Nigel McPolin
Organisational Psychologist, etimes2 ltd

This has been an interesting week in relation to my thoughts and approach to employee engagement and well-being at work.  First of all, I have been reading some interesting conversations on LinkedIn about how employees are treated in the workplace and how this makes them feel.  The conversations have been contributed to by employers, employees and consultants and made for interesting reading.  More on these and how productivity, engagement and well-being at work is affected by how people are made to feel.

Then, the British Psychological Society has released its report  “Psychology at work: Improving well-being and productivity in the workplace”.  I found this particularly interesting as it’s first chapter looks at the role of individual identity at work.  This is a founding principle for my business, etimes2 ltd.  Throughout my blog posts, I have consistently advocated that work plays a major role in forming a person’s identity and that this is crucial in effective employee engagement.

Identity and Well-Being at Work

The BPS report, in Chapter 1, discusses how work contributes to our social identity in that we belong to groups through our jobs.  We belong to the company we work for, but also the profession or trade that we have followed.  There are other associated groups we belong to as well as a result of being in work.  These might include the people we enjoy coffee breaks with, a lunchtime walking or sports group, and other projects and social opportunities that our jobs provide access to.  This is important.

It is fair to say that most people want to be seen as good at what they do.  People want to be respected within their work and their profession.  The BPS report tells us that 86% of people value interesting work and 76% rated a sense of accomplishment at least as important as pay.

A good, well-designed job, therefore, will have great benefits for our individual identities.  And, when our identities are positively influenced by our work we can expect increased engagement and productivity as a result.  Our well-being at work is being looked after because we are getting our ‘fix’ of achievement, value and respect.


Mini Case Study

EX2 Employee engagement platformThis is consistent with companies we work with.  On a recent employee engagement project, 10% of a client’s workforce explicitly asked for more challenging work.  They wanted projects that would sit alongside their normal ‘9-5’ tasks.  They were happy to do the menial tasks on one condition, that the additional more challenging work would be beneficial to future career opportunities.

The interesting thing about this finding was that the 10% referred to above all reported as ‘disengaged’ on the engagement diagnostic.  The lack of real work related development and the poor career prospects caused this disengagement.  This group was only a portion of the organisation’s disengaged population and were geographically dispersed.

This significant group individually took responsibility for highlighting the source of their disengagement and clearly communicating the solution through our platform.  They wanted to stay with their current employer and pay was not even mentioned.  They had taken the opportunity to speak and were rewarded by such opportunities being made available.  Each person in this case had played a positive active role in shaping their job and building a more engaged workplace.


Well-Being at Work: when it goes wrong

The mini case study shows us that employees can play a key role in employee engagement when empowered to do so.  However, the conversations I have been following on LinkedIn and other experiences have shown how poorly developed leaders and line managers, unreasonable expectations for new hires, and poorly designed jobs can be detrimental to both identity and well-being.

I have witnessed some of this first hand when managers espouse that ‘there is no room for mistakes on their watch’.  Or, when an organisation refuses to properly develop their new hires ‘in case they leave’, and then complain about the lack of ability and skills available.  Then, there are cases when line managers are poorly developed.  They lack the strength to properly manage the talent in their team.  They feel better by restricting development and ‘keeping people in their place’.

Such stifling of talent is catastrophically damaging to any business.  It damages their brand, for a start, making it more difficult to attract talent.  More importantly, however, it creates a downward spiral of disengagement in teams, departments and organisations.  It is psychologically damaging to individual employees, their identity and their well-being.

As a direct result, it damages productivity.  As the BPS Report states ‘boredom at work can predict negative outcomes for employees and organisations’.

Psychological Safety: key to identity and well-being

The people in my mini case-study voiced their solution to their own disengagement because it was psychologically safe to do so.  The etimes2 platform provided both a voice and anonymity, while also enabling the organisation to post the opportunities they needed.  The client organisation enhanced psychological safety by being genuinely keen to improve engagement.

Psychological safety is vital for employee engagement and well-being at work.  This empowers employees to play an active role in building an engaged workplace.  The BPS report supports the etimes2 assertion that employee engagement is as much a bottom-up as top-down process.

Employees know what they need from their job in order to be engaged.  Empower your employees to shape their own job to provide the challenge, development and achievement they need.  When this happens their identity is positively enhanced, they are more engaged and more productive.


What will you do to empower your employees to shape their own job and give you the productivity you need?  How will you make it psychologically safe to do so?
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