Well Being: The Third Leg of Engagement

Nancy Sayer Care for people, Leadership, Values

Red Couch“I woke up this morning and a feeling of dread came over me because I realize I no longer love my job.”

“The people at my job just drain me!”

“They’re concerned they are paying someone who is overqualified. I don’t care. It’s just money to me!”

“I feel like I have so much to give but when I speak up, they just ignore me.”

“I have decided to leave. It’s just not the same anymore. But the sad thing is, I don’t know where to go.”

These are but a few of the many comments I hear on a regular basis in my role as a therapist and an executive coach. These are not voices of the highly anxious or deeply depressed, as one might suspect. Rather these voices are spoken from leaders of large organizations, highly committed employees, and deeply caring people, who are in situations that are life depleting or where they might not have a sense of well being.

According to the 2014, State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for Business Leaders report put out by Gallup, three types of employees can be identified and defined:

  • Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.
  • Not Engaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time –but not energy or passion – into their work.
  • Actively Disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.

The report indicates, “22% of U.S. employees are engaged and thriving, 52% report they are “not engaged,” and 18% indicate they are “actively disengaged.” Gallup estimates this lack of engagement is costing the U.S. somewhere between $450-550 billion each year. With this kind of price tag, what can businesses do to increase the level of engagement?

Gallup identifies three things as key focal points. Two we have heard a great deal about in much of the business literature, but the third has not been so prominent. Gallup indicates that the first way to increase engagement is to select the right people. We have heard a great deal about this through Jim Collins and Good To Great. The second point toward increasing engagement is to develop the employee’s strengths. This concept was first made popular by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton’s Now Discover Your Strengths and more recently Tom Rath’s Strength’s Finder 2.0.

The third focal point that has received less attention is enhancing the employee’s well being. When it comes to employee well being, the report highlights three important findings:

  • First, engaged workers lead healthier lives. Their health problems are less, they eat better, they exercise more and they are more likely to be involved in wellness programs.
  • As a result, it leads to the second point: Employees with high well being have 41% lower healthcare costs.
  • Finally, engaged and thriving employees (22%) are resilient and agile. This translates into greater ability to bounce back following changes or disruptions in both their personal and professional lives.

This idea of well being, while not a new concept, is one that is receiving the attention of researchers, scholars, and leaders of organizations in a new way. We have all heard about wellness programs and perhaps many take part in them. Well being, however, is not only about wellness or body-mind-spirit, of which we are all so familiar. Well-being is about something very different. Gallup defines it as “all the things that affect how people think about and experience their lives” (italics mine). It is showing up in the research being conducted by those interested in the areas of positive psychology, positive organizational behavior, and positive organizational scholarship.

Martin Seligman, known for his major contribution in the area of positive psychology, has specifically addressed this area of well-being. In his most recent book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, Seligman suggests a theory of “well-being” that he describes as a construct of which many measurable elements are a part. He states,

“Well-being has several contributing elements…It is essentially a theory of uncoerced choice, and its five elements comprise what free people will choose for their own sake. And each element of well-being must itself have three properties to count as an element:

  1. It contributes to well-being,
  2. Many people pursue it for its own sake, not merely to get to any of the other elements, and
  3. It is defined and measured independently of the other elements.”

The five elements of Seligman’s Well-Being Theory, otherwise known as PERMA, are:

Positive Emotion (joy glee, contentment, optimism, serenity, etc.)

Engagement (attentive, connected, integrated, absorbed)

Positive Relationships (involvement with others where the other elements can be lived out)

Meaning (belonging to and serving something that is bigger than self)

Accomplishment (a sense of mastery, achievement, or being successful)

As was stated earlier, the voices in my office that opened this article are not the voices of those who are struggling with a mental illness. Instead, they are reflective of those who are not experiencing a deep sense of well-being. Their concerns center around a lack of positive emotions, a sense of disengagement, depleting relationships, tolerating things that lack meaning and purpose, and not feeling a sense of personal or professional accomplishment. While these concerns are not life threatening, they do threaten one’s outlook on life and can lead to decreased mental, physical, and spiritual health if left unattended.

So where is your sense of well-being? Time spent in quiet reflection can be a good first place to start to determine if your voice resonates with the ones in my office. Asking yourself and deeply reflecting on the questions below can be a first start to assessing your own sense of well-being. While some of these questions might be hard, it is not worth taking the short cut and giving the easy answer.

Some people might journal their thoughts, others might engage in conversation with a trusted friend around these topics, or still some might choose a coach or therapist to talk to. Whatever your choice of introspection, it is worth the journey

Questions that can be helpful in determining effectiveness in these areas might include:

        Positive Emotions:

How often do I feel a sense of joy, contentment, optimism, or serenity?

What am I doing when I feel these emotions?

If I were to increase these positive emotions, what would I be doing?


In what activities (work or leisure) am I highly attentive?

What activities do I experience a deep sense of connection to?

Where in my life do I feel I am living in a fully integrated (strengths, values, passions, etc.) manner?

Where in my life do I get fully absorbed to the point of losing track of time?

            Positive Relationships:

With whom do I feel my most true self?

Who in my life do I feel a deep connection to?

Who am I with (serving) where I feel a deep sense of meaning and purpose?

How am I nurturing the meaningful relationships in my life?


What activities (work or leisure) bring a great sense if meaning and purpose to my life?

Where do I feel like I am making a significant contribution?

Where do I feel like my strengths, values, and passions are being lived out in a purposeful way?

What has been life-giving to me?


Where have I experienced my greatest sense of accomplishment?

What strengths, values, or passions were used in this accomplishment?

What might I do that would bring a great sense of accomplishment to my life?

Being involved in activities where these elements are lived out can lead to a deeper sense of well-being and greater life satisfaction. True, honest reflection and intentional actions that stem from our intrinsic motivations and values has great potential for moving us closer to greater sense of flourishing.


BrainRead more in our series on mental health & the workplace:


Sayer thumbnailNancy Sayer, LCPC, PCC, is the director of Samaritan Center for Congregations (SCFC), a division of Samaritan Interfaith Counseling Center, Inc. She is also a doctoral student with the Center for Values-Driven Leadership.



Red couch photo credit: DaveAustria.com via Compfight cc; Brain Photo Credit: Hey Paul Studios via Compfight cc

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