Is Well-Being The Missing Piece To Employee Engagement?

03/16/2017 12:20 pm ET Updated Mar 21, 2017

By Jason Lauritsen

Early in my career I treated “work hard, play hard” like a divine mandate. My ambitions drove me to bust my tail at work. But, I also loved to party with my friends, which translated into late weeknights and lots of cocktails.

Eventually I discovered that something has to give when the work hard/play hard equation involves alcohol and a lack of sleep. Hangovers are bad for work quality. And, frankly, work doesn’t feel that great when you’re tired and have a splitting headache.

I eventually figured out that keeping my “play hard” activities to the weekend was far better for my career growth and personal health.

I also used to believe that going to work sick was a way to show dedication. I’d load up my body with cold medicine, grab a box of tissues, fill my pocket with cough drops and head into the office. Once there, I’d wallow in the misery of illness and medication-induced brain fog as my colleagues repeatedly asked, “What are you doing here?”

I eventually learned to stay home and rest when I’m sick. Being sick at work kills my productivity and generally makes work miserable.

My career for the past 15 years has focused on employee engagement. The theory of engagement says that when employees are emotionally and mentally connected to their work, they do better work (and hopefully enjoy it more).

So, we utilize “engagement surveys” and other feedback tools to gauge how employees feel about their work experience, and identify ways to improve it. This is a good practice, but it’s not enough.

Most engagement surveys assume that the only things affecting an employee’s feelings about work happen at work. But the reality is, life doesn’t pause or disappear when we show up to work.

Engagement surveys tend to ignore this reality. I’ve never completed an engagement survey that asked questions like:

  • Are you hungover today?
  • Are you currently experiencing any illness?
  • Please rate your level of stress about money today.
  • Are you currently experiencing any relationship problems outside of work (break-ups, divorce, abuse, etc.)?
  • How healthy do you feel today?

We know intuitively that the answer to these questions can have a real impact on how we feel about work on any given day. If you asked me to complete an engagement survey during a personal financial crisis or a big break up, my perception of the organization would be negatively affected by my personal struggles.

The goal of employee engagement is to achieve each employee’s full emotional and mental connection with their work. We want to unleash the maximum potential of the whole human being. But, when we have conflict or challenges outside of work, it limits how much of that potential is available for work.

To realize the true impact of employee engagement at work, we need to think more broadly about how we can support the whole human being—at work and in life.

This is where the concept and practice of employee well-being comes into play. Most simply put, well-being is achieved when an individual feels that their most important needs and desires are being met. When we feel well and whole, we have more emotional and mental energy to offer others (including our employer).

Over the past decade, the concept of employee well-being has been gaining popularity. Gallup’s 2010 book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements began to popularize the concept and introduced a simple framework for bringing this concept to the workplace.

The work of employee engagement is important work. It’s the work of creating workplaces where the employee and the organization both feel like they are succeeding. Well-being is about supporting employees in becoming happier, healthier human beings. And in doing so, freeing them to show up to work with more to give.

About the author: Jason Lauritsen a keynote speaker, author and advisor. He is an employee engagement and workplace culture expert who will challenge you to think differently. Jason is co-author of the book, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships. Connect with Jason at www.JasonLauritsen.com.

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