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Employers: Engagement or Well Being?

The need for employers to look at the well being of their staff in order to improve performance and productivity is currently the focus of a provocative article:

Employee engagement v Employee well being?

In it, Dr Bridget Juniper – a well respected well-being specialist- has argued that as good as employee engagement is in helping to turbo charge work performance, it ignores the science of employee well being that is a real driving factor in the commitment that workforces give to their employer.

To begin with, it is probably best to be clear what the two areas of HR actually refer to. Employee engagement is really about trying to get ‘discretionary effort’ from people in terms of getting them to ‘go the extra mile’ and how motivated they are on the basis that a ‘switched on’ person is a more productive one.

Well being looks at the importance of people’s mental and physical health and how that influences their attendance at work and their performance there.

There is clearly an overlap between the two specialisms but they are often seen as different things with HR interventions seeing them as separate entities and being run as different projects when really they do need to be integrated.

The work that I have done in both areas in the public sector indicated that if as an employer your aim is to have staff that are ‘Happy, Here and Healthy’ (i.e. that they are motivated and engaged with what their work is, that they are at work the vast majority of time and they are generally of a high mental and physical standard), then you need to understand how you get your staff to be like that.

Studies have indicated that to have such a committed workforce that they themselves need to believe that as an employer you are equally committed to them. Now, that doesn’t have to mean inflation breaking pay rises or annual trips to Las Vegas, but it should include managers giving employees a stake in the workplace, a feeling that their views matter, that what they can do can make a difference etc so that there is something approaching a genuine ‘partnership’ between employer and employee.

Examples of the kind of things that employers need to look to providing that will help enhance employee well being and engagement so that they give their best for you should include:

  • Managers need to listen to people’s concerns on issues such as workloads
  • Managers should be open to reorganise or reprioritise work to deal with heavy demands and excessive pressure
  • Employees should be given the opportunity to be flexible in how they work- managers need to be sympathetic about requests for alternative working patterns (compressed hours, working from home etc)
  • Employees need to be allowed to take regular breaks from the workplace
  • Managers need to really communicate with their teams and truly listen to concerns about how work is carried out- they need to involve staff in work design and future change
  • Managers need to support staff who are absent through sickness and enquire (without excessive probing) if they can help improve their health
  • Managers need to act as mediators in conflict situation i.e. deal with problems before they become arguments
  •  Managers have to be vigilant and proactive in dealing with cases of bullying and harassment
  • Employees need to know that their efforts are appreciated – it’s not about giving them financial bonuses at the end of the year – just saying ‘well done!” can make such a difference
  • Managers need to encourage their staff to do the things that are more likely to lead to them having a healthy mind and healthy body e.g. stop smoking, moderate their alcohol intake, have a healthy diet and take regular exercise.

As a start, employers could do worse than involve their HR teams (or engage a HR Consultant!) to produce a Well Being Handbook and other Health Intiatives to help engage and improve their people .