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A new approach to employee engagement

February 13, 2017

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Employers want their employees to bring their whole selves and full potential to work every day.  But the truth is, many employees are running on empty most of the time.  In order for employers to have a real effect on their employees, they must create programs that go beyond “wellness” and contribute to the employee’s total “wellbeing.”

Employers today take a much larger role in their employees’ total well-being.  In the past, it was believed that a good wellness program was enough, but today’s programs need to go beyond that.  Health and wellness programs tend to be poorly marketed and focus on cessation or avoidance tactics.  Programs are often unsuccessful.  Well-being programs present a much broader approach and include elements that go beyond physical, mental, and emotional health.  Wellbeing programs also include social and financial elements.  

While organizations are greatly affected by employee health, wellness programs alone have not been They typically do not reduce absences or improve productivity.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics U.S. workers spend more time working than sleeping.  They eat more than half their meals on the job and struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance.  A few annual wellness activities or a free gym membership will not fix this.  In a well-being, dynamic approach the “whole” employee is addressed and includes physical, financial, emotional, social, and psychological aspects.  Each aspect interacts with another.

Below are five important aspects to a complete wellbeing program:

Organizational Wellbeing
Management practices are one of the most important aspects for controlling employee stress levels.  According to research done by Joel Goh of Harvard and Jeffrey Pfeffer and Stefanos Zenios of Stanford, insecurity increases poor health reporting by 50%, high job demands increase the odds of having a physician-diagnosed illness by 35%, and long work hours increase mortality by 20%.

Management practices that can affect wellbeing are:

  • Feedback – Positive well-being at work is related to employees receiving direct and clear feedback.  It reduces uncertainty and increases feelings of competence.
  • Control Over Work Environment – Employees who have decision making autonomy report increased job satisfaction, fewer health problems, and less stress.
  • Goal Setting Clarity – Employees that have clear, attainable, and measurable goals that they receive regular feedback on have increased job satisfaction and feel a stronger sense of accomplishment.

Mental Wellbeing
The mental health of employees is affected by the work culture, the type of work they do, the level of work engagement, and personal lifestyles and circumstances.  It’s important for employers to focus on “positive psychology”, which is the “scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.”  Below are some beginning steps you can take:

  • Utilize a strength-based approach to performance assessment.
  • Train employees to improve their own “physiological capital” – “the positive and developmental state of an individual as characterized by high self-efficacy, optimism, hope and resiliency.”
  • Recognize employees for their accomplishments.  Employees feel more engaged and better about themselves and their work when they know their work has had an impact on others.

Physical Wellbeing
It’s important for employers to support and encourage physical activity.  Perhaps sponsor regular lunchtime walks and encourage breaks throughout the day that involve physical activity.  Help your employees make healthy food choices throughout the day – if providing snacks, provide fruit and vegetables; give employees the option of contributing to a weekly stash of fruits and vegetables; and provide a kitchen area for staff to prepare food brought from home.

Financial Wellbeing
A 2015 report from the American Psychological Association showed that financial stress is the number one stressor for U.S. adults for the seventh year in a row.  In addition, it’s a main contributor to depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, muscle tension and back pain.  Provide employees with programs that help them deal with financial issues and feel in control of them.  Ideas include:

  • Provide in-office educational programs about how to save and make wise financial decisions.
  • Automatically opt employees into retirement plans.  By creating an opt-out program versus opt-in you can increase the level of participation and positively influence their future financial planning.

Social Wellbeing
Social wellbeing is potentially the most important aspect to overall employee wellbeing.  The relationships employees have with both co-workers and immediate managers can greatly affect engagement and satisfaction at work. Gallup research has shown employees who have high-quality friendships at work are seven times as likely to be engaged.  These friendships provide the necessary social support to handle the hard times at work and provide a sense of community.

To truly create a culture of wellbeing, leadership must not only provide such programs but be involved in them.  Employees look to leadership for examples of what is acceptable.  For example, if a company says they promote work-life balance, yet managers are sending emails on nights and weekends, this is sending a mixed message.  Employees will feel obligated to reply.  To be successful, a wellbeing program must be embedded into the culture and a regular part of daily dialogue.  Providing staff a well-rounded wellbeing program can result in employees that flourish and utilize their full potential on a regular basis.

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