Making the link between engagement, wellbeing and business performance

As businesses seek to return people back to work, or indeed, seek new ways of working, in this piece, our guest author, Matt Stephens, shares his thought about the link between productivity, engagement and business performance.

When employees don’t feel safe, supported or emotionally secure, they simply cannot do their jobs as well.

We know this from a survey we undertook of employees across the UK amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Forty per cent of employees recognised that their emotions impacted their work performance, while 65% said they’d felt nervous, anxious or on edge, 43% hadn’t been able to stop or control worrying, 53% felt little interest or pleasure in doing things and 42% had felt down, depressed or hopeless.

When you bear in mind not only employees’ emotions and the clear impact on performance but that we now live in a pandemic world, never has it been more important for businesses to build engagement, enhance wellbeing and improve performance of their employees.

But why should we be combining engagement, wellbeing and performance?

Simply put, we cannot achieve the right levels of one without the others. Poor workforce engagement can be detrimental to organisations because of the decreases in employee wellbeing and performance, ultimately impacting productivity. Conversely, an engaged employee will go the extra mile and perform at their best. But in order to do this successfully, they need to be in good physical, mental and emotional health, which employers are rapidly learning that they can support.

This new interlinking approach needs to be developed with insights from positive psychology, cognitive behavioural principles and evidence that proves high correlations between engagement, wellbeing and performance.

We’ve researched academia, consultancy reports and leading healthcare providers to understand that they must be delivered together. We can call on different studies to back this up. For instance, a Gallup poll1 found that employees with high engagement and high wellbeing are 27% are more likely to report ‘excellent’ performance in their own job. A Josh Bersin Academy report2 found that among those who measure the impact of wellbeing programmes, 72% say they improve engagement and 53% say they improve productivity. And a study by Robertson & Cooper3 showed that engagement and wellbeing need to work together because a ‘sustainable approach to engagement must also include specific and substantial recognition of the need to maintain employee wellbeing’.

Previously, employee engagement put the needs of the employer at the centre. Organisations would develop workplace strategies based around goals and values, then employee engagement meant aligning or engaging people with these concepts so that they gave the best of themselves. This isn’t entirely incorrect it’s just starting from the wrong point and missing key elements.

One element missing is that engagement, performance and wellbeing practices have long been isolated from each other despite their inextricable relationship. Indeed, it seems one of those obvious ideas now; why haven’t they been interlinked before this point? Secondly, these are all traditionally managed from the top down.

How can it be done more logically?

The new approach, however, offers an insightful, logical and holistic approach. Employees are firmly at the centre, where each has responsibility for their own success. To help this to work, employers need to measure how people feel and why, recognise motivations and challenges and be able to enhance wellbeing so that individuals and teams are inspired and capable of performing at their best, in line with the company’s goals and values.

We advise companies to survey employees on their emotions, engagement, Employee Net Promoter Score and now, especially, their emotional wellbeing, creating indexes to measure against.

It’s wise too, to ‘crowdsource’ real-time insights and actions from employees around critical business topics. Their collective voice could be instrumental in, say, redefining a mission, vision and values, finding out what matters with diversity and inclusion or getting feedback and ideas on a strategic direction.

Giving people a voice in the steps a business will take through this time is going to become more important. The insight may help the business thrive, plus when you engage employee opinion in a sustainable, dynamic and positive conversation, they are more likely to feel like they’re contributing, that their opinion counts and provide inspiration to see it through.

Covid-19 has sped up the transition to a new world where teams increasingly will work remotely, where an office may not ever be the centre of the business action again, where hearing and communicating have to be done in an entirely new way. This new normal is being created in the space of months and on the road to recovery, businesses that put first their people’s wellbeing, engagement and performance may well support their own successes to thrive more quickly.

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