When business and health-promotion professionals talk about workplace wellness and workplace culture, they often use words like “participation” and “engagement” to describe goals related to employees’ involvement in specific programs/events and the overall company and its mission. “Participation” and “engagement” get tossed around loosely and often used as one in the same. However, there are important definition distinctions between the two words.
- Participation simply means taking part in something, or completing some program or task.
- Engagement deals with how employees feel about what they are doing and their overall work experience.
Employees can participate in programs and just be “going through the motions” without really being engaged in the programs or their workplaces. This is often the case in many organizations with traditional workplace wellness programs that don’t emphasize workplace culture, and organizational and employee wellbeing. As Ward and Robison described:
“The workplace wellness world has been over-using engagement to describe program completion rates and participation; however, it is possible to have high participation in wellness programs, company events, employee surveys, etc., and not have engagement. Likewise, it is possible to have people highly engaged in their work and in their own personal wellbeing who do not participate in programs. We suggest that engagement — true engagement — is what matters. Too often participation in programs is driven by coercion. The appropriate term to describe what is going on in these cases in really compliance and we don’t believe compliance has much of a role in organizational or employee wellbeing.”
Engagement, as Ward and Robison detailed in their book, is that all-important intrinsic “buy in” element that’s necessary for employees to truly benefit from what’s being provided and, as a result, to foster employees’ positive attitudes, productivity, and overall wellbeing. When employees are engaged, everyone wins.
“Engaged employees are not only satisfied, but they go above and beyond to help the organization achieve success. Disengaged employees, on the other hand, are apathetic, toxic to the work environment, can erode the culture and negatively impact productivity. Engagement also has a powerful impact on individual wellbeing, affecting physical and mental health as well as workplace injuries,” Ward and Robison wrote.
So then, how can you encourage employee engagement instead of just employee participation? Engagement occurs when employees:
- Know what is expected of them
- Feel valued
- Are able to leverage their strengths
- Have quality relationships at work
- Are cognitively stimulated
Also check out this article: Everyone wins when you have a thriving workplace culture.