For companies trying to choose between improving employee engagement and boosting workforce wellbeing, Gallup research provides good news. "Employers can improve both aspects at the same time," says Jim Harter, Ph.D., Gallup's chief scientist of workplace management and wellbeing. What's more, the research strongly suggests that "the nature of the work environment may have more of an effect than workplace policies on overall wellbeing," Harter says.
The researchers weren't surprised to find higher levels of wellbeing among engaged employees.
Employee engagement is a much stronger predictor of overall wellbeing than factors such as hours worked, weeks of vacation time taken, and flextime allowed, according to new research by Harter and Sangeeta Agrawal, a Gallup research manager. The study, which used a sample of 4,894 U.S. Gallup Panel members who work full time, explored the relationships among employee engagement, hours worked, flextime, vacation time, and wellbeing.
Harter and Agrawal weren't surprised to find higher levels of wellbeing among engaged employees. Nor were they surprised to find that that engaged workers were substantially more likely to say that their employer offers "a lot" or "some" flextime — or that engaged employees work slightly more hours than do their actively disengaged or not engaged counterparts.
Quality of the workplace is more important than company policies
Though workplace policies such as hours worked, vacation time, and flextime do relate to employee wellbeing, the quality of the workplace trumps policy in affecting overall wellbeing. "Though vacation time and flextime were associated with higher wellbeing," Agrawal says, "those who were engaged in their work but took less than one week of vacation had 25% higher overall wellbeing than actively disengaged employees, even those with six or more weeks of vacation." And workers who took four weeks of vacation had only about 7% higher overall wellbeing compared with those who took one week of vacation.
Flextime had the strongest relationship to overall wellbeing. Engaged employees with a lot of flextime have 44% higher wellbeing than actively disengaged employees with very little or no flextime. And among employees who are actively disengaged or not engaged, those with flextime have higher overall wellbeing.
The study also shows that an engaging work environment boosts the odds of high wellbeing regardless of workplace policy. What matters most is employee engagement. "Fewer hours, more vacation time, and flextime cannot fully offset the negative effects of a disengaging workplace on wellbeing," Harter says.