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According to the 2013 State of the American Workforce published by Gallup, 70 percent of American workers are either unengaged in their work or actively disengaged. Of course, this seems to occur each and every year, as the supposed alarm bell is rung about employee engagement.

However, in 2012, a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 67 percent of U.S. workers reported staying at their jobs because they enjoy the work they do and the job fits well with other areas of their lives. Furthermore, 56 percent reported that they stay because they feel connected to the organization, and 51 percent reported that they stay because their job gives them the opportunity to make a difference. Only 39 percent reported that they stay because of a lack of job opportunities elsewhere.

Now, let’s flash forward to 2013. Another APA poll, and other less alarmist results. This time, 56 percent of U.S. workers reported that they are energized by their work, and 70 percent reported that the work they do is meaningful.

According to Wilhelm Schaufeli, a researcher who worked to develop a psychometrically sound, construct-valid measure of work engagement, engagement can be defined as “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor (i.e., high levels of energy and mental resilience), dedication (i.e., exceptionally strong involvement in one’s work) and absorption (i.e., being totally engrossed in one’s work).”

A review of the Gallup Q12, on which much of the alarmist calls are based, defines engaged employees as those who “work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.” Though that sounds like a consistent definition of engagement, a closer look at the actual items on the Q12 reveals that one item, at best (i.e., Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?) is actually a direct assessment of actual engagement. I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out how having a best friend at work, opportunities to learn and grow and positive attitudes regarding co-worker commitment to their work is an actual assessment of work engagement.

The answer, of course, is that Gallup’s Q12 does not actually assess engagement, any more than APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace framework is a work engagement framework. Sure, Gallup’s items may be tapping into some elements that can influence engagement, but it is certainly not a measure of engagement itself.

In reviewing the State of the Workforce 2013 Report, I couldn’t locate a single breakdown by item, so I was unable to see how Gallup’s actual engagement item compares to the APA poll results. What I do know is this: Organizations, in general, can always do a better job of improving their work environments, their management practices, and the way employees interface with their jobs. However, to ring an alarmist bell about work engagement as the primary issue seems more than a bit overblown.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/debsilver / CC BY-NC 2.0

Guest post by Misty Christensen, MA


Dr. Rebecca Kelly, PhD, RD, CDE, director of Health Promotion and Wellness at the University of Alabama delivered a presentation at the Work and Well-Being conference in Chicago this spring in which she addressed three main topics related to promoting health and wellness in the workplace.

In her presentation, Dr. Kelly demonstrated how employer health related programs can be managed to enhance business objectives. Dr. Kelly identified key factors of employee engagement that create positive impact and health outcomes, and she also characterized the importance of incentives as part of an effective health management program.

According to Dr. Kelly, only 3 percent of the American population meets the recommended four criteria for healthy living: being non-smokers, maintaining a healthy weight, eating at least five fruits or vegetables daily and exercising for 30 minutes a day for five days a week. This alarming statistic further emphasizes the importance of promoting health and wellness in the workplace, where people spend the majority of their time.

Enhancing Business Objectives

Workers health and safety in the workplace impacts their productivity, and productivity impacts the organization’s performance and competitiveness. Employers have increasingly started investing in health and turning to wellness programs to address unhealthy behaviors. Dr. Kelly stated that many employers have also come to believe wellness programs benefit health and productivity in the workplace.

According to the Mercer’s 2012 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, there has been an 80 percent increase in healthcare costs from 1999 to 2012, due largely to treating diseases such as diabetes, pulmonary disease and cancer. Employers are faced with the challenge of increasing healthcare costs against shrinking profit margins and increasing overseas competition. Dr. Kelly offered a new way of thinking about costs that incorporates four areas of opportunities: focusing on quality of healthcare, utilizing integrated practices, providing prevention and screening and offering centers of excellence.

Key Factors for Engagement

Dr. Kelly presented on the WellBAMA program, which she directs at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. WellBAMA is a wellness program that includes awareness and an educational outreach that provides recognition by status level. The program connects employees to resources, encourages goal setting and allows for personal growth in health and wellness. Motivation to continue with the program is maintained by providing financial incentives and documented success.

