Wellbeing and Engagement is Key for Sustainability

Posted by Conor Hoey on 02-Mar-2016 16:02:53

Employee engagement may be becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. Organisational change is perhaps the only constant in today's working life. In the last decade, global competition, harsh economic conditions, continuous innovation and new technology have resulted in organisational restructures, downsizing and changes in the nature and structure of work. This has impacted on employees, with many having to cope with high demands and fewer resources. In addition, the boundaries between work and non-work life are increasingly blurred with Internet and mobile technology enabling employees to work around the clock and from any location.

Employees are now more anxious and more worried about their futures than ever before. The suggestion is that this is already leading, or will lead, to lower productivity, greater absenteeism and a potential increase in turnover intentions within organisations. It appears that employees are working longer hours, taking less time off to recover and experiencing higher levels of stress. There is a clear implication that, during these challenging times, employee engagement is fragile and employee well-being may be negatively impacted.

The way engagement is often defined may actually be having an overall potential negative impact. If engagement is perceived as and measured by organisational commitment and extra-roles and effort, this could create an unsustainable situation where engaged employees are expected to work ever longer and harder; and that those working this way are viewed as ?more engaged? and therefore seen more positively. Over time, it is suggested that working in this way will negatively impact on an individual?s well-being. Employees who are exposed to excessive pressure for prolonged periods are prone to stress and are more likely to suffer from conditions such as anxiety and depression. They are also likely to be at greater risk from heart disease. In addition research also links stress to higher risk of accidents. Stress is the number one cause of long-term absence, according to CIPD's 2012 Managing Absence survey.

There are many employers talking about engaging their employees, but the real question is which companies are genuinely creating sustainable engagement - where employees are healthy as well as engaged.

There is preliminary evidence to suggest that engagement is more likely to be sustainable when employee psychological well-being is also high. Research by Towers Watson provides some initial evidence that employee engagement and psychological well-being interact with one another in predicting outcomes. They found that highly engaged individuals with high levels of well-being were the most productive and happiest employees. Highly engaged employees with low levels of well-being were more likely to leave their organisations; in addition, although they tended towards high levels of productivity, they also were more likely to experience high levels of burnout. Employees with low levels of engagement, but high levels of well-being posed a problem for organisations: they were more likely to stay with the organisation, but they were less committed to the organisation's goals. Employees who were both disengaged and had low levels of well-being contributed the least to the organisation: due to the current weak employment market, this group may also be reluctant to move organisations. See below for a diagrammatic representation of these categories.

In summary, experts believe that employee engagement is an important factor in determining employee performance. But more importantly, sustainable employee engagement - where employee health and wellbeing is protected as well as employee engagement - is vital for sustaining performance over time. Therefore, the employers that create the conditions which generate and sustain employee engagement and wellbeing will be the ones that thrive in 2016 and beyond.

Topics: Wellbeing, Engagement, Sustainability

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