, but recruit people who see that alignment between their and your organisation’s values. Be crystal clear in your job adverts what your organisation stands for.
  3. Talent retention and development: once the right people are on board, have a talent retention and development strategy for each employee. Achieving high engagement levels requires talent strategies tailored to the needs of the individual employee.
  4. Give something back: and finally, give something back. Your people will feel good about working for an organisation that is a force for good and gives back to society and communities.

Do these four things and your employees will see and feel the significance of their work to their wider ambitions in life. This is why organisational or employee engagement must be central to your conversation about a wellbeing strategy. Fully engaged employees are usually  happier, healthier and more productive.

Jane Sparrow is director of The Culture Builders.

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