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The Paradox of Workplace Engagement and Employee Wellbeing

"Organisations need to recognise the importance of preventing burnout in order to ensure that employee engagement and performance does not suffer in the post-Covid work environment," says Yendor Felgate.

Yendor Felgate is Gallup Global certified strengths coach and Director of BHG – the Gallup License Training Partner for Africa. He works with individuals, teams and leaders across Africa to improve their effectiveness and wellbeing.

As the first quarter of 2021 comes to an end, we are now able to take stock and begin to make sense of what has changed in the world of work. Employees have been challenged unlike ever before with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Employees have been stretched trying to continue to perform at work, whilst coping with the ongoing disruption in their own lives.

Working from home during COVID-19 is associated with intensified levels of

both work engagement and negative emotions, like stress and worry (Gallup).

Prior to the pandemic, we typically saw a positive and even reciprocal link between the engagement and wellbeing of employees. Normally, each adds to the other to make a powerful combination in terms of enabling employee performance. Simply put, when employees are motivated at work and feel good about their lives, burnout decreases and productivity improves. Organisations have tended to take engagement more seriously than wellbeing, until very recently.

The pandemic has markedly impacted the link between employee engagement and wellbeing, which is an important insight for leaders, if they are to avoid the danger of employee burnout. Gallup research shows that in the main employee engagement has remained resilient and, in some cases, has even gone up. The benefits of working from home and having a job seem to outweigh the impact of moving home. This needs to be contrasted with the significant decline in employee wellbeing during the same period.

The worry is that many employees have hit or are approaching a breaking point that leads to burnout and suffering with long-term consequences (Gallup).

Furthermore, it is our managers that are disproportionally impacted. In a recent survey, it shows that the engagement of managers during this period went up a full 5%, however, at the same time burnout rose by an incredible 78% (Glint Survey, 2021). These are the very people, who are at the centre of employee engagement and wellbeing efforts. And to put their importance in terms of such efforts into perspective, Gallup research shows that up to 70% of the variability of employee engagement is dependent on what managers do. In other words, the very people that are meant to address employee engagement and wellbeing, are themselves, our most at risk cohort for burnout.

Organisations need to recognise the importance of preventing burnout in order to ensure that employee engagement and performance does not suffer, starting with the managers that need to implement such initiatives. We need to start by recognising that the managers of today, need to manage very differently from what went on before. Employee wellbeing, inclusion, managing remote and hybrid teams and the demand for learning, are but some of the new challenge’s managers face. There has been a distinct shift towards being more people centric and compassionate. The reality is that the quality and health of managers has never been more important.

“The biggest change for me during the pandemic was the added importance of emotional intelligence and adaptability. Being engaged with my workforce now means ensuring that we’re physically and mentally healthy — myself included.” David Tan (Glint Survey, 2021).

Here are some tips to help organisation’s navigate employee engagement and wellbeing, more effectively with their managers:

  1. Equip managers to recognise their own needs and the needs of their people, using an approach like strengths

  2. Actively scan for signs of burnout and pro-actively address them

  3. Provide managers with the tools and freedom to act in ways that demonstrate compassion

  4. Coach managers to have meaningful conversations with their employees

  5. Create a culture that allows managers and employees to ask for help

  6. Provide meaningful learning for professional growth

  7. Change and adapt work processes to reduce excessive work loads

  8. Provide ongoing leadership support and feedback to your managers

  9. Put in place clear work-home boundaries and respect them

  10. Not everything requires a meeting


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