Sustaining Employee Wellness

A new research survey conducted by the *Accenture Institute for High Performance in Boston has revealed the key drivers of employee engagement and ways in which organisations can create and sustain high levels of engagement over time.

The research will not surprise CEO’s that engaged workforces outperform peers with low engagement by 12%. When employees are highly engaged, they invest a lot of energy in their work, physical, mental and emotionally easily embracing their company’s business goals and striving to overcome any challenges along the way. However, even these devoted respondents had at best, lukewarm intentions to stay with their company. Indeed, one in four of these employees said they were likely or extremely likely to actively look for a new job in the next year. And doubling compensation won’t solve the problem. When Professor William Kahn first introduced the concept of engagement more than two decades ago, he observed that, for employees to engage at work, they must see meaningful benefits from investing their time and energy; they must have physical, cognitive and emotional resources available to invest.

The following three organisational imperatives have been defined for sustained engagement:

  1. Companies need to create real meaning, not just mission statements. The employee needs to feel that it matters.
  2. Employee effort and recovery needs to be balanced. Employees aren’t pack horses, they need support during intense periods of work and a real chance to rest afterward.
  3. A culture of trust and respect is essential where employees can take risks and not feel isolated.

As a coaching company with more than 20 years’ experience in coaching leaders, we have experienced the results of leader’s behavior who actively participated in the above and would like to enumerate the various competencies required to drive this behavior as follows:

A vision and mission do not exist without effective communication

  • Derek Wanless (previous) CEO Natwestgroup ($250 billion) made a point of getting closer to the emotionally honest voices of employees by devoting 30% of his time meeting face to face. Now we all know what a stretch that is, but the fact remains the leader needs to be visible, accessible and empathetic to connect with people.  The only way you can build trust, is to get in front of people. When you are in front of them, they can discern the para and meta aspects of communication that denote intent.  As humans we are very adept at interpreting this information.  Most of us will discern this information in a fiftieth of a second.
  • In an era where we are becoming increasingly reliant on cyber communication, we need to be cognizant of the fact that as we move at lightning speeds with technology, we need to keep pace with “high touch”. “Humanising” – bringing in the human element into communication is critical in this age of social corrosion.  In today’s age of email and cyber communication we are becoming increasingly removed from accurately perceiving and reacting to others emotional states – this kills empathy.  French survey of 2.5 m viewers in 72 countries showed that people spent an average of 3 hours and 39 minutes watching TV, Japan was the highest with 4 hours and 25 minutes with the US a close second.  The Internet has replaced TV for free time to be used.  Every hour spent on the internet meant face to face contact fell by 24 minutes.  Average daily time spent on meaningful conversation between parent and child 30 seconds and between spouses 2 minutes.  It therefore goes without saying that the level of meaningful conversation between employer and employee has also diminished dramatically.

Leaders who are effective in communicating, also have deep competencies in social intelligence – the ability to read non-verbal signals and to respond appropriately. We recommend skills development in the following expressors to deepen this competency:

(adapted from Social Intelligence, Dr. Daniel Goleman 2006) ‘Social intelligence has become the new hot topic for the 21st century. In fact, it is regarded as the essential expertise as competency in this area makes the most electable politicians, the most skilled negotiators and the most successful leaders. Psychologists are now beginning to make sense of how our social brains influence our relationships and how the social world is influencing not only our own brains, but our physiology. Repeated experiences sculpt the size, shape and number of neurons. The way in which we interact with others has unimagined significance in our lives.

It is the Social brain that navigates you through every encounter whether it be the classroom, boardroom or playground

…. Informs the negotiator when to make a final offer
…. The patient that she can trust a doctor
…. A team to buy a leader’s inspiring message
…..Board to appoint a certain candidate
Social Intelligence is divided into two categories as follows:

Social Intelligence Framework

Social Awareness

Social awareness refers to a spectrum that spans the instantaneous sensing of others’ inner state, understanding others’ thoughts and feelings to expression in complex social situations.


Social Facility

Social facility builds on social awareness and enables interaction that is effective and obstacle-free. It includes the following elements that can be linked to communicative and behavioural expressors:

Behaviour Element



ExpressorsBehaviour Element



Primary Empathy: feeling with others and sensing emotional signals Reading non-verbal behaviorSynchrony: Interacting smoothly at the non-verbal level. Establish rapport – Match posture, breathing rhythm, pitch of voice and speed of speech
Attunement: listening with full receptivity, attune to the other person Listening activelySelf-presentation: Presenting ourselves effectively. Look and behave like a leader
Empathetic accuracy: Understanding another person’s thought, feelings and intentions. Checking for accurate understanding and interpretationInfluence: Shaping the outcome of the interactions Achieve mutually beneficial outcomes
Social cognition: knowing how the social world works Can pick up undercurrentsConcern: Caring about others’ needs and acting accordingly Actively expressing empathy by means of reflection and validation.

We recommend skills development in all of the above competencies by using a combination of awareness and practical application. The best way to apply these skills are through role play simulation where a coach plays a role, and tests the coachees responses and abilities in a safe environment. It is valuable to video-tape the role play simulation and then to evaluate the coachees communicative behavior against the social intelligence grid above.

