Employee Engagement: Bad for Your Health?

Posted by: Matthew Boyle on May 8, 2009

Julie Gebauer, leader of the Workforce Effectiveness practice at consultancy Towers Perrin, stopped by today with the results of the firm’s quarterly employee survey. The most recent report includes responses from 668,000 employees at 42 companies worldwide and showed, surprisingly, that employee engagement has remained rather high amid the recession. This runs counter to other recent surveys, including one from the Corporate Executive Board, which found that one in five employees now consider themselves disengaged from their job, compared with one out of ten last summer. What gives?

Gebauer feels that engagement has not taken as much of a hit because companies have been communicating more frequently and have been more "thoughtful" about cost-cutting -- for example, using furloughs and reduced hours in lieu of layoffs. Gebauer also distinguished engagement from job satisfaction, which is more fickle and susceptible to the external environment.

A majority of employees also said they're still able to balance work and personal responsibilities, but that figure dropped from 63% last summer to 55% in the first quarter of this year.

Despite the resiliency of their engagement, employees gave senior management poor grades on leadership, particularly when it comes to dealing with change and addressing future challenges. Only half of respondents said leaders are, in essence, leading.

Interestingly, Gebauer said her firm is starting to explore the concept of "healthy" engagement, where employees give their all while employers focus on their overall well-being, as opposed to unhealthy engagement, where employees risk burnout. The consultancy is even developing an index to measure this phenomenon across its client base, which I've dubbed the "Misery Meter," although I'm sure Towers Perrin will come up with a more marketable moniker.

Gebauer's initial research on the topic, in pilot studies conducted around the globe, found, for example, that lawyers in Australia are more depressed than workers in any other industry in that nation. Why? She's not sure yet. But as depression impacts productivity and business performance, it's certainly something her clients will pay to know more about.

We'd like to know what you think: Are you feeling more or less engaged at the workplace since the recession hit? Are you going beyond the call of duty to get your company through this downturn, or are you just doing the bare minimum? Is your company providing the information and leadership you need in this environment? Let us know.

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