Engagement, mental health, profits (Editorial)

Engagement and mental health flow from the same organizational characteristics that define a workplace

Does a big salary compensate for a nervous breakdown? Can you sacrifice mental health in pursuit of productivity and profits without jeopardizing all three in the long term? Can an engaged workforce exist in such a climate?

These are some of the issues at the root of our survey How Much and How Important? An Executive View of Employee Engagement Factors. The study, released this month and reported on in this issue, is a partnership between Canadian HR Reporter and leading Canadian employee assistance plan provider WarrenShepell. At first glance one might be surprised that a survey involving a major EAP firm is focused on employee engagement rather than mental health, but a second look reveals that engagement and mental health flow from the same organizational characteristics that define a workplace.

The survey began with a desire to match Canadian HR Reporter’s editorial strength with the capabilities of WarrenShepell’s research group. Both organizations shared a desire to contribute to the study of workplace issues. WarrenShepell’s interest in prevention also helped lead to the coupling of mental health and engagement.

WarrenShepell began by reviewing workplace research to create a list of 37 characteristics that have the largest and most consistent association with employee mental health, satisfaction and retention. Survey questions were then designed to probe the existence of these characteristics in an organization. A total of 323 respondents completed the online survey, including HR executives, company CEOs and financial managers.

The results of the survey were used to identify a group of organizations that seem to be performing well in terms of carrying out practices related to employee engagement. Ten firms were selected for 90-minute interviews with the organization’s senior HR leader to determine what best practices the organizations carried out.

Best practices were grouped into nine headings: connecting employees to the big picture, fair compensation, clarity and feedback, empowerment, meaningful work, pleasant work environment, reasonable work demands, healthy attachments and employee career development.

The survey showed that executives do realize cash only goes so far when it comes to producing engaged employees. Whether an organization is willing and able to implement policies that address the nine best practice headings the survey identified is another matter.

Organizations stand to gain the highest boosts in employee mental health, satisfaction, and retention through changes that increase four dimensions of engagement: reasonable work demands, connection to the big picture, meaningful work, and empowerment (in that order).

In general the findings lend credence to the assumption (long held by HR professionals) that these factors, more so than any others, drive employee health, satisfaction and retention.

In the end it comes down to understanding which workplace characteristics have a positive impact on mental health and engagement, and to what degree. How much and how important? The survey’s value lies in helping HR answer this question.

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