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Employee Wellbeing

The Link Between Employee Engagement and Well-Being

Jim Harter, Ph.D.

Chief Scientist, Workplace, Gallup

Dan Witters

Research Director, Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index

When thinking about culture, many organizations emphasize policies, programs, and perks. If these were all that mattered, companies wouldn’t have a culture problem. It’s far more important and meaningful to build a culture around the elements that define a thriving life.

Gallup has discovered five universal elements of well-being: career well-being (you like what you do), social well-being (you have meaningful friendships), financial well-being (you manage your money well), physical well-being (you have energy to get things done), and community well-being (you like where you live).

Changing times

Many organizational leaders think promoting employee engagement creates a thriving culture — and measuring engagement has become a norm in recent decades. Numerous studies have shown engagement drives many outcomes, including financial performance, employee retention, safety, and customer service.   But while engagement is foundational to well-being, it’s no longer sufficient for building a resilient and thriving culture.    

Rather, Gallup has found there’s a striking relationship between engagement and well-being, with implications for employee performance. First, Gallup discovered engagement and well-being are highly correlated with one another, but they are also additive — high well-being enhances the benefits of engagement, lifting employee performance to levels not achieved through engagement alone. 

Studies also found well-being must be conceptualized and addressed holistically across all five elements listed above to realize its potential in driving performance — physical wellness programs alone aren’t enough. Workers with high engagement and low well-being have 61 percent higher likelihood of burnout often or always.

Identifying the natural strengths of employees is a vital component of both engagement and well-being. Workplace burnout is reduced to near zero among engaged, thriving employees who use their strengths.  

Leadership at all levels

Developing a thriving culture involves many important factors. It must be a priority of the CEO and carried out through well-thought-out benefits, well-being programs and coaches, and a thorough audit of practices and policies.  

But the make-or-break variable is the front-line manager. Poorly skilled managers present the greatest risk in developing a thriving and resilient culture — especially now, with so many employees working remotely. 

Managers are the most important factor in employee engagement and performance because they are best positioned to navigate ongoing organizational changes and threats, as they are closest to the day-to-day lives of employees. Each worker’s well-being, and in many cases the well-being of their whole family, is dependent on the effective management of each individual. 

Managers who give frequent and meaningful feedback have employees who are two times more likely to be engaged and 25 percent more likely to be thriving compared with managers who don’t. In fact, giving each employee meaningful feedback once a week is a basic requirement of a skilled manager.

Criteria for effective feedback

Feedback is not just a manager-to-employee interaction. While managers often initiate feedback, employees should also be expected to ask for it. In fact, the latter is often the least awkward approach.  Feedback runs two ways.

Feedback must be tailored to the individual receiving it. This means managers have to have a basic knowledge and understanding of each employees’ goals and strengths. 

Timeliness is key to effective feedback. The traditional annual review features feedback that often comes months too late. Employees need ongoing conversations and continuous feedback, because it is far more immediate, relevant, and timely. 

Finally, it’s important to understand that the intended outcome of meaningful feedback is inspiration, not just correction. Having inspiring conversations builds engagement and trust between employees and managers, which leads to more transparent conversations. The best managers in the world consider development of each employee an end in itself. 

Gallup’s research shows a clear link between employee engagement and well-being, with managers serving as a conduit between the two. Engaged employees are more than twice as likely as actively disengaged employees to say they’re comfortable discussing their well-being with their managers. Designing an engaging and thriving workplace starts with skilled managers.

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