It’s all very wellbeing… 

Well-intentioned wellbeing initiatives won’t lead to improved engagement unless there’s a sense of shared purpose across the organisation

“What we need to do is to get line managers to take responsibility for their employees’ wellbeing,” volunteered one participant at a recent Engage for Success (E4S) Guru Group meeting. “Agreed,” said I, sharply, “but let’s get real. My clients have a challenge getting these same line managers to deliver the basics properly, such as proper performance management.”

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 drawn from private and public sector organisations, academia and service providers. The topic of debate was the link between wellbeing and engagement – one of the key challenges being investigated by the E4S Wellbeing sub-group.

So what was my special interest in all of this?

First, I’m fiercely passionate about helping the organisations I work with achieve their full potential through the actions of their own better engaged and motivated people.

Second – and being really honest with myself – my enthusiasm for employee engagement, which sees me running a successful agency 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.

Early on, it struck me that, while improved engagement can lead to improved wellbeing and vice versa, the link is not always straightforward. As my own experience attests, 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 in which those of us who work in employee engagement can create the conditions for employees to experience both wellbeing and engagement.

Sense of purpose is a prerequisite for wellbeing and engagement

The first is to communicate the big picture for the organisation they work for; its purpose and how what they do, day in and day out, contributes to success and their sense of personal accomplishment. Daniel Pink’s thesis on motivation, in particular the importance he places on purpose and autonomy, supports this idea.

The team I lead at 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.

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. 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 these measures would positively differentiate any employer and, as the recovery gathers pace and employees perceive they have more choice, help ensure your business attracts and retains the very 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!

Chris Carey of Axiom Communications is passionate about helping organisations improve their performance through employee engagement and has worked with many leading companies around the world.

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