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Business Journal

For Employee Well-Being, Engagement Trumps Time Off

New research shows that employee engagement has more of an effect on employee well-being than vacation or flextime policies do

by Jennifer Robison

For companies trying to choose between improving employee engagement and boosting workforce well-being, Gallup research provides good news. "Employers can improve both aspects at the same time," says Jim Harter, Ph.D., Gallup's chief scientist of workplace management and well-being. What's more, the research strongly suggests that "the nature of the work environment may have more of an effect than workplace policies on overall well-being," Harter says.

The researchers weren't surprised to find higher levels of well-being among engaged employees.

Employee engagement is a much stronger predictor of overall well-being than factors such as hours worked, weeks of vacation time taken, and flextime allowed, according to new research by Harter and Sangeeta Agrawal, a Gallup research manager. The study, which used a sample of 4,894 U.S. Gallup Panel members who work full time, explored the relationships among employee engagement, hours worked, flextime, vacation time, and well-being.

Harter and Agrawal weren't surprised to find higher levels of well-being among engaged employees. Nor were they surprised to find that that engaged workers were substantially more likely to say that their employer offers "a lot" or "some" flextime -- or that engaged employees work slightly more hours than do their actively disengaged or not engaged counterparts.

Quality of the workplace is more important than company policies

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Though workplace policies such as hours worked, vacation time, and flextime do relate to employee well-being, the quality of the workplace trumps policy in affecting overall well-being. "Though vacation time and flextime were associated with higher well-being," Agrawal says, "those who were engaged in their work but took less than one week of vacation had 25% higher overall well-being than actively disengaged employees, even those with six or more weeks of vacation." And workers who took four weeks of vacation had only about 7% higher overall well-being compared with those who took one week of vacation.

Flextime had the strongest relationship to overall well-being. Engaged employees with a lot of flextime have 44% higher well-being than actively disengaged employees with very little or no flextime. And among employees who are actively disengaged or not engaged, those with flextime have higher overall well-being.

The study also shows that an engaging work environment boosts the odds of high well-being regardless of workplace policy. What matters most is employee engagement. "Fewer hours, more vacation time, and flextime cannot fully offset the negative effects of a disengaging workplace on well-being," Harter says.

Jennifer Robison is a Senior Editor at Gallup.
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