11 Insights Into Employee Engagement Research From 2019

Michael Hansen
6 min read

As we near the end of the year, it’s time to look at the key findings in employee engagement research from 2019. Here are the top learning research articles on employee training and development and workplace engagement, and what they could mean for your employees in 2020.

1. Gratitude in the workplace goes a long way

How often does your C-suite and management team take the time to thank their employees? Turns out, a simple “thank you” goes a long way in improving work satisfaction.

Portland State University researchers found a link between gratitude in the workplace and employee physical and mental health. They looked at nurses – a group of workers at high risk for burnout – and found a connection between expressed gratitude (a simple “thank you”) and happier employees.

One of the researchers noted that:

“Employees that receive positive feedback are healthier, and that can impact the bottom line. Preventing headaches and other stress-related symptoms means fewer sick days, and, in this case, cuts down the cost of replacement nurses and overtime pay.”

2. Positive work environments help employees feel included

In somewhat unsurprising (but nevertheless important) research, a Binghamtom University study found that a positive work environment helped employees to feel more included. These feelings were connected to higher satisfaction at work and increased innovation on the job.

Kim Brimhall, assistant professor of social work at Binghamton University’s College of Community and Public Affairs, noted that:

“Leader engagement, that is, a leader’s ability to actively engage all organizational members in critical decision making, may foster a climate for inclusion and positive organizational outcomes, such as a climate for innovation, job