Remote Working, Wellbeing

What you didn’t know about employee engagement and wellbeing

Lydia Watson

Once upon a time, things were more simple. You have a bad few months, you’re feeling low, stress levels are high, and your productivity dips. Suddenly you’re not really ‘into’ your work because why would you be? You’ve got bigger things to worry about. 

But the pandemic, and the rollout of remote work, has had a surprising impact on the relationship between employee engagement and wellbeing. And it’s in a way you might not have expected. 

Wellbeing and employee engagement are closely linked

It’s one of those correlations that just makes sense. Whether it’s down to external factors, or something your managers are just getting wrong, if your wellbeing is low, then it follows that your engagement with work would be too.

Research supports that the two are closely linked:

  • Engaged employees view the rest of their lives more positively
  • Higher engagement leads to higher psychological wellbeing
  • High engagement is negatively correlated with burnout
  • Stress levels are higher in less engaged organisations

But it’s more than that engagement and wellbeing affect each other. When your employees are both physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially well and highly engaged by their work, there’s a sort of multiplier effect leading to improved performance, and more attachment to their organisation.  

Why is that so important to remember? Because although they’re related, engaged employees aren’t necessarily experiencing high wellbeing levels. 

The pandemic was proof: you can have high engagement, but low wellbeing

Where the link between wellbeing and engagement has long been established, 2020 changed everything. Which on some levels, isn’t surprising – a global pandemic and mass social unrest will do that. What is surprising is that, under the unprecedented stress and strain of the pandemic, engagement and wellbeing didn’t both take a hit.

Research from Gallup identified a disconnection between the two – with engagement rising throughout the year as wellbeing levels fell. You could point to the distraction of work, the ‘everyone in it together’ mentality, or sheer relief of actually having a job in a time of mass unemployment and business closures. But there was one common denominator: remote working.

Working from home, wellbeing, and engagement

What their work does tell us is that, compared to on-site workers, remote employees both experienced lower wellbeing and significantly higher levels of engagement. Despite the worries about company culture falling by the wayside, remote workers were even more engaged.

But what about their wellbeing? Well, it’s important to restate this point: remote workers were still living through a global pandemic. They were also stuck working not just remotely, but specifically from their homes – dealing with everything from school closures to forced close contact with dodgy roommates. 

Two takeaways for leaders and line managers:

1. Wellbeing and engagement can operate independently: you need to be measuring both

Wellbeing matters, engagement matters, and we know they are always reflective of each other. But they’re still heavily related, so that means you need to measure both in your teams to inform your employee health and wellbeing policy. That’s why we offer our 20+ deep dive surveys, including a ‘Wellbeing’ survey and our ‘Engage’ survey, so you can make sure you’re finding out everything you need to know

If you want a ‘no regrets’ trial to measure wellbeing, engagement, or another aspect of the employee experience, get in touch: you could have a survey out in under 15 minutes

2. If you get remote working ‘right’, there could be powerful benefits to performance 

There are advantages and disadvantages to remote working, but a post-pandemic world can make the most of it – giving teams the freedom to have a work-life balance that keeps them engaged, not burnt out. That means rethinking flexible working, the office, and what it means to your team. And that means starting a conversation – thankfully, as well as our employee health and wellbeing survey, we’ve got a survey about going back to the office too.

It’s time to start the conversation

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