By: John Bonoff
If you’ve read other blog posts produced by GuideSpark, you might’ve noticed that we continually champion employee engagement as a key metric for successful program launches and organizational alignment. We’ve written about leveraging engagement to boost employee morale, crafting an engagement-friendly mission statement, and using communication data to increase engagement itself. High employee engagement—as measured through content and messaging analytics, surveys, conversations, and more—is a critical piece of any internal communications strategy. So, the more employee engagement, the better…right?
While higher engagement generally leads to more productivity and better employee experiences, it can also lead to an intense amount of employee stress. In 2018, roughly a fifth of employees that were highly engaged at work were also identified as being at high risk of burnout. Three years, a pandemic, and a world of digitalization later, the link between high engagement and high stress has only strengthened. To continue to boost employee engagement while keeping costly employee stress at bay, incorporate the following tactics into your digital workplace strategy.
Refine Your Communications
Before we explore the balance between engagement and stress, let’s get on the same page about the phrase “employee engagement.” In a Forbes article published nearly a decade ago, employee engagement is defined as “…the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.” Employee engagement should not, according to the article, be mistaken for employee happiness or satisfaction. Rather, it manifests as “discretionary effort,” like working late or taking on additional tasks. When employees are highly engaged in their work and company, and thus emotionally invested, happiness and satisfaction can start to fall out of balance with a need to maintain engagement, which can lead to the feelings of physical and emotional exhaustion, depression, and lack of sleep that we often refer to as burnout.
To prevent this cycle, examine the internal communications that employees typically engage with. From the content and messaging directed at new hires, to the education around a wellness program or benefits update, look for ways to streamline, simplify, or personalize, to make things a little less noisy for employees that are already spread thin. Could explainer videos be made shorter, or more digestible? Could the tone, cadence, or audience of mass emails be adjusted to target certain employee groups more accurately? In the absence of a well-orchestrated communication strategy, employees can get overwhelmed by overlapping communication campaigns or miss critical messaging. At GuideSpark, we help customers adopt employee communication software that features tools like a Communicate Planner, which centralizes company messaging into one communications calendar, and Event-Based Triggers, to automate and organize campaigns year-round. Whether you use software or not, it is critically important to identify and avoid communication fatigue, to keep employee stress down and engagement up.
Calibrate Resources and Demand
In their article about the intersection of engagement and burnout, Emma Seppälä and Julia Moeller mention a study that tracked these two elements in the lives of over 1,000 employees. Among highly-engaged employees, some managed their stress well, which the authors referred to as “optimally engaged,” and some were at high risk for burnout, or “engaged-exhausted.” The key difference between these two groups? Resources and demand.
“Half of the optimally engaged employees reported having high resources, such as supervisor support, rewards and recognition, and self-efficacy at work, but low demands such as low workload, low cumbersome bureaucracy, and low to moderate demands on concentration and attention. In contrast, such experiences of high resources and low demands were rare (4%) among the engaged-exhausted employees…”
One of the simplest and most effective ways to alleviate employees’ stress is to support them with mindful teammates and leaders, make sure they know they’re valued, and give them space to work things out. Instead of constantly demanding the attention of employees in short bursts, leaders should be efficient in their check-ins by batching updates together, along with the acknowledgement of good work. By paying close attention to support and demand on an individual level, leaders can facilitate the resources available to employees and mitigate the stress they experience day to day.
Count On Managers
At the center of this balance between engagement and high stress is not only the employee, but their manager as well. Rather than relying primarily on a set of resources or wellness benefits to combat employee stress, companies should lean on emotionally intelligent managers to help employees channel stress and deal with anxiety together. This is especially important in our world of remote work and isolation, where managers play a bigger part in our professional and social lives. As a manager, simply offering to be there can be enough to relieve some of the tension that highly engaged employees are feeling. This way, managers can function as the most accurate, consistent gauge of employee stress, and work directly with individuals to cope and stay engaged.
As we at GuideSpark often say, your people are your most critical asset, and the research reveals that companies will see some of their best and brightest suffer from burnout and high employee stress if leaders don’t heed the warning signs. Engagement shouldn’t come at the cost of employee wellness. When you take steps to insulate employees from dangerous levels of stress, you’ll not only retain healthy engagement, you’ll make it safer for employees to embrace healthy stress, like setting stretch goals and pushing their potential. Empower the highly engaged workers at your company by decoupling undue stress and burnout from their employee experience, so they can continue to drive your organization forward.