Employee engagement and wellness are finally taking center stage in the business world. For too long, they have been viewed as the responsibility of the HR department and not an integral part of business strategy. However, it is increasingly clear that unhealthy and unengaged employees are a drag on productivity, innovation, and the bottom line.
Gallup’s recent announcement that employee engagement in the U.S. had ticked up to 34% was seen as a sign of progress—but should we really settle for a situation where two-thirds of our workforce is still not fully engaged?
My executive consulting practice was founded on the principle that engagement and wellness are inseparable. Healthy employees are happier and show higher rates of job satisfaction. Engaged employees show up to work with a bounce in their step and are less vulnerable to stress, a significant driver of poor health.
Healthy and engaged employees, in concert with a strong workplace culture, are the secret sauce for business success. The following statistics underscore the need to make engagement and wellness strategic priorities for your organization.
1. Highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability
This finding by Gallup punctuates the fact that employee engagement consists of concrete behavior, not an abstract feeling. Organizations that view engagement as a feeling conduct employee surveys and offer perks to improve the results. The report finds that the most successful organizations make employee engagement central to their business strategy. They give employees clear expectations and provide them with the tools and support to do their best work. Why are engaged teams more profitable? Those teams who score in the top 20% in engagement realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism, and 59% less turnover. Engaged employees show up every day with passion, purpose, presence, and energy.
2. 89% of HR leaders agree that ongoing peer feedback and check-ins are key for successful outcomes
A recent report on the importance of employee recognition finds clear and regular feedback to be critical. The report also stresses the importance of what it calls values-based recognition. Feedback and recognition should always tie back to a company’s core values and mission. Employees want to be reminded that their work has purpose and meaning. This is another reminder that employee engagement should not be relegated to the HR department, but instead, be featured as a central part of overall business strategy.
3. Employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work
Recognition and feedback are important but not enough. Today’s collaboratively-minded employee expects communication to be a two-way street. As this Salesforce report also finds, ensuring that employees’ voices are heard needs to be part of a larger push for equality and inclusiveness in the workplace. Companies with greater gender and ethnic diversity consistently outperform the competition. They more accurately reflect the diversity of society and reach more potential customers, and they incorporate a broader range of perspectives into their decision-making and strategy. Inviting more people to the table, and ensuring their voices are heard, is a win-win for everyone.
4. 96% of employees believe showing empathy is an important way to advance employee retention
Empathy is an essential part of emotional intelligence, the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions and be mindful of the emotions of others. Engagement and empathy are inextricably linked, as employees are unlikely to feel truly respected and empowered in an organization that does not show empathy. A recent report on workplace empathy reveals mixed results in this area. Employees are nearly unanimous in agreeing on the importance of empathy—yet 92% feel empathy remains undervalued. Moreover, while 92% of CEOs feel their organization is empathetic, only 50% of their employees say their CEO is empathetic. Empathy must start at the top which is one reason why teaching emotional intelligence figures so prominently in my work as an executive coach. Empathy may be a soft skill, but it pays off in improved business outcomes.
5. Disengaged employees cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion a year
An exhaustive report by The Engagement Institute—a joint study by The Conference Board, Sirota-Mercer, Deloitte, ROI, The Culture Works and Consulting LLP—underscores how important engagement is to the bottom line. Interestingly, the majority of respondents recognize why they are not fully engaged. They list compelling missions, highly trusted relationships, and well-designed jobs as things they are looking for leadership to provide. This is another reason why communication is crucial to a healthy organizational culture. Employees will tell you what they need to be engaged if you listen to them.
6. 61% of employees are burned out on the job
CareerBuilder’s survey on stress in the workplace also finds 31% of respondents report extremely high levels of stress at work. The survey documents how those high-stress levels manifested in poor physical health (fatigue, aches and pains, weight gain) and compromised mental health (depression, anxiety, anger). These findings emphasize the connections between wellness and engagement, and how stress undermines both. The best strategies to combat the plague of burnout are holistic approaches. Workshops on stress management and resilience will lead to a workforce that is healthier, more engaged, and more productive.
7. 89% of workers at companies that support well-being initiatives are more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work
In my consulting practice, I have seen that the critical factor in determining the success of wellness programs is the involvement and commitment of senior leadership—a fact confirmed by a report by the American Psychological Association. In organizations where employees do not view leadership as committed to their well-being, only 17% would recommend the company as a good place to work. The report stresses that employee well-being cannot be addressed through a silo program but is instead a reflection of broader culture and climate within the organization.
8. 70% of employers have improved their physical environments to encourage healthy behaviors
Research by Willis Towers Watson demonstrates how a growing number of employers are defining workplace health as a central part of company culture and strategy. Standalone wellness programs attract limited employee engagement and produce limited returns. Companies finally understand that wellness must permeate every aspect of an organization. Reshaping the physical environment to encourage healthy behavior includes adding healthy foods to breakrooms and restaurant delivery menus, ergonomic workstations, and appropriate lighting.
9. 61% of employees agree that they have made healthier lifestyle choices because of their company’s wellness program
This is just one of many findings in an Aflac summary of current benefit trends. A comprehensive and holistic wellness program will help employees change their lifestyle and make better choices, resulting in higher productivity and job satisfaction. The same report finds that Millennials, more than any other group, factor in benefits like health and wellness programs in deciding whether to take or remain in a job.
10. 87% of employees expect their employer to support them in balancing work and personal commitments
A recent Glassdoor survey reminds us that our conception of wellness has to go beyond traditional health measures. Although the idea of work-life balance is frequently misunderstood, employees are looking for help and support in attending to the non-work areas of their life. Employers can do so by being willing to offer flexible work schedules, and by encouraging employees to utilize vacation time.
The embrace of employee wellness and engagement as strategic imperatives is a significant paradigm shift in the business world, one that will only grow stronger in the coming year. Evolved leaders will bring a spirit of innovation to their employee engagement and wellness initiatives, and give them the same energy and care as their core products and services. Employee engagement and wellness are about protecting your human capital, your most valuable asset. Organizations that ensure their employees flourish and thrive will always be ahead of the curve.
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Published on Forbes on Jan. 16, 2019.