Wellbeing: In pursuit of sustainable engagement

Wellbeing: In pursuit of sustainable engagement

We’re told that employee engagement is the ‘holy grail’; the key to organisational success.  In workplaces all over the world, leaders are looking for ways to get more of it.  Plenty of research has shown the relationship between increased levels of engagement and superior financial and business performance.   However, there is evidence to suggest that engagement by itself is not enough.  Compelling research now suggests that organisations should be aiming for sustainable engagement.  Towers Watson’s research has shown that organisations with high scores on sustainable engagement achieve an average of 18% higher earnings growth compared to organisations that have high engagement alone.


What is sustainable engagement? It is the point at which employee wellbeing and employee engagement intersect. An engaged employee is one who is willing to work. A well employee is one who is able to work. Enlightened organisations understand that we need both in organisations to achieve enduring success.

The need to move beyond engagement alone makes sense when we consider that our definition of employee engagement is often centred on ‘point in time’ perceptions of how absorbed employees are in their work and how willing they are to give their discretionary effort.  Such absorption and willingness to go above and beyond may not last the distance.  Productivity gains may be short lived.  

Engagement may fizzle out when employees are engaged for the ‘wrong’ reasons.  For example, some may be engaged not because of positive feelings toward their job and employer, but due to an irrational need to prove themselves to themselves and/or others, burning the candle at both ends just to keep up with unrealistically high standards.   The exceptional pace is exhausting and soon the cracks begin to emerge as emotions run high and burnout arrives.  

Engagement may also wane when employees are initially absorbed in their work but aren’t able to effectively manage the accompanying stressors.  Left unchecked the stress can develop into anxiety, spread to physical illness and impact negatively on relationships.  This in turn can feed back into the workplace to sabotage the individual’s work performance.      

In order to drive sustainable engagement, employees need a supporting framework for their engagement, one that can shape it into an enduring set of behaviours that sustain effort rather than produce short, sporadic bursts of brilliance.   This is the role of wellbeing - employee’s positive emotional state and sense of fulfilment.            

FBG’s model of Wellbeing posits that Wellbeing is made up of a combination of different factors –your attitudes and behaviour patterns (Inner Life), your lifestyle factors (Outer Life), and the work environment which you operate in (Work Life).  As such FBG’s model of Wellbeing suggests that true employee wellbeing comes from positive feelings, fulfilment and constructive behaviours across all three domains.        

An employee with a strong sense of wellbeing doesn’t need to set unrealistically high standards for themselves.  Instead, they have a strong sense of self worth and are able to set realistic goals on a continual basis and implement strategies of self care to avoid burnout.  An employee who is functioning well knows how to manage stressors that come with work and as such stress rarely moves into the unhealthy zone where anxiety and physical ill health can occur as a consequence.  In this way their wellbeing acts as a shield to allow engagement to prosper without impediment.     

So what can organisations do to assist employees in obtaining a sense of wellbeing across these three domains to create the framework for sustainable engagement and the resultant increases in business and financial performance?

The first is to ensure the organisation is measuring employee wellbeing as well as engagement.   Many employee surveys aren’t asking some of the necessary questions that enable leaders to assess their employees’ level of wellbeing.  

The second is to implement targeted strategies that will lift employee wellbeing as well as engagement.  Organisations often spend money on wellbeing initiatives but do not know whether they are having any discernable impact.  We know employee wellbeing can be impacted positively by a raft of organisational measures such as those that devolve power to and seek involvement from employees, create role clarity, develop a constructive feedback culture, create authentic leadership and provide employees with recognition, local support and the ability to deploy their strengths.

In addition organisations can assist employees to improve inner and outer life wellbeing.  This can include managers having a basic knowledge of resources and agencies that can assist employees – whether it is with a mental health, a relationship or a financial issue.  Managers can also assist by tuning in more to the subtle signs from employees that things may not be going so well.  Whether comfortable in understanding these issues or not, managers have to deal with the ‘fall out’ from them in the workplace, so empowering individuals to manage these themselves through education programs or other targeted support initiatives bears dividends for sustained productivity in workplaces.

Organisations have been chasing employee engagement as the leverage point for improved business performance.  They need to look further – sustainable engagement is that next step.  Employee wellbeing offers the supporting framework that allows engagement to endure.  For the sake of a competitive edge in an economy that demands constantly improving performance, organisations must take that next step.    


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Guest Wednesday, 26 June 2019