According to Dr. Kelly, there are key points that can be addressed to promote employee health management. Employers must measure what they plan to manage and assess health risks that are related to health costs. Exploring new strategies and developing a strategic framework is a way employers can save money. Employers should take the time to get to know their population, as well as their specific needs and risks. By following these guidelines, an environment can be created that allows movement toward a healthy workplace.

Importance of Incentives

According to the 2013 Towers Watson/National Business Group on Health Employer Survey on Purchasing Value in Health Care, financial incentives for wellness are on the rise. More than two-thirds of companies offer financial incentives to encourage participation in company wellness activities, which is up from just over half in 2010. More companies are also extending these incentives to spouses, 52 percent among the respondents surveyed offer incentives to employees. What’s more is that incentives are increasing each year: the maximum employees can earn today at companies offering incentives is $400, and in companies that include spouses, a family can earn over $900 by taking advantage of every incentive.

Dr. Kelly concluded her presentation by offering some key points on ways employers can provide incentives. Employers should be open to generating new ideas and looking at other examples that can be connected with their organization. Think “green” when considering incentives: money, gift cards and premium reductions are effective incentives. Since biometric screening is gaining popularity, provide measures of body weight and blood work for health screening. Employers must explore their options, considering incentives for providers as well as employees. Finally, evaluate what is effective for the organization so health promotion and wellness in the workplace can continue to grow.

Guest post by By K. Koprowski


Customized online wellness programming offers exciting, cost-effective ways to engage employees in your organization. Briana Boehmer, Director of 411Fit and a co-founder of Salus Corporate Wellness, presented a session titled “Blending Technology and Customization for Successful Well-Being Outcomes” at the 2013 Work and Well-Being Conference in Chicago.

Ms. Boehmer, with the input of her clients, has developed customized wellness programming that blends together onsite and online services to help employees accomplish both individual and team-based health objectives.

The 411Fit online portal offers fitness tracking, personal coaching, social networking, individual and team-based challenges, exercise and nutrition education, processes for designing programs and a robust feedback system. The technology provided by 411Fit.com can be customized for an organization’s unique culture and set of employees. As an experienced athlete herself, Ms. Boehmer explained, “I asked myself what made me successful,” drawing on her personal experience when she began to design her company’s technology.

Organizations frequently face the dilemma of finding the best way to engage every employee within the organization’s budget, resources and culture. Ms. Boehmer observed that personalized, web-based wellness software and services, such as journaling sites, digital measurement devices and exercise apps are “definitely cost-effective” and are gaining popularity. They provide benefits such as portability, automated data collection and predictive analytics and 24/7 interaction between coaches, clients and peers.

Technology’s predictive potential may even be one of its most powerful features, Ms. Boehmer suggested. It can analyze and predict which wellness tools will be most successful for a specific gender, age, region or industry. Organizations could use that data to plan effective, needs-targeted programs.

The available technology can also be integrated with more traditional onsite amenities and services such as personal trainers and classes to help employees achieve even greater success with their health goals. However, Ms. Boehmer noted that technology is not necessarily a “one-stop shop,” nor appropriate for every population; for example, older generations are less likely to use computers at home.

Combining 411Fit’s web-based technology with their clients’ onsite wellness initiatives has created high levels of employee engagement, goal achievement and program completion rates. Voluntary program participation rates can be raised by offering multiple engagement outlets, Ms. Boehmer told conference attendees. “There’s power in peer support online.” She described examples of successful, customized programs and explained how they provided creative solutions for a variety of organization types and user groups. The programs utilized a wide range of combinations of onsite and online services, including personal coaching, friendly competitions and games.

Blending online and onsite services can “reach employees where they’re at,” providing options for a range of personalities and ability levels. Organizations with multiple locations can also scale blended services for different groups of employees, as well as enhance accountability, improve analysis of wellness measures and offer users immediate, 24-hour interaction and feedback.

To determine whether blended programming may be right for an organization, Ms. Boehmer suggests organizations first examine their budgets and consider the needs of their members when deciding which wellness services should be offered. Organizations can then decide whether using a vendor for blended services would be appropriate.

Read more about Briana Boehmer and 411Fit here.

The content provided above is for informational purposes only. The inclusion of any product, service, vendor or organization does not imply endorsement, recommendation or approval by the American Psychological Association, the APA Center for Organizational Excellence or the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program.



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