How does a workplace know that it’s happy? Typically the pulse of a workplace can be taken with an Employee Engagement Survey. For those of you not familiar with the process this involves completing a “confidential survey” that includes about 50 to 80 questions related to a range of topics from how you feel about your boss, about your company, your working environment, your chances of promotion or whether or not you’re planning to leave the organization in the next twelve months or so.
These surveys are typically anonymous and are done by an outside consulting firm to ensure confidentiality. These results are then compared to other companies of similar size to see whether the results are good or bad and are often reviewed by senior executives to help improve “working conditions” for employees or assist leaders in setting new strategic directions.
While existing research does point to links between employee engagement and increased productivity, I am starting to wonder how much of the outside world is creating havoc for modern workplace culture.
Can people be managed to be happier at work if they are not already happy within? What does this mean for HR professionals tasked with delivering recommendations for improvements in employee engagement?
The reality is today’s employees are struggling and perhaps it’s time for a new approach towards employee engagement. An approach that considers that work related issues may be more about life related issues-only the stigma associated with the appearance of being weak, emotional or “not being able to cope” forces us from revealing our true selves.
In the moment of this pressure – perhaps work life then becomes the scapegoat. This is not to suggest that some professions or workplaces are not stressful, but rather that a holistic approach to people engagement is needed and perhaps sooner than later.
Holistic means consideration of the whole person and not just the work family balance issues. We need to factor in deeper stresses such as the financial burden in a province of rising costs seemingly not in our control or media stress related to constant messaging depicting a world spinning out of control.
So how do employers deal with the hidden mental health concerns in the workplace when we consider the associated stigma attached? No one wants to admit they are struggling but the according to the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental health or addiction problem.1 In Ontario the annual cost of alcohol-related health care, law enforcement, corrections, lost productivity, and other problems is estimated to be at least $5 billion.31
In addition, this concern seems to be extending to our youth or, our “future workforce” – with 34% of Ontario high-school students indicating a moderate-to-serious level of psychological distress (symptoms of anxiety and depression) and 14% indicate a serious level of psychological distress.33
It’s clear something in going on in our province, in our workplaces, our homes and amongst our youth. It is also clear that workplace professionals will need to adapt to the ever changing Ontario psychological state. I’m not sure where it’s going, but I believe I will recognize it when I get there.
What’s interesting about “Employee Engagement surveys is that many Government organizations are mandated by legislation to perform these surveys every 2 year as a way of ensuring quality within a government system. If only this concept extended to provincial leadership.
What if, we as Ontarians could take an employee survey? After all we are all employees of our leaders and pay dearly into the system. Perhaps our survey results could be compared to the other provinces to determine if our results are “good or bad”. What would this data tell us? Could the data be used to improve the living and working conditions of the residents of this province in the same way many organizations are mandated too? It seems to be that the province measures many things, except for our provincial engagement.
1 Smetanin et al. (2011). The life and economic impact of major mental illnesses in Canada: 2011-2041. Prepared for the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Toronto: RiskAnalytica
16 Ialomiteanu et al. (2014). CAMH Monitor eReport 2013: Substance use, mental health and well-being among Ontario adults, 1977-2013. CAMH Research Document Series no. 40. Toronto: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
24 Brien et al. (2015). Taking Stock: A report on the quality of mental health and addictions services in Ontario. An HQO/ICES Report. Toronto: Health Quality Ontario and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.
31 Rehm et al. (2006). The costs of substance use in Canada, 2002. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
33 Boak et al. (2016). The mental health and well-being of Ontario students, 1991-2015: Detailed OSDUHS findings. CAMH Research Document Series no. 43. Toronto: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.