What are the critical contributors to employee engagement?

Two key factors for happy employees

Another fine article based on Karasek’s theory of job demand-control (that we have spoken of previously) and its impact on workplace stress and engagement, has been written by Prof Jeffrey Pfeffer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

He looks at two critical contributors to employee engagement:

  • Job control
  • Social support.

If managed effectively, they can improve employee health, potentially reduce healthcare costs and strengthen the case for them as a top management priority.

Job control

Job control is about the amount of discretion an employee has to determine what they do and how they do it. It’s been shown to have a major impact on employees’ physical and mental health. Organisations can guard against this by creating roles with more fluidity and autonomy and by identifying and erecting barriers to micromanagement.

Social support

Research has long demonstrated a connection between social support and health. Having friends protects “your health as much as quitting smoking and a great deal more than exercising,” – you may recall our article on the health effects of loneliness.

Unfortunately, workplaces sometimes make it harder to build relationships and provide support, e.g. those that foster internal competition or pit people against one another weaken social ties among employees and reduce the social support that produces healthier workplaces. Equally destructive are "transactional" workplaces where people are seen as “machines”, without much emotional connection between people and their place of work.

Rooting out negative practices like these is a good starting point for leaders seeking to build environments with stronger social support.

There are lots of things organisations can do to help, such as:

  • Demonstrate a commitment to offering help, e.g. providing good occupational health and wellbeing programmes for employees
  • Encourage people to care for one another, e.g. Duradiamond Healthcare has regular charitable (and fun!) fundraising days
  • Ensure that people are less separated by title, and use language that is consistent with the idea of community
  • Support shared connections, e.g. events that celebrate how long an employee has been working for the company or shared successes such as product launches.

Management practices that strengthen job control and social support are often overlooked but can reap ample rewards for employees and employers alike.