Well-meant employee wellness initiatives won’t drive up engagement unless there’s a common sense of purpose in the organisation
“We need to to get line managers to take responsibility for employees’ wellbeing,” volunteered one participant at a recent Engage for Success (E4S) Guru Group meeting. “Agreed,” I said, perhaps a bit too sharply. “But let’s get real. My clients have a job just to get these same line managers to deliver the basics properly, such as proper performance management of their teams.”
So began a chain of events, one result of which is this blog post on wellbeing (which, ironically, I’ve been quite stressed about ever since!)
It was my first E4S meeting – around 30 employee engagement thinkers and practitioners from private and public sector organisations, academia and service providers. The subject up for debate was the link between wellbeing and engagement – one of the challenges being examined by the E4S Wellbeing sub-group.
So what was my special interest in all of this?
Number one, I’m fiercely passionate about helping the organisations we work with achieve their full potential by better engagement of their people.
Two – and being honest with myself – my enthusiasm for employee engagement, which has seen me growing Axiom for getting on for 20 years and flying around the world, often comes at the expense of my own work-life balance, probably even my own wellbeing. Hence the stress of finding time to write this blog!
The lively debate at the meeting offered me some useful insights in both areas.
Right away, it struck me that, while improved engagement can lead to improved wellbeing and vice versa, the link is not straightforward. As my own personal experience tells me, high levels of engagement do not always lead to similarly high levels of wellbeing. The reverse is also true; employees with a strong sense of wellbeing are not necessarily highly engaged. Take for example an organisation I’m familiar with which ticks every wellbeing initiative box, but has very low levels of engagement, advocacy or productivity.
For me, there are two key ways those of us who work in employee engagement can create the conditions for employees to experience both wellbeing and engagement.
Sense of purpose: a prerequisite
The first is to communicate the big picture for the organisation they work for; its purpose and how what they do, every day, contributes to success and their sense of accomplishment. Daniel Pink’s thesis on motivation, in particular the importance he places on purpose and autonomy, supports this.
Axiom has enjoyed great success over the years in helping organisations drive up employee engagement by painting the big picture for their people with a blend of visual metaphor and storytelling.
We use this approach to put in place the fundamentals of engagement: an understanding of where the organisation has come from, its heritage and recent successes, where it is now and the challenges it faces, where it wants to be in the future and how each function, team and individual can contribute to its success.
With that in place, we then work with clients to facilitate local action planning and – crucially – systematic performance management that recognises and rewards behaviours and achievements that help deliver on the company’s strategy.
It’s an approach that makes work meaningful – people across the organisation have a common purpose and a sense of their capacity to make a difference in their day-to-day work – and they have hard evidence that what they’re doing is noticed and appreciated.
Showing that you care
The second way we can contribute to wellbeing is to promote the initiatives that demonstrate that the organisation actually cares about its people, in pursuit of its strategy.
Research by Investors in People shows that over half of British workers feel their employer does not care about their health and wellbeing as long as they get the job done. Nearly half of this population say they feel less motivated as a result and 15% say they resent their employer.
And in a Hay Group survey, recently reported in HR Magazine, 82% of employees who said their employer demonstrated ‘care and concern’ for employees were rated as effective in their roles, compared to only 29% who felt their employer didn’t care.
Clearly, instilling a sense of purpose is only part of the solution.
Yes, employers can show they care through the classic wellbeing initiatives – anything from bike racks and fruit in meetings to health education and a confidential counselling service. But of course it goes much wider than that. It’s about the company investing in the development of employees. It’s about treating employees fairly through rewards and working conditions. It’s about promoting equality and diversity. It’s about providing recognition and reward for a job well done.
Instilling a sense of purpose and showing that you care: Taken together they would differentiate any employer and, as the recovery gathers pace and employees perceive they have more choice, help ensure that the business attracts and retains the best people.
As for me, I’m just privileged to have a job I really enjoy and to have the opportunity to make a difference to the engagement and wellbeing of so many people. Now I come to think about it, I don’t feel quite so tired now, even though it is 22:18 on a Friday night.
Oh yes, and another outcome of my first E4S meeting? I’m helping to set up a new group – on performance management.
In the meantime, I’m taking the weekend off!