Five Key Factors that Impact Employee Engagement and Well-Being
“It’s sad, really, how a negative workplace can impact our lives and the way we feel about ourselves. The situation is reaching pandemic heights – most people go to work at jobs they dislike, supervised by people who don’t care about them, and directed by senior leaders who are often clueless about where to take the company.” Leigh Branham and Mark Hirschfeld
The stakes of engagement are enormous. It affects the bottom line, creativity and innovation, the quality of products and services, the image and reputation of the company, absenteeism, turnover and talent attraction, as well as the wellbeing of the workforce (1).
The good news is that some organizations do succeed in creating a stimulating and positive environment where employees enjoy their work, are productive and achieve outstanding results (2; Doshi & McGregor, 2015; Maylet & Warner, 2014; Wagner, 2015).
So what does it take to become one of the best places to work? What are the forces that drive engagement and wellbeing? Research has revealed five key factors that are outlined below.
It is critical to understand the enormous impact of management on organizations, society and individuals. It affects our professional, as well as our personal lives. The specific management components that play a crucial role include (3):
–Choice of managers: The criteria for the selection of managers must be aligned with the competencies and requirements of their function.
–Leadership capacities: Leadership cannot be separated from management. It is not possible to be an effective manager without having strong leadership capacities (4).
–Managerial skills: The managers’ ability to listen and communicate effectively, emotional intelligence, selecting and retaining talents, team building and coaching, delegation and conflict management, for example, significantly affect employee engagement every day.
–Management training and coaching: Without intensive initial training, as well as continuous updating and personalized coaching, how can managers be expected to effectively exercise this highly demanding profession?
–Accountability: Ongoing assessments of managers and accountability for the quality of their people management are indispensable.
Besides management and leadership, the corporate culture significantly impacts employee engagement, some times in less tangible ways. Studies have revealed a number of dimensions that play a decisive role (5):
–Top executive involvement: Not surprisingly, leadership from the C-suite is a key ingredient of a great workplace. Without permanent and strong support from top management, truly committed to the principle of reciprocity and win-win, any engagement initiatives are bound to fail.
–Employee recruitment: The quality of recruiting and selecting new employees is arguably among the most important factors of engagement. Finding the best fit between job requirements and candidates’ qualifications and interests represents a major challenge.
–Strengths-based management: Focusing on employee strengths is more rewarding and productive for both workers and organizations. Trying to fix weaknesses is more costly and less efficient. When employees have the opportunity to do what they do best, they reach much higher levels of performance (6).
–Building trust and transparency: Employees whose managers are open and approachable are more engaged. It must be possible for workers to communicate with their superiors without fear, raise questions, propose changes and make recommendations for improvements. “A productive workplace is one in which people feel safe – safe enough to experiment, to challenge, to share information and to support one another”(6).
–Genuine relationships with managers and co-workers: Effective managers know and care for their employees. They meet regularly with them, listen to them and follow up on their feedback. Close and enjoyable relationships with colleagues are equally important for engagement and wellbeing.
–Performance management: “When managers help employees set work priorities and performance goals, they give employees more freedom in meeting these objectives, enabling them to take initiatives and work autonomously” (6).
–Assessments and accountability: Ongoing concrete and actionable measures of employee engagement and well being, such as pulse surveys, must be followed by specific and rapid corrections and improvements. Annual performance reviews, although still widely used, have proven to be largely ineffective and a poor investment of time and resources (2).
–Work-Life Balance: In order to maintain wellbeing, it is indispensable to disconnect from work and find time for family, friends, leisure and rest and regenerate energy (7). As a great deal of research has indicated, working much more than 40 hours a week is counterproductive, diminishing the overall performance and quality of work. When your work and personal life are out of balance, your stress level is likely to take a heavy toll (8).
–A culture of learning and growth: A thriving organizational culture provides opportunities for learning and development, coaching and training on the job, offers new challenges and facilitates internal mobility. Such investments have huge returns in employee engagement and performance, as well as in talent attraction and retention (2).
Basically, corporate cultures that operate on reciprocity and a win-win approach, where employees are respected and their contributions are recognized and honored, are the ones that prosper and where work is enjoyable.
“Dispirited, unmotivated, unappreciated workers cannot compete in a highly competitive world.” Frances Hesselbein
The level of engagement is intimately related to motivational factors. Motivation and basic human needs have long been of interest to psychology and the subject of intensive investigation, long before “engagement” became a major preoccupation in management circles:
–Maslow, for example, was one of the early pioneers in exploring motivation. He proposed the pyramid of five basic human needs that has inspired countless studies, experimentations and theories to this day.
