Engagement at work and the effect on HRV

Today’s workplaces struggle with a dilemma – driven employees are productive and desirable, but if they give too much of themselves, they can become ill from stress. In order to counteract stress and promote well-being, a new kind of strategy is required in the workplace, which is a way to promote and take advantage of commitment at work, while at the same time there is a psychological security that keeps stress away from the drive.

Engagement at work is often seen as an important key factor for both well-being and profitability. At the same time, people who suffer from stress-related exhaustion are often high-achieving individuals. Our level of commitment and emotional connection to our work is related to our stress level. We will take a closer look at how this is connected, and how HRV can be used to measure stress and commitment among employees.

Creating sustainable engagement at work

Today we know that stress is a major factor behind ill-health at work and that it is behind a large part of sickness absence. Many negative effects can appear as a result of stress long before it results in sick leave. Employees who suffer from stress have less stamina and are generally affected by impaired cognitive ability. Creativity, learning and problem-solving skills can also be affected, and mood can be affected with increased irritability as a result. Together, the stress lowers the sufferer’s performance and motivation. According to a study from Linköping University, this sick leave – when the stress has shown itself, but has not yet gone as far as sick leave – can mean a reduced ability to perform, which is sometimes only half of normal.

Engagement at work has a completely different effect. Engaged employees have high performance and feel satisfied and enthusiastic. This has a noticeable effect on business results. Studies from Brilliant Future show that engaged groups show at least three times the profitability compared to other groups. They also have at least half as little sickness absence.

There are also connections between high commitment at work and burnout, but basically it is about the conditions at work. When there is a balance between motivation and performance at work, employees can feel motivated and happy at work without it leading to frustration and increased stress. A so-called sustainable commitment. The important thing is to work strategically so that each individual gets their psychological needs satisfied in their work.

Create a safe work environment that counteracts stress and promotes engagement at work

So what causes stress at work? Our body uses the stress response as a way to deal with threats. That is, to reprioritize the body’s functions and energy to fight or flee from the threat (fight-or-flight mode). If the body stays in this position for too long without the possibility of recovery, the long-term stress begins to have a negative effect on physical and mental health. What employees can perceive as threats in today’s workplaces are, among other things, excessive workload, insufficient resources, unclear expectations, lack of leadership and communication, absence of influence and control. In order to counteract these threats, the workplace needs to be perceived as safe, and there needs to be a healthy room for action for the natural commitment. There are a number of key factors that not only create the feeling of security and natural engagement at work, as well as prevent stress, they also promote sustainable engagement.

8 key factors that create engagement at work

  • Clarity about expectations, roles, responsibilities and goals. Ambiguities lead to stress. Give the employees the freedom to act, the resources and the support needed to carry out the tasks and reach the set goals, and their motivation will come into its own.
  • Participation and dialogue. Being able to participate and influence reduces stress and promotes commitment. Let everyone feel that they can make their voice heard and contribute. Give employees channels and opportunities to be involved and think, come up with ideas and give feedback.
  • A permissive work climate. Be clear that it is okay to think differently, try new methods, and not least to dare to fail and develop from it.
  • Transparency and familiarity where every employee can see how their work contributes to both the overall picture and the long-term goals. Create an understanding of how each effort helps the business achieve its goals. There are clear connections between well-being and the feeling of contributing and doing a good job.
  • Leadership and delegated responsibility. Healthy and engaged workplaces are characterized by responsive and empathetic leadership that shows trust in its employees and allows them to take responsibility and direct their own work. It leads to a feeling of influence and control which counteracts stress and increases commitment. According to Gallup, employees who can decide on their own tasks are 43% less likely to burn out.
  • Training, personal development, the opportunity to try other work tasks and other knowledge-enhancing efforts increase employee satisfaction and commitment. In today’s knowledge-driven and rapidly changing work climate, it also has strategic value to continually develop employees.
  • Recognition. Research shows that workplaces that have a culture where employees’ efforts are recognized and rewarded have happier employees who demonstrate better performance. Valuing the efforts made and showing gratitude and appreciation reduces the feeling of stress while increasing the feeling of belonging.
  • Rest breaks. The brain can focus for about 90–120 minutes, then it needs to rest. Encouraging regular breaks, preferably in combination with movement, strengthens employees mentally and increases well-being. Rest and recovery are also connected with the possibility of being able to work undisturbed, flexibility to choose where you want to work, clear limits for availability outside working hours and a work climate where it is encouraged to pull the emergency brake when the load feels too high. Recovery is crucial to counter the effects of stress, but also to increase well-being and commitment.

Working strategically with these factors not only counteracts stress, but increases the well-being of employees and promotes their commitment. It provides a healthier workplace with better results and a staff that feels happy at work.

HRV measures stress and balance in the body

Another important factor in counteracting stress and increasing commitment at work is to find out how the staff actually feel. It is not possible to know whether efforts to increase engagement actually work if you do not measure and compare. It is always possible to ask the employees how they feel, but measuring the body’s reactions usually gives a significantly more reliable result. A reliable marker for whether the body is in balance or experiencing stress is to measure the employee’s HRV – heart rate variability, which is a measure of the variation in the time interval between heartbeats. A person who is stressed has a low variance while a relaxed person has a high variance. By measuring the HRV of the employees, it is possible to see not only whether they are stressed or not, it is also possible to link the measurement results to the situations that affect the individual’s HRV. It makes it easier to gain an understanding of what each employee needs to get away from stress and instead be able to experience sustainable commitment and job satisfaction.