The Key to Employee Engagement and Thriving Organizations

March 31, 2020

Contributed by Sarah Deane

While we all know the importance of health and wellbeing, the topic of wellness at work is certainly gaining a renewed breath.  With the fact that “a productive, positive employee experience has emerged as the new contract between employer and employee,” organizations that want to thrive, need to look closely at just how well they are empowering their employees’ holistic wellness–physically, emotionally, and mentally.

The topic of wellbeing and its impact on engagement and performance has been a research topic for some time. However, it is becoming more and more prevalent, with the concentration on expanding the focus beyond gym passes, on site yoga, and healthy food options.

This broader look includes mental and emotional wellbeing and cultivating the skills that enable an organization to thrive such as stress management, resiliency, and building positive and productive response systems.

Benefits of Focusing on Broader Employee Wellness

A focus on wellness has been linked to positively impacting an organization’s bottom line, with savings in the billions and the return on each dollar spent on wellness programs saving $3.27 in health care costs and $2.73 in absenteeism costs.

However, with the world getting more complex as well as the impact of technology and constant access, unfortunately, many employees suffer from forms of stress, anxiety, or depression that go unnoticed or are unsupported in the workplace.  In fact, a UK study of 20,000 employees showed that 77% had experienced symptoms of poor mental health.  Not only is this occurring, but employees are looking to their organizations for help, with 80% of US workers feeling stress on the job, and nearly half of these saying that they need help in learning how to manage stress.

Even with the ever-increasing number of health-related apps, it’s very concerning that these levels of stress are so high.  Stress can cause physical, mental, and behavioral issues which impacts not just an employee’s health, but the culture of the workplace too.  With more stressed employees, organizations can see higher levels of defensiveness, irritability, a lack of focus, reduced productivity and interpersonal conflicts–which all work against a culture where employees are motivated and invested in their success and the success of the organization.

By focusing on the whole employee, and cultivating coping strategies, life management strategies and resiliency, organizations can reap many benefits, including increased productivity.  As Sir Richard Branson says, “If you don’t lead a healthy lifestyle, your productivity will be completely screwed basically.”  An employee who does not feel good (physically, mentally, or emotionally) cannot give their best to the task at hand.  They may just go through the motions, be distracted, and unable to see solutions to problems they face.  By having a wellness program that includes a focus on all aspects of wellbeing, it has been shown that the impact to productivity is approximately equal to an additional productive work day per month for the average worker.

Resiliency is quickly becoming a leading focus for organizations that want to create an environment for success. When we extensively studied what behaviors, mindsets, and environmental factors enabled people to feel more positively energized and perform and feel their best (from over 1000 data sources in neuroscience, psychology, mindfulness and wellbeing, spanning well over 50 years) several of the 74 attributes we found through data modeling pertaining to resilience.  Resilience enables people to work through challenges and remain focused and calm in the face of adversity.  This capability is a key competitive advantage for employers today as employees with high resilience have better outcomes in difficult work environments.

All of these factors demonstrate the link between wellness and engagement.  In fact, wellness and engagement go hand-in-hand.  When an employee feels good they can bring their best selves into all they do.  When an employee is engaged in what they do, motivated and invested in it, it evokes positive emotions.  Analysis has demonstrated the direct link between having initiatives that help employees assess their health, improve their mental and physical health, prevent illness, and how supportive their culture of wellbeing is, to engagement indicators such as job performance and employer loyalty.

What You Can Do

From extensive research and implementing practical solutions for assessment and wellness growth, we have seen first-hand what is needed to cultivate a positively energized, productive, and engaged workplace.

As a leader, it is important to enable employees to take ownership over their wellbeing by providing them with an environment in which they can be successful.  This includes providing education and removing barriers that hinder their wellness goals. For example, if you provide unlimited time off but the culture doesn’t lend itself to employees taking time off, then what is the point?  Or, if you know you have a hectic month for a team in which they are working long hours (which happens, it just shouldn’t be the norm), plan for micro-breaks, a day off afterwards, and for access to healthy food options so that it isn’t pizza every night in the conference room.

It is critical that leadership role models the behaviors.  There is no point preaching one thing and then demonstrating another.  If a leader is hectic, never taking a moment to relax, and demonstrating negative behaviors, then this is what will be emulated by managers and employees.  Leadership development has to include a focus on cultivating the behaviors that demonstrate congruence with the cultural values of the organization and hiring practices have to include looking for this.

If you are the leader accountable for your organization’s development and wellbeing strategy, it is vital to expand your focus.  Make sure you look beyond the environment, to include the underlying behaviors and mindsets that create lasting habits for happier, healthier cultures.

As a manager, you too have to role model the behaviors.  However, it is really important that managers take the time to know their employees.  Knowing how they work best, their workloads, and being approachable can help managers best support their employees and advocate for them.

As an employee, it is important to take accountability for your wellness.  Identifying where your gaps may be and then breaking down your steps into achievable chunks will help you best foster positive, sustained, habits.  It can help to set yourself accountability metrics so that you can stay on top of your progress and change course as needed.  While organizations can provide you with the environment and support your journey, they cannot do the action for you, it is up to you to engage new behaviors and create the habits that stick.


In Summary

As you plan your 2019 employee engagement initiatives, be sure to:

  • Build an accurate picture of the current state of your workplace and how your employees are feeling.
  • Ensure leadership are demonstrating the cultural values and role-modeling healthy behaviors.
  • Build awareness and remove barriers to living a healthy, productive, and engaging life for your employees.
  • Ensure you are looking at the whole employee, expanding your focus to include mental and emotional support, as well as building capabilities such as organizational resilience.

While many look to creating “the workplace of the future,” the truth is, that the only workplace that will thrive is one that is truly designed for human success.  One in which all of the people can perform and feel their best.


About the Author

Sarah Deane is a speaker, writer, and practitioner of experience design and data science.  As the founder of EffectUX, she enables businesses to achieve sustainable success through the use of human-driven data across Customer Experience, Workplace Culture, Leadership, and Wellbeing.  Most recently, her passion to help others live healthier, engaged lives, led to her latest creation: The Energy Management Quotient (EMQ), a system that accurately assesses sources and gaps, and provides expert advice, analysis and development to keep people and organizations feeling and performing their best.
Sarah holds a MEng in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence.  She published her User Experience (UX) primer in 2014 and The Wellness Formula in 2018. She has been a featured speaker at conferences such as SXSW, America’s Women Leadership Conference and The Global Workplace Wellness Summit, and is a regular contributor to Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Business2Community, and other platforms.

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