The workplace is changing, notes Cathy Brown, Executive Director of Engage for Success, a voluntary movement promoting employee engagement as a better way to work. “That's partly because society is changing,” she says. “For example, as a society, we're far less deferent and trusting than we used to be. That means our bosses now have to earn our respect, as opposed to getting it unquestioningly just because they're in charge. Our attitude to authority has altered the power dynamics in a workplace.”

"Bosses now have to earn our respect, we're far less trusting and power dynamics have altered."

Technology has, obviously, also made a massive impact: for instance, the internet, email, apps, and video calls have made working practices easier — but they've also blurred the boundaries between the office and home, making it harder for employees to switch off when the whistle blows. “That pace of technological change isn't going to slow down,” says Brown. “Automation, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology... these things are here, now. It's not sci-fi any more. They will all have a big impact on work and jobs in the next five to 10 years.”

Plus, the role of the employee has changed, too. Years ago, a worker would have no incentive to share their knowledge or expertise because it was 'currency' for them — a way to determine their pay and vie for promotion. “But with the advent of the internet, Google and handheld devices, that knowledge is easily accessible,” says Brown. “Now the focus is on how employees disseminate the information they have.”

 

Valued employees become company advocates

 

In this changing landscape, wellbeing, health and happiness at work has never been more important for both the employee and the employer. It stands to reason that employees who feel well, satisfied and valued are more likely to perform at higher levels and, therefore, generate better results for their organisations. It's a win-win, in other words.

"The trouble is, what makes one person happy doesn't necessarily work for another: it depends on the context of the organisation."

“Apart from better productivity and efficiency, a happy employee is more likely to be an advocate for their company,” says Brown. “Employers, meanwhile, see benefits around decreased levels of sick leave and stress. If an employee is enjoying what they're doing and seeing it making a difference, they'll feel a greater connection with the organisation they're working for, and what it's trying to achieve.”

The trouble is, says Brown, all companies define 'wellbeing', 'health' and 'happiness' in different ways. “They're personal concepts,” she says. “What makes one person happy doesn't necessarily make another person happy. An employer wanting to do something about wellbeing, health and happiness needs to define what those terms mean within the context of their own organisation.”

 

The four enablers of engagement

 

A starting point for anyone wanting to build a wellbeing, health and happiness strategy is what Engage for Success calls 'the four enablers of engagement'. The first of these is to think about the 'strategic narrative' of your organisation: where it's come from and where it's going. “Employees who feel a connection to that narrative will be better placed to see how they fit within their organisation and understand how it matches their own aims and objectives,” says Brown. “That gives them purpose and meaning at work.”

“Often people are promoted into management positions, but aren't taught how to manage.”

Secondly, engaging managers is vital. “Management isn't an intrinsic skill and an employee's direct manager has the greatest impact on their personal levels of engagement. We've all heard stories from people who've had bad experiences, working with someone who is not a good manager.” Education, then, is key.

Thirdly — and very importantly — employers must create forums where employees' voices and thoughts (even, or maybe especially, dissenting ones) can be heard. “That doesn't necessarily mean that whatever they say will be acted on,” says Brown. “But there should be a two-way flow between employees and employers.”

And, fourthly, establishing organisational integrity is crucial: company values must be reflected in day to day behaviours, and promises that are made are promises that are kept — or an explanation is given as to why they have been broken. It's a trust thing.

 

The UK must catch up

 

Unfortunately, in a global ranking of wellbeing, health and happiness in the workplace, the UK doesn't do well. “In the table of G20 countries, we're down at number 18,” says Brown. “There are UK companies who are outstanding at this, of course — but organisations have to realise that engagement isn't something you 'do' to your staff. It's an approach you have to take to your entire business.”