Driving Employee Engagement Through Purpose

Lowinn Kibbey, Global Head, Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute

Lowinn Kibbey, Global Head, Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute

Employees at companies large and small are feeling more and more stressed at work and we know that chronic stress leads to fatigue and burnout. An alarming 70 percent of workers are not coming to work energized to deliver their best performance, either because they are not engaged or, worse yet, they are actively disengaged.

What do you suppose is the cost of this disengagement? There is certainly a monetary cost to employee fatigue and burnout. Sources ballpark this cost at approximately $300 billion. However, the tangible impact extends beyond this, as leaders see, and organizations feel, a lack of productivity or innovation when disengaged employees do not show up intellectually curious, emotionally agile and energized to take on the very tough challenges of unleashing growth.

"Research has shown that having a sense of personal purpose is correlated to lower mortality (i.e., we live longer). Other research has shown that a sense of personal purpose actually physiologically reduces the wear and tear of stress on our bodies”

Would you expect a burned-out employee to have the personal energy to be intellectually curious, to take prudent risks, to be resilient or to show emotional intelligence in challenging moments? So, what can leaders do to continually inspire and engage their employees?

It starts by understanding the importance of employee wellbeing. Employee wellbeing and employee engagement are directly connected. At Johnson & Johnson, we have assembled a behavior science team that specializes in studying and enabling wellbeing. Our behavior scientists define wellbeing as “a subjective experience based on a personal evaluation of the relative presence of positive and negative emotions, satisfaction with life, fulfillment and level of functioning.” It includes physical, economic, social and psychological constructs.

Our research has shown that successful companies take a multidimensional approach to their employees’ wellbeing. A holistic investment in physical, mental, emotional health enables employees to build energy, improve resilience and positively reframe the stress they experience in their life. A focus on wellbeing improves an organization’s ability to unleash innovation and motivation.

Most companies have recognized that they should invest in amenities that contribute to their staff’s physical wellbeing by, for instance, having an onsite movement studio or a healthier menu in the cafeteria. However, this is only one of the dimensions employers should consider when thinking about employee wellbeing. Another critical part of driving employee engagement is by fostering employees’ spiritual health.

When we talk about spirituality at Johnson & Johnson, we are referring to one’s purpose in life or one’s sense of personal meaning. We know this factor to be a profound intrinsic motivator. Each individual has different motivators that give him or her energy. When an individual has clarity on what their personal purpose is – and is aligned to it – this builds energy that they can deploy in all aspects of their life whether at work or at home. For some, the concept of purpose may seem intuitive and for others ‘suspect,’ but science-based research shows purpose to be a powerful force in our life. Research has shown that having a sense of personal purpose is correlated to lower mortality (i.e., we live longer). Other research has shown that a sense of personal purpose actually physiologically reduces the wear and tear of stress on our bodies.

As a part of our longstanding commitment to advancing a Culture of Health for our employees and having the healthiest workforce by 2020, nearly 70,000Johnson & Johnson employees have gone through Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute training courses to help them identify their purpose. We’ve seen how understanding the connection between physical, mental and emotional dimensions of a person’s well being can profoundly transform an employee’s engagement and performance. Further, we have found that a program that addresses these dimensions has practical value for our company – we know that for every dollar we spend on the wellbeing of our employees, we get four dollars back. Recognizing the importance of this focus, Johnson & Johnson is investing $18 million to build a new, state-of-the-art global headquarters for Human Performance Institute in Orlando, where we develop science-based approaches to help leaders and employees learn purpose-driven strategies.

When people connect to their purpose, they thrive both at work and at home. Therefore, leaders who are interested in improving employee engagement should consider three recommendations that support a purpose-driven wellbeing culture.

First, lead by example. Culture is set at the top of an organization – not through processes and procedures. Enlist the entire leadership team around you to create a culture of wellbeing. Take time to consider what inspiring personal purpose in your life will motivate you to make the necessary changes in your physical, mental and emotional habits. A wellbeing culture starts with you.

Second, empower employees to own their personal wellbeing. Create an environment where communication and behaviors that support personal wellbeing are the norm. Apps, virtual reality and other devices can help enable experiences, but interpersonal experiences with other human beings will be the biggest driver of positive wellbeing outcomes. Consider investing in physical spaces and engaging in intentional activities, such as mindfulness rooms, walking meetings and a mandatory five-minute recovery time between all meetings, which provide a “wellbeing break” from the fast-paced norm (no more back2back2back!). Experimenting and trying new things is essential to creating progress.

Finally, commit to wellbeing for the long-term. Personal wellbeing is not a crash diet or a 10-week exercise program. It is a lifestyle. The same is true for an organization; it’s about committing to a permanent culture of wellbeing. This will lead to a healthier place of work, with resilient, engaged employees who will thrive both professionally and personally.

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