–Herzberg demonstrated that the prevalent reward-and-punishment or carrot-and-stick approach, involving extrinsic reinforcements, is far less effective for most tasks than intrinsic motivation. While financial rewards, job security, work conditions and fringe benefits are important to maintain satisfaction and prevent demotivation, the real motivating factors are the work itself, the level of challenge, responsibility, autonomy, achievement, recognition and advancement.
–Deci and Ryan introduced the Self-Determination theory that focuses on three innate and universal needs, autonomy (opportunities to make choices, explore and experiment, learn and grow), competence (using one’s strengths, the ability to perform well, seeking mastery) and relatedness (being connected to others, enjoying positive relationships, experiencing an accepting, caring atmosphere).
The satisfaction of these needs enhances engagement. A recent study (9) illustrates the powerful impact of intrinsic motivation on performance, producing better customer outcomes and financial results.
Motivation is an internal emotional state based on human needs. It cannot be ordered or directed from the outside, but it is heavily influenced by the organization’s management, leadership and culture.
Positive psychology has revealed numerous dimensions that affect our performance and wellbeing at work (Achor, 2010; Greenberg & Maymin, 2013). Some of the most significant findings include:
–Positive emotions and a positive mindset lead to higher performance and better relationships.
–An optimistic outlook is contagious, just like engagement!
–Positive feelings also help reduce stress and thereby improve productivity (8).
–When we are happy, Achor has found, we are smarter, more motivated and thus more successful. Happiness fuels success rather than the other way around and gives the organization a competitive edge. Google’s care for the happiness of its workers is legendary, as are its outstanding business results (11).
In order to flourish and experience lasting happiness and wellbeing, Seligman (2012) has identified five key ingredients in PERMA – P: positive emotions, feeling good, enjoying yourself, E: engagement, being absorbed, a state of flow, R: relationships, being authentically connected to others, M: meaning, a purposeful existence and A: achievement, a sense of accomplishment and success.
–You can experience flow when you are involved in a task with attainable and challenging goals. When you are totally focused and experience intense positive emotions, you perform at the peak of your potential.
Gallup and Healthways’s research (10) has revealed five essential elements of wellbeing: Purpose (pleasure at work and goal-oriented), Social (supportive relationships and love in your life), Financial (properly managing your economic life), Community (enjoying and appreciating where you live) and Physical (good health and energy).
Self-awareness, mindfulness and focus, as well as emotional and spiritual wellbeing, have also been shown to contribute significantly to a well-balanced life and greater effectiveness.
5. Employee responsibility
It is important to avoid a Manichean approach and put all the blame for the lack of engagement on organizations and management. Employees have a major responsibility for engagement as well. The role of managers is capital (managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement across business units according to Gallup), but ultimately employees choose how much, where and how they want to engage. As experience shows, even when all seems in place to assure optimal working conditions, some employees still choose not to contribute all they could to the success of the organization.
Potential benefits of their engagement for the workers themselves include:
–Enjoying pride and satisfaction for the quality of their work.
–Remaining congruent with their own values and ethics.
–Experiencing greater pleasure and fulfillment when working with enthusiasm.
–Enhancing the possibilities of learning and progressing in their career trajectory.
–Receiving recognition for their contributions by superiors and colleagues and improving their chances of subsequent advancements and promotions.
–And most importantly, finding opportunities to contribute to changing the corporate culture and create a more positive working experience.
Bringing It All Together
“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” Stephen R. Covey
Given the huge consequences employee engagement entails, it is critical to understand, and act upon, the major forces that drive engagement and wellbeing:
–The quality of management – the selection and training of managers, managerial skills and leadership capacities, as well as assessment and accountability.
–The many facets of an organizational culture that are based on reciprocity and enhance performance and wellbeing.
–The importance of intrinsic motivation, the meaning and purpose of work and the work experience itself.
–The impact of positive and negative emotions on the work climate.
–Employees assuming responsibility for the choices they make.
Achor, S. (2010), The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Crown Business.
Doshi, N. & McGregor, L. (2015), Primed to Perform: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation, Harper Business.
Greenberg, M. & Maymin, S. (2013), Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business, McGraw-Hill Education.
Maylett, T. & Warner, P. (2014), MAGIC: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement, Greenleaf Book Group Press.
Seligman, M. (2012), Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing, Atria Books.
Wagner, R. (2015), Widgets: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They’re Real People, McGraw-Hill Education.
Marcel Lucien Goldschmid, PhD, Director, Management Training & Coaching, MTC