For the large majority of corporate organizations, engagement is the go-to metric to track employee happiness and satisfaction. In this era of hybrid and remote work, people & culture leaders have more reason than ever to determine and maintain the happiness of their workforce. And for most, this means running an engagement survey.
If your engagement scores have gone through the roof, congratulations! But before you sit back and relax, think for a moment about the reliability of engagement scores. How many times has it really made a difference outside of your EOY reports and presentations?
Why doesn’t your organization adequately reflect the shiny numbers fetched by your surveys? Where are the increased work output and business outcomes expected from the motivated workforce your engagement scores swear you have?
This brings us to an important question—is measuring employee engagement really the be-all and end-all of your people strategy? And if it isn’t, what is? Let’s take a look.
Engagement scores can be gravely misleading
What’s the metric that assesses how invested your people are at work? What measures how committed they are to your company? To most people & culture leaders, engagement is the answer. But contrary to popular belief, engagement alone does not necessarily indicate work satisfaction.
I can be highly engaged in my work and still be unhappy with my job or company. But as far as engagement scores are concerned, I’m evaluated as a “happy employee”.
Conversely, I can be disengaged from work yet still be satisfied with my job and work environment. But engagement scores may fail to capture the reality of my situation.
This is because engagement scores are most often measured through surveys or pulse polls. Now, these can be subject to several kinds of biases—they may not provide a complete picture of a person’s true feelings. Engagement can also be influenced by factors outside of the workplace, such as personal issues, which can lead to skewed results.
“The problem with engagement is that it can be very objective in its purpose—it’s easy for it to manifest as engagement for the sake of engagement.”
— Lokesh Anand, People & Culture Leader at Mesh
Engagement as a measure of satisfaction focuses merely on the employees' current state of mind and doesn't take into account their overall well-being. It can fluctuate, and employees may feel engaged one day and disengaged the next.
How can engagement surveys which are generally conducted once a year, accurately capture employee sentiments?
It's time to refocus your lens on employee thriving instead
According to a study conducted by workplace coaching platform and behavioral science expert BetterUp, 9 out of 10 people are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work. What does this tell us about the state of employee satisfaction in the world?
That people are willing to pay a high price to make work more meaningful!
BetterUp’s research found that the average American employee is willing to forego 23% of their entire future lifetime earnings in exchange for work that is perpetually meaningful and energizing.
Especially with the continuous layoffs that have been making the rounds since the past year, employees are driven to question the value and meaningfulness of their work more than ever. In addition, they are worried about their stability and personal and professional growth in their current organization. This is one of the biggest reasons people resort to moonlighting.
People & culture leaders can no longer continue to ignore this universal yearning for meaning in work and look to engagement as the sole metric to track employee satisfaction.
People need meaning. People need purpose. People need value. And that’s why we should turn our focus to employee thriving. Adding thriving to the equation is what helped Microsoft massively boost their employee experience than when they were tracking just engagement.
But what exactly does it mean to “thrive” at work?
“Thriving is about being energized, being enthusiastic, feeling valued, and feeling what you do is valuable. Thriving is a sense of connectedness—feeling good about what you do. Thriving is being productive, and still being able to learn new things. It is about being willing to learn and grow, and having those opportunities.”
“Thriving is being energized. It is like going forward. It is not staying in place. It is not stagnant. You are moving forward; not necessarily in job titles or positions, but just being able to move forward in thinking and in the activities that you are engaged in and in your mindset, all of those things.”
— Quotes by real employees, drawn from Gretchen Spreitzer and Kathleen Sutcliffe’s research paper on Thriving at Work
What exactly differentiates thriving from engagement?
Thriving may sound similar to engagement in many ways. After all, both are metrics tracked with the goal of measuring employee satisfaction and happiness. However, there are several differences between the two.
Engagement refers to the level of involvement and commitment that employees have toward their work and the company. It measures how invested employees are in their work and how likely they are to put in extra effort to achieve company goals. Employee engagement is often measured through surveys or pulse polls, and it can fluctuate over time.
