Workforce engagement goes beyond the employment contract

15 04 2023

Photo: Forbes

By Tom Swallow from Reposted: April 15, 2023

With work-from-home and hybrid working being the major trends in the employment landscape. How can leaders navigate the struggle of employee engagement?

What is at the heart of every great organisation? Of course opportunities are created by financial means and a brand to bridge the gap between a business and its customers, but there is something just as crucial, if not more so, in the eyes of a sustainable, equitable business—employee satisfaction and engagement. 

Employee engagement being the end goal, satisfaction is the key to unlocking the full potential of the workforce, which is why it’s important to understand what makes them want to work hard and take ownership of their role, project, brand, or branch. 

However, it’s fair to say that the majority of employees are not satisfied at work. According to Gallup’s State of the Workplace report, 85% of staff are preparing to grab their pay check and head home. 

Particularly as the crisis of increased living costs looms over employees’ heads—to say they are the only ones—employee satisfaction, and ultimately retention, starts at the top. So, what can leaders do to engage with their teams and draw out their best qualities and highest work ethic. 

Position employees in future plans 

To encourage employees to take ownership of their jobs, give them the opportunity to do so. The lack of engagement in the workforce today is a result of high figures of labour turnover, which is subject to around 87% of employees not gaining much satisfaction from their roles. 

The employment trends are changing and more and more people consider the type of work they are doing and would even take a pay cut in return for more satisfaction within their role. In the Gen Z population, 71% would reduce their salaries for more meaningful work. 

This also goes hand-in-hand with employee wellbeing and many of the workforce have been given a taste for a more balanced working lifestyle following the coronavirus pandemic. In the remote-working era, we’re seeing more and more organisations adopting work-from-home or hybrid-working models, however, this is not to say employees shouldn’t check in with them in the process. Allowing employees to work from afar presents new challenges, such as loneliness and the inability to separate work from home life. 

The cost-of-living crisis exacerbates concerns as many employees are spending more time at home, which is increasing this further due to the increased use of home amenities for work. An easy way for employers to support them with this is by ensuring they have the knowledge of relevant work-from-home tax breaks and benefits that are available to them to cover some of the costs of working remotely. 

As a result, according to the Chief Scientist of Workplace and Wellbeing at Gallup, Jim Harter says that employee welfare can drive direct benefits to the organisation. 

Jim Harter, Chief Scientist of Workplace and Wellbeing, Gallup. Submitted photo

“When your employees’ wellbeing is thriving, your organisation directly benefits—they take fewer sick days, deliver higher performance, and have lower rates of burnout and turnover. But, when your employees’ wellbeing suffers, so does your organisation’s bottom line.” 

Being transparent about human resources matters that affect employees is one thing, but proactive behaviour to support them while working from home is a key factor in building a lasting relationship with them. The most resilient teams are able to be transparent with their colleagues and likewise encourage them to speak out to leadership if they are in a troubling situation or concerned for their wellbeing. 

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A journey from work to home is about more than just getting there – the psychological benefits of commuting that remote work doesn’t provide

3 02 2023

Photo: The Motely Fool

By Matthew Piszczek, Assistant Professor of Management, Wayne State University and Kristie McAlpine, Assistant Professor of Management, Rutgers University • Reposted: February 3, 2023

For most American workers who commute, the trip to and from the office takes nearly one full hour a day – 26 minutes each way on average, with 7.7% of workers spending two hours or more on the road.

Many people think of commuting as a chore and a waste of time. However, during the remote work surge resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, several journalists curiously noted that people were – could it be? – missing their commutes. One woman told The Washington Post that even though she was working from home, she regularly sat in her car in the driveway at the end of the workday in an attempt to carve out some personal time and mark the transition from work to nonwork roles. 

As management scholars who study the interface between peoples’ work and personal lives, we sought to understand what it was that people missed when their commutes suddenly disappeared. 

In our recently published conceptual study, we argue that commutes are a source of “liminal space” – a time free of both home and work roles that provides an opportunity to recover from work and mentally switch gears to home. 

During the shift to remote work, many people lost this built-in support for these important daily processes. Without the ability to mentally shift gears, people experience role blurring, which can lead to stress. Without mentally disengaging from work, people can experience burnout.

We believe the loss of this space helps explain why many people missed their commutes.

Businesswoman reading a book while traveling on a commuter train
One of the more surprising discoveries during the pandemic has been that many people who switched to remote work actually missed their commutes. Photo: Hinterhaus Productions/Stone via Getty Images

Commutes and liminal space

In our study, we wanted to learn whether the commute provides that time and space, and what the effects are when it becomes unavailable. 

We reviewed research on commutingrole transitions and work recovery to develop a model of a typical American worker’s commute liminal space. We focused our research on two cognitive processes: psychological detachment from the work role – mentally disengaging from the demands of work – and psychological recovery from work – rebuilding stores of mental energy used up during work.

Based on our review, we developed a model which shows that the liminal space created in the commute created opportunities for detachment and recovery. 

However, we also found that day-to-day variations may affect whether this liminal space is accessible for detachment and recovery. For instance, train commuters must devote attention to selecting their route, monitoring arrivals or departures and ensuring they get off at the right stop, whereas car commuters must devote consistent attention to driving.

We found that, on the one hand, more attention to the act of commuting means less attention that could otherwise be put toward relaxing recovery activities like listening to music and podcasts. On the other hand, longer commutes might give people more time to detach and recover.

In an unpublished follow-up study we conducted ourselves, we examined a week of commutes of 80 university employees to test our conceptual model. The employees completed morning and evening surveys asking about the characteristics of their commutes, whether they “shut off” from work and relaxed during the commute and whether they felt emotionally exhausted when they got home. 

Most of the workers in this study reported using the commute’s liminal space to both mentally transition from work to home roles and to start psychologically recovering from the demands of the workday. Our study also confirms that day-to-day variations in commutes predict the ability to do so. 

We found that on days with longer-than-average commutes, people reported higher levels of psychological detachment from work and were more relaxed during the commute. However, on days when commutes were more stressful than usual, they reported less psychological detachment from work and less relaxation during the commute.

Creating liminal space

Our findings suggest that remote workers may benefit from creating their own form of commute to provide liminal space for recovery and transition – such as a 15-minute walk to mark the beginning and end of the workday. 

Our preliminary findings align with related research suggesting that those who have returned to the workplace might benefit from seeking to use their commute to relax as much as possible

To help enhance work detachment and relaxation during the commute, commuters could try to avoid ruminating about the workday and instead focus on personally fulfilling uses of the commute time, such as listening to music or podcasts, or calling a friend. Other forms of commuting such as public transit or carpooling may also provide opportunities to socialize. 

Our data shows that commute stress detracts from detachment and relaxation during the commute more than a shorter or longer commute. So some people may find it worth their time to take the “scenic route” home in order to avoid tense driving situations.

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