Sir Cary Cooper: Employee engagement and wellbeing at work

Cary Cooper

Employee engagement has been the buzzword of the last 15 years, as HR has been looking for the magic bullet that will transform British businesses in terms of their poor productivity performance and high levels of workplace stress.

The problem is that, over this period, we have scarcely moved on the international engagement indices because employee engagement has become a ‘tick the box’ exercise for many organisations.

Engagement is important, but as only one strand of a comprehensive wellbeing strategy.

Working people, in all sectors and at all levels, want a job that engages them in decision-making, where their employer manages them by praise or reward and develops them, rather than fault-finding and bullying, where they are truly allowed to work flexibly and do not have to spend long hours in a central office environment, where they feel valued and trusted and, finally, where they are given the autonomy and control to do their jobs without being micromanaged.

In the Quality of Working Life research I have carried out for the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) over many years, we have found a decline in the quality of employees’ working lives since the recession. This is in terms of their feelings of being empowered to make decisions at work, being fairly treated, and whether their organisation is truly committed to promoting employee engagement and wellbeing.

The good news is the National Forum of Health and Wellbeing at Work, a voluntary body comprised of nearly 25 major employers, is committed to enhancing employee engagement, health and wellbeing in business and the public sector.

Its work has explored the role of line managers, emails and other technologies on employee health, empathy and compassion in the workplace, and the role of millennials in the future workplace.

We are all looking to create ‘good work’, and this has been a struggle for many years, made worse by the recent recession. John Ruskin highlighted what he thought was ‘good work’ as far back as 1851, when he wrote: “In order that people may be happy in their work; these three things are needed: they must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it, and they must have a sense of success in it.”

That is our challenge.

Sir Cary Cooper, professor at Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester