A staggering 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged. Employee engagement is sometimes referred to as the holy grail for today’s business leader, and for good reason. According to Gallup, a highly engaged workforce means the difference between a company that outperforms its competitors and one that fails to grow. It is a matter of life or death for a business.
In the United States alone, businesses spend hundreds of millions of dollars to improve employee engagement. Yet progress toward a more fully engaged workforce has been minimal. Why?
Although many give lip service to a holistic philosophy, most approach the issue in a piecemeal, fragmented way. There is the employee wellness bucket, the productivity bucket, the workplace culture bucket, the recruitment and retention bucket.
Buckets are small, and so is our thinking about employee engagement.
We need to think bigger and in terms that embrace the whole of our employees. As Gallup researcher Jim Harter puts it, “The whole person comes to work, not just the worker.”
Employee engagement and the bottom line
The stakes are high. Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace survey finds striking differences between the most engaged workplaces and the rest of the pack:
- 41% less absenteeism
- 24% less turnover
- 21% greater profitability
- 17% greater productivity
A more recent Gallup report finds employee engagement trending slightly upward in the United States at 34%, an 18-year high.
We can and should do better.
Energize the work experience
As someone with a background in health and wellness, I know the importance of exercise, a healthy diet, stress management, good sleep habits, healthy relationships, and a fulfilling career. There is a wealth of evidence indicating that healthier employees are more engaged and more productive.
However, wellness often becomes its own isolated bucket relegated to the HR department. As an executive coach and consultant, I have built my practice around a more expansive concept of wellbeing. When I sit down with executives and CEOs, I ask questions about their employee’s engagement with their work.
- Is your team emotionally committed to the organization and its goals?
- Do they understand how their work results in meaningful outcomes?
- Do they show up every day with passion, purpose, presence, and energy?
Fundamentally, I get a sense of the overall employee experience. An optimal experience at work is characterized by a feeling of total immersion in the work itself. Such immersion produces what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a “flow state,” one in which the work becomes its own reward.
Every business measures its progress by metrics and has milestones and markers it seeks to achieve. However, the process has to be its own reward. A carrot-and-stick approach will not drive employee engagement.
In order to arrive at the point where work becomes its own reward, leaders need to practice deep listening. They need to engage with employees on an individual basis and find that sweet spot where personal and organizational purpose meet. They need to create teams that challenge and bring out the best in each team member.
In other words, engagement is not an HR issue. It is a leadership issue.
Feed the mind-body connection
We need to expand the way we think about engagement and wellness.
Corporate wellness programs are often driven by concerns about healthcare costs. This is a valid concern, and it is undoubtedly better to invest upfront in preventative measures than to pay on the back end in costly healthcare interventions.
We should frame wellness programs more broadly as proactive measures geared toward getting the best out of ourselves and our employees. We tend to think of peak performance as something that belongs to the world of elite athletes. It is instead something within reach for all of us, each in our own way, and it starts with the mind-body connection.
We need to view exercise as more than a way to blow off steam or work off a few pounds. Exercise conditions not only our heart, muscles, and lungs, but also our brains. Even in adults, exercise promotes new brain cell growth and neuroplasticity. We are better able to focus—a critical element in achieving flow—and are less prone to distraction, depression, and anxiety.
We are also better able to adapt to rapid and unexpected change, an absolute must in today’s disruption-driven economy. When someone has an agile mind, we say they are good at thinking on their feet. The inferred connection between mind and body is no accident.
If we can speak about well-conditioned athletes, we can speak about well-conditioned employees. I work holistically with my clients to shape a wellness regimen that addresses the whole person. We frame this program in terms of overall life goals, not just narrow business or health goals.
The well of well-being
Moving beyond the bucket or silo approach to engagement means making employee wellbeing an essential element in your long-term strategic vision. Short-term interventions might produce marginal gains in certain metrics, but they will not transform your workplace or the daily experience of your employees.
Employee engagement is a proxy for the vitality of your company culture.
Tap deeply into the well of holistic wellbeing and you will find your employees engaged and energized, and your business enriched.
Published on Sep. 30, 2018
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