Higher engagement equals better health: Study

Staff at top employers report reduced stress, work overload
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 06/04/2009

Since Wellington West was established in 1993, the kitchen at its Winnipeg head office has been stocked with healthy food every Tuesday by the founder’s mother. The brokerage firm’s close-knit team, who enjoy a culture based on working hard and having fun, can also get some exercise at an on-site gym.

“It’s that sense of feeling like it’s their own home, the kitchen is there, the fitness is there, the camaraderie is there,” said Kish Kapoor, president of the brokerage firm, who visits each of the 40 offices once a year to spend time with employees.

Almost all of the 600 employees are shareholders and they are provided with complete transparency on financials and decisions, he said, and they’re encouraged to ask questions, suggest improvements and share frustrations.

“I always say, ‘Let the bad news travel to me quickly, so I can do something about it,’ and they never hesitate. The fact they feel there’s an open line of communication, they can walk into my office, is very reaffirming to them,” says Kapoor. “We’ve created an environment that allows them to be less stressed. Stress comes from having a lack of information or uncertainty about where the organization is going and how they fit in.”

That insight is backed by a study by Hewitt Associates showing staff at organizations with high engagement report better physical health, lower job stress and work overload, and greater financial security. Employers such as Wellington West, which made Hewitt’s annual Best Employers in Canada for 2009, are more likely to have employees with better health and overall well-being.

“For HR, we gut-feel this. To us this is intuitive, of course, but when you start talking to CFOs and people about investing in these things, there hasn’t been much data,” said Rochelle Morandini, Vancouver-based national leader for organizational health at Hewitt.

More than one-half, or 56 per cent, of employees at high-engagement organizations reported they were in good physical health, according to the study. But that fell to 47 per cent among those with moderate engagement and 41 per cent for those with low engagement. When it came to job stress, 28 per cent of staff at high-engagement employers reported high stress, while 33 per cent and 39 per cent did so at organizations with moderate and low engagement, respectively. And while 15 per cent of employees at high-engagement employers indicated they had a high degree of work overload, the percentages rose to 19 for those with moderate engagement and 22 for those with low engagement.

The gap for work overload between high-engagement and low-engagement employers might be smaller than one would expect, but Morandini has an explanation: “I honestly think that is because people who enjoy what they’re doing will take on a lot.”

Also notable were absenteeism levels. When employees were asked about the number of days they’d taken off from work in the last six months due to emotional, physical or mental fatigue, low-engagement organizations experienced more than twice as many mean days off as high-engagement employers (2.17 days versus 1.03 days). Staff at high-engagement employers also took one-half as many days off for family leave and disability, and one-third as many for long-term disability, said Morandini.

This kind of study is definitely helpful to HR, said Jeanette Genge, Langley, B.C.-based assistant vice-president of corporate HR at Envision Financial.

“If you can show the correlation, you can show the value,” she said. “We’re all in business and we need to speak the language of business and we need to understand and see the value as well. Even if, intuitively, you know, it’s great to be able to demonstrate it.”

Envision was also on Hewitt’s best employers list for 2009, thanks in part to a culture, values and programs that advocate work-life flexibility. The company focuses on family and community, recognizing its 800 employees have many roles, and “our goal is to promote a workplace that is professionally challenging and supportive of all these responsibilities,” said Genge.

Envision places a lot of emphasis on volunteering, with an annual draw for volunteers for five extra vacation days. The company also offers flex benefits and does confidential health-risk assessments with employees so it can target its well-being strategies.

Another top employer, the Flight Centre, helps its 900 employees with their finances through an in-house team providing free budgeting and debt-consolidation advice, visiting the shops twice a year.

“If they’re more engaged, they’re more apt to go above and beyond for you,” said Kim Knapp, Vancouver-based head of HR at Flight Centre. “We believe knowledge is power for our staff, we don’t hide things from them.”

Highly engaged employees enjoy a greater sense of financial well-being in terms of debt management, according to Hewitt. Almost three-quarters of those working at high-engagement employers stated they were comfortable with how they were managing their debt, compared to 64 per cent of those with low engagement. And 70 per cent of employees at high-engagement employers said they are able to pay off their debts over an acceptable period of time, compared to 63 per cent of those with moderate engagement and 58 per cent of those with low engagement.

However, the same sense of security was not evident when it came to the adequacy of retirement and other savings.

“The message to employers is people really need to understand their security program. With a bit of education and communication, without any change in their plan, these numbers would go up,” said Morandini.

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