Lack of Work-Life Balance leads to the Sacrifice Syndrome

If you want devoted employees who invest their physical, mental and emotional energy, you will need to consider their well-being. A healthy employee is active in three major areas: They are mindful – consciously aware of their heart, mind, body and spirit. They are filled with hope – are positive about their contribution and their future and have compassion. They are able to demonstrate empathy and caring in action. If not, they very easily spiral down into what is known as the Sacrifice Syndrome where burnout and disease become self-evident.

The phenomenon known as The Sacrifice Syndrome (Adapted and reprinted with permission from “Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion” by Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee. Harvard Business Press, 2005.)

Emotionally Intelligent leadership is the foundation of a culture of trust and respect.

If you want your employees to take risks and feel like they are operating in a supportive environment that is transparent, you will need to appoint leaders who set that tone. It is well known that leaders are the tone setters, the motivators, the keepers of their human climate. Few leaders are aware of the impact of emotions on teams.

The following is interesting research by Dr. Daniel Goleman in Social Intelligence 2006 on the topic: ‘Scientists have measured the effect of emotional contagion by placing three individuals in a room, after instructing them not to talk to one another. They then monitored and interviewed them. They found that the individual who was the most emotionally expressive, was able to convey her emotions to the other two without saying a single word. In further experiments they brought two individuals into a laboratory and measured their body rhythms – heart rate, temperature, brain wave, discovering that these individuals were at opposite ends of the rhythmic scale. They then placed them together for a fifteen-minute conversation and measured them again. To their astonishment, they found that they were in complete simpatico with one another, even beginning to reflect one another’s body rhythms. Groups catch feelings. The person who adds the strongest influence, is the leader or even the contextual leader.’

Another interesting paper was delivered by the International Consortium of Emotional Intelligence Research in May 2003. Their paper entitled Resonant Leadership conducted research with hundreds of companies and found that the Resonant Leaders (defined as leaders who are optimistic, positive, had a sense of humour, caught people doing things right) were able to drive the collective emotions of a team to a positive realm to add economic value. These teams simply caught fire. However, their research showed that the dissonant leaders (defined as leaders who are cynical, abrasive, catch people doing things wrong) created environments in which teams failed.

There is no rocket science attached to this research. When people feel good about themselves, they go the extra mile, when they go the extra mile, they improve the bottom line. There is a logarithm that predicts that relationship. A simple 1% increase in climate, can lead to a 2% increase in revenue!

Other important research has pointed to the value of empathy in leadership. In terms of best practice leadership ten years ago, empathy did not even feature. However, today, knowing your people and caring about them is ranked third from the top. Having a capacity to participate in people’s feelings is a critical competence in leading people today.

Claudio Araoz of Egon Zehnder Int. an executive search company based in Buenos Aires, compared 227 highly successful executives with 23 that had failed. He found that the Managers that had failed were always high in expertise and IQ. In every case, their fatal weakness was arrogance, over-reliance on intellect, inability to adapt to change and disdain for collaboration or teamwork. As Kevin Murray, a director of communication at British Airways said: “Organisations going through the greatest change are those who need emotional intelligence the most” Dr. Goleman argues, “The IQ talented, or those on the extreme high end of the IQ scale often suffer a lack of social skills”.

Trained Incapacity is the term used by Stephen Rosen, a theoretical physicist, who is heading up a study on why some scientists’ careers flounder – the smarter they are, very often the less competent they are emotionally. It’s as if the IQ muscle strengthened itself at the expense of emotional competency.

Trust is defined as an “absolute certainty in the trustworthiness of self or another”. Trust and believability are synonymous. We need both together, neither alone will do. What few people realise is that trust and believability are processed in the emotional brain, the preconscious areas – in particular the limbic area – which serves as a gateway to cognition. The limbic area gives us an instantaneous reading on believability and trustworthiness.

Prof. Albert Mehrabian of UCLA has indicated that 93% of judgement depends on the voice tone and body language and that the voice with its auditory resonance and intonation counts for as much as 84% of emotional influence.

Trust is an emotional strength that begins with the feeling of self-worth and purpose. When we trust ourselves and can extend this trust to others and receive it in return it becomes a conductor for positivity. As Michael Hammer business strategist says “The overheads of distrusting or wary relationships are enormous” “Technique and technology are important. But adding trust is the issue of the decade” – Tom Peters. Charles Handy asks us “How do you manage people whom you do not see and whom you cannot control or fire – By trusting them”

When we reach out to strangers and acknowledge them in some way without expecting anything in return, this trust in most cases will pay off in one way or another. 

The best way to cultivate a culture of trust and respect is therefore to ensure that leaders have satisfactory levels of emotional intelligence.  According to Dr. Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence 1996 ‘The good news is that scientific enquiry strongly suggests it can be learned.  The Limbic system learns best through Motivation, Practice and Feedback.  In fact, neocortical learning of concept and logic can damage job performance.  EQ training takes time, must be individualised and requires persistence and practice to achieve results.  EQ cannot and will not happen without sincere desire and concerted effort.’  We recommend the Reuven Bar-on EQi for scientific emotional intelligence assessments.

Sources : Dr. Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence 1996 and Social Intelligence 2006

*Accenture Institute for High Performance

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