On the other hand, employee thriving refers to the overall well-being of employees. It takes into account not only an employee's engagement with their work but also their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Employee thriving is a more holistic view of an employee's well-being that encompasses their overall happiness, job satisfaction, and sense of purpose at work.
The difference between the two
In short, employee engagement is what employees say in their surveys, and employee thriving is what they say about their job to their partners and friends while having a heart-to-heart.
Thriving can be seen as a more comprehensive measure of employee satisfaction and well-being than engagement alone. Compared to engagement, thriving is more focused on the long-term well-being of the employee and not just on their current state of mind.
In fact, employees who are engaged but not thriving are 61% more susceptible to burnout often or always, have a 48% higher likelihood of daily stress, 66% higher likelihood of daily worry, as well as double the risk of persistent sadness and anger.
Let’s take an example - In today’s globally unstable economy, everyone has questions about the stability of their jobs and their personal and professional growth. Let’s suppose you conduct a town hall to address these concerns. If the leader is the only person in possession of the mic during the session and no one else is encouraged to ask questions, was it really effective?
You could check off “conducted town hall event” in your checklist, but how did it help? Thriving is made possible when there is active communication between leaders and employees in these events. Thriving is made possible when leaders preemptively quell people’s concerns and stay transparent. If not, then this engagement event exists solely for the sake of it.
This is also the reason why corporate events like team-building game activities and Happy Hour Fridays are nicknamed “mandatory fun.”
This isn’t to say that you should wrap up your engagement surveys and prepare them for disposal. Engagement is still a very real part of your people strategy. But alone, it can’t show you what you actually need to know.
“You can’t ignore engagement and focus on thriving only. Engagement is an important aspect of the composite of things that make up your overall employee experience. Think of it as more of a subset of the conditions and culture you create to enable employee thriving.”
— Lokesh Anand
Redesigning workplace culture is the quickest route to employee thriving
Workplace culture plays a significant role in enabling employees to thrive. A positive and supportive workplace culture built upon trust and open communication can create an environment where employees feel valued, respected, and empowered. This can lead to increased job satisfaction and a sense of purpose, which are key components of employee thriving.
A culture that prioritizes employee well-being can also lead to better physical and mental health among employees. For example, a culture that promotes work-life balance and flexible scheduling can reduce stress and burnout. Similarly, a culture that encourages physical activity and healthy eating can improve physical health.
In fact, thriving employees report 53% fewer missed days due to health issues.
Open communication, transparency, and inclusivity can lead to a sense of belonging and connection among employees. This can foster a sense of community and trust, which can improve employee engagement and motivation. Learning and development and other growth opportunities can enable employees to reach their full potential, which can lead to greater job satisfaction and a sense of purpose. This can also improve employee retention and attract top talent to the organization.
“Culture isn’t an ephemeral effort meant to be exerted as long as it serves its purpose. It’s a demonstrated set of beliefs repeated over time that drives trust in your people.”
— Lokesh Anand
Maintaining a strong workplace culture in the era of hybrid and remote Work
With the onset of hybrid and remote work, people & culture leaders all over the world have been forced to reimagine how they approach culture in the workplace. One of the key elements of a thriving culture is fostering a sense of connection and community among employees, which has conventionally been achieved through in-person events and meetups.
The post-pandemic era has forced leaders to re-engineer culture through virtual means such as regular team meetings, virtual happy hours, and online forums or chat groups. It's also important to maintain open and transparent communication and to be mindful of the potential isolation and burnout that remote work can bring.
Encouraging regular check-ins with team members and managers, setting clear boundaries and expectations for work hours, and providing resources for mental and emotional well-being are all ways in which leaders can maintain great workplace culture in the modern workplace.
“At the end of the day, creating a thriving workplace is the entire organization’s responsibility—not just that of the people & culture leaders. Anyone in a managerial position is responsible for upholding a culture of transparency, trust, and open communication.”
— Lokesh Anand
In conclusion, prioritizing employee thriving is not just a moral obligation, but also a strategic investment that can lead to increased productivity, improved employee retention, and a stronger bottom line for any organization that values its people.