One company might prioritize employee engagement; another may focus on employee well-being. Many companies confuse the two. So, what is the difference between engagement and well-being? And which should you focus on to create the most beneficial outcomes?

Let’s begin with some definitions…

What is employee well-being?

Employee well-being comprises several categories of wellness, including physical health, emotional or psychological well-being, community or social relationships, and financial stability. Essentially, employee well-being looks at the employee experience from a holistic perspective and asks “do they have what they need to do their best work?”

Much of the conversation around employee well-being has to do with reducing work-related stress or instituting incentives for healthy living.

Arianna Huffington outlined her recent approach to supporting well-being at her company for Future of Business and Tech:

“We continue to offer meditation, breathing and yoga classes throughout the week; we have a gym and take part in the Virgin Pulse wellness program, where employees can earn up to $500 a year by engaging in healthy practices. And to facilitate such healthy practices, we have refrigerators stocked with healthy snacks, including yogurt, hummus, and fresh fruit.

 We also offer our employees three paid volunteer days each year to serve in their communities and we match up to $250 a year of charitable contributions per employee. And among our newer benefits: Jawbone bands, office hammocks, providing a standing desk to anyone who requests it, and making the meditation app Headspace available free to all HuffPost employees. And we’re always open to new ideas—especially taking suggestions from employees, who often come up with the best ideas since they know best what helps them work more comfortably and effectively.”

What is employee engagement?

Our Founder and Chief Engagement Officer, Stefan Wissenbach’s definition is simple:

“Employee engagement is defined as the ability for employees to be present, focused, and energized, while feeling connected to their organization’s purpose.”

He goes on to say: “Businesses that embrace engagement take on an energy level that results in consistent improvement and growth and ultimately, in many cases, creates exponential outcomes.”

Combining well-being with engagement is a powerful combination

Employee well-being deals with how an employee feels whereas employee engagement is about how employees feel about their role, their work, and value within their company.

In Gallup’s Business Journal article “Well-Being Enhances Benefits of Employee Engagement,” authors Dan Witters and Sangeeta Agrawal posed a question:

Now, many organizations measure and evaluate their employees’ engagement, while others focus on improving their workers’ well-being. But what happens when companies try to improve both?

Five essential elements of well-being

  • Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals (a key component of employee engagement!).
  • Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life.
  • Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.
  • Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community.
  • Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily.

Respondents to their survey could rank as “thriving,” “struggling” or “suffering.”

What they found is that, currently, in the U.S., 28% of adults aged 18 and up are either struggling or suffering in at least 4/5 categories.

But, it gets even more interesting when they compared employees with high engagement and low well-being scores, to employees with high engagement AND high well-being scores.

When compared with employees who have high engagement but otherwise exhibit low levels of well-being, employees who are engaged and who have high well-being in at least four of the five elements are:

  • 30% more likely not to miss any workdays because of poor health in any given month. They also miss 70% fewer workdays because of poor health over the course of a year.
  • 27% more likely to report “excellent” performance in their own job at work
  • 27% more likely to report “excellent” performance by their organization
  • 45% more likely to report high levels of adaptability in the presence of change
  • 37% more likely to report always recovering “fully” after illness, injury, or hardship
  • 59% less likely to look for a job with a different organization in the next 12 months
  • 18% less likely to change employers in a 12-month period
  • 42% more likely to evaluate their overall lives highly

Even though well-being and engagement require different means and have different goals, they are clearly more powerful when combined. Engaged employees who are supported in taking care of themselves are far more valuable to their employers.

Transferable Insight: Employee well-being and employee engagement are not interchangeable; they have different goals and require different means. But, they do support one another but unfortunately many organizations get the balance wrong. They invest time and money in employee well-being initiatives and think that’s enough. The evidence speaks for itself. Amplifying this investment with a dual focus on engagement creates a much more successful outcome. When used together employees are more productive, happier, and healthier – and as result, so is the business.

Now, read up on the importance of measuring employee engagement and why knowing the distinction between satisfaction and engagement really matters.

Or take a look at one of our most popular posts, Why Is Employee Engagement So Important