Employee Wellbeing & Employee Engagement Are Not The Same Thing

In Self-Management

By Michael Tonkin

In recent months, we’ve been talking to HR teams about all things employee wellbeing and we’ve discovered one interesting trend. A high percentage of HR leaders are using the term ’employee wellbeing’ and ’employee engagement’ interchangeably. And while on the surface this might appear trivial, it’s worth setting the record straight.

Employee engagement or employee happiness is just one component of employee wellbeing and while it’s a key component, employee wellbeing is made up of so much more.

Take for example a high performing manager who is highly engaged at work. They enjoy the work that they do, understand the connection between their goals and the organisations goals, and trust and respect their fellow colleagues. On face value, you would say that this manager is likely to be engaged or happy, but when you dig a little deeper on this manager’s wellbeing, you notice that employee engagement and employee wellbeing are not the same thing for a number of reasons.

Let’s explore why. Imagine that this same manager:

  • Regularly sends emails late at night or really early in the morning.
  • Is inconsistent with their compassion towards their team because they often don’t have the social or emotional energy to support them due to the fact that they’re also struggling with their own workload.
  • Takes shortcuts when under pressure and is prone to making bad decisions, with one of them being that they stockpile all the work rather than share the load with their competent team.
  • Jumps from thought to thought, unable to focus on one thing for long enough.
  • Is a perfectionist in almost everything they do, to the point of being obsessive. So when the workload is high, they drop every healthy living routine they have and as a result, their health issues can be affected, such as fluctuating body weight. Rarely takes a minute or two in the day to reflect, recover or regenerate.
  • Can get a little snappy when receiving feedback; you need to choose your moments carefully.
  • Doesn’t tell their manager when they are feeling ‘off balance’ or having a bad day/week because they think it’s a sign of weakness and they’re worried that it might send a message that they can’t cope.

Now imagine that this type of behaviour builds up over time. A burnout is inevitable.

It’s a lot for one person to take in,  but it’s fair to say, we know a few people at work who display similar characteristics to our example manager.

From the points above, it’s clear that the manager’s wellbeing at work is not where it needs to be despite the fact that on the surface, they might tick most boxes on the ‘theoretical’ definition of employee engagement or on the happiness scale.

At Maura Fay Learning, our model for employee wellbeing is made up of six components. See the diagram below. You’ll notice that Choose Happiness is just one of the six parts to wellbeing.

Within Choose Happiness, we make a big focus on people at work having:

  • A deep level of enjoyment in their daily work fuelled by a passion for meaning and purpose.
  • A hopeful view of the future.
  • True friendships.

So, what does it all mean? Why the need to define the two concepts as different?

Firstly, let’s draw your attention to an article in Gallup News written by Dan Witters and Sangeeta Agrawal in October 2015, titled ‘Employee Wellbeing Enhances Employee Engagement’.

In their study, when compared with employees who have high engagement but otherwise exhibit low levels of wellbeing, employees who are engaged and who have high wellbeing are:

  • 30% more likely not to miss any workdays because of poor health in any given month.
  • 27% more likely to report ’excellent’ performance in their own job at work.
  • 27% more likely to report ’excellent’ performance by their organisation.
  • 45% more likely to report high levels of adaptability in the presence of change.
  • 37% more likely to report always recovering ’fully’ after illness, injury or hardship.
  • 59% less likely to look for a job with a different organisation in the next 12 months.
  • 42% more likely to evaluate their overall lives highly.

Even though wellbeing and engagement have different goals, they are clearly more powerful when combined. Engaged employees who are supported in taking care of themselves are far more valuable to their employers.

So, again, what are the opportunities for organisations?

  1. Put employee wellbeing firmly on the table if it’s not already.
  2. Look at the way you measure employee health. It’s much more than adding a few lifestyle-related questions to your existing engagement survey.
  3. Provide education on wellbeing. Start with your leaders and make sure they role model the behaviours you expect from your entire workforce. Then expand this to your teams. One way to do this economically is to gather a group of wellbeing ambassadors from your company, have Maura Fay Learning train them on wellbeing before your ambassadors cascade this learning to your organisation.
  4. Encourage or promote a culture where it’s OK to talk about wellbeing in the same breath as your operational conversations. Once people open up, you’ll be amazed at how much this behaviour can permeate through your organisation.
  5. Recognise wellbeing achievements in your team; don’t separate them from your more traditional celebrations.
  6. Seek feedback from your people on how your organisation can elevate wellbeing in the workplace.

So as we have seen, employee wellbeing and employee engagement are separate entities, but both need equal attention to effect a productive and performing workforce.

It’s important to blend employee wellbeing and employee engagement practices together. The benefits speak for themselves – both for the organisation and the individual. Start today to make a difference to your next employee engagement survey.

If you would like to discuss our unique approach to Wellbeing at Work start a discussion with us today.

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