What’s the right pace of work to achieve sustainable engagement?

If you’ve watched Zootopia, you may have been as amused as I was by the sloth characters in the film. They work in a painfully slow fashion as employees for the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and will not be rushed under any circumstance. For the super speedy, time pressured Judy (that’s the cop rabbit, obviously), waiting on Flash the sloth to provide her with a lead for her case was almost more than she could bear.

Life in London is in the fast lane. I always feel sorry for tourists (just for a split second mind) who make the innocent mistake of holding up a commuter by faffing for tickets at the barrier. And heaven forbid they should stand on the left side of the escalator and delay them by more than two seconds – disaster. Londoners walk fast, work fast, eat fast (providing there’s time for lunch) and thanks to advances in technology, the speed of communication means that we are constantly responding to “urgent” emails/ messenger requests/ calls etc. from almost anywhere. Of course, this is not unique to London; location, role type, external factors (e.g. economic conditions) and company culture, amongst other factors, will influence the expected pace of work and level of pressure.

For some employees, a frantic pace can leave them feeling stressed, disengaged and exhausted. For others, it is invigorating, exciting and engaging. So how can managers and individuals ensure that the latter environment is created?

Key factors that influence wellbeing

The pace of work itself is actually not the issue, although it is perhaps the more visible symptom and can leave us feeling like headless chickens.

Mark and Smith (2008) carried out an extensive review of wellbeing models and theories. They propose a new model, called DRIVE (Demands, Resources and Individual Effects) and highlighted the following factors as influencers of anxiety, depression and job satisfaction:

  1. Individual differences (Coping Style, Attributional Style, Intrinsic Effort and Demographics)
  2. Work Demands (Job Demands and Extrinsic Effort)
  3. Work Resources (Job Control, Social Support and Rewards)

How to achieve a healthy and sustainable way of working

In the DRIVE model, both workplace and individual characteristics are accounted for, and organisations should consider initiatives that address both levels.

  • Profile individual styles: Individual differences do not get enough consideration in previous models and it’s highly valuable to understand your own personality (including levels of resilience and self-efficacy), for example, and coping style. Personality questionnaires and deep reflection with your manager or a coach can help build self-awareness on this topic and identify the personal changes needed to improve how demands can be handled.
  • Take control of how you manage your time: There will be a limit to what we can control in our jobs. Workload, targets, objectives and daily curve balls may not be easily controlled. What we can control though, is how we manage our time. If you feel like you spend your days firefighting, flitting from one task to the next, then it’s time to review how you spend and use your time. This book, ‘Fire Free Work Day’ by Richard Abrahams is an incredibly practical guide to achieving that.
  • Include wellbeing questions in employee surveys and promote feedback channels that employees can use to highlight issues: Workplace related demands and resources could include workload, bullying, job security, management style, feedback etc. Leaders, managers and individuals need to be mindful of these topics in order to address these effectively. Wellbeing indices in employee surveys, for example, help leaders and managers to measure these items and implement targeted action accordingly. Individuals also have a responsibility to speak up and identify issues to their manager or HR. Organisations should also promote channels that employees can use for more sensitive or personal matters.

What is the business case for creating healthy and engaging working environments?

Here are some of the facts that illustrate why organisations should be taking action to support healthy and engaging work environments.
Mental ill health is the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK, with more than 15 million absence days attributed to stress, anxiety and depression in 2013, and also accounts for a significant percentage of presenteeism. The Centre for Mental Health calculated that presenteeism from mental ill health alone costs the UK economy £15.1 billion per annum, while absenteeism costs £8.4 billion. – Business in the Community

Compared with other Western economies, the UK has not fared well with regard to employee engagement and productivity. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), during 2015, UK workforces were 31% less productive than those of the US and 17% less productive than the rest of the G7 countries. In 2012 only two in five employees were working at peak performance, despite employees in the UK working similar hours to these regions. Failure to unlock discretionary effort in employees costs UK business £6 billion. This UK productivity puzzle has many components, but engagement and wellbeing are a significant factor. – Business in the Community

With an estimated global cost of dis-engagement reaching a staggering £450 Billion per annum, amounting to £29 Billion in the UK alone, it’s no wonder that it represents the holy grail of performance opportunity for organisations of all shapes and sizes. – Burton, Buchan and Tarleton, 2015

Robertson Cooper (u.d.) argued that high psychological wellbeing leads to positive individual outcomes, such as commitment, morale and health, which in turn lead to improvements in organisational performance in areas such as productivity, customer satisfaction, attractiveness to recruits, and lower turnover and sickness absence. – Engage for Success

Engage for Success found that engaged employees with high wellbeing were (35%) more attached to their organistons than those with lower wellbeing, and the best companies to work for frequently outperformed the FTSE100 norm, particularly during the economic downturn from 2009 onwards – Engage for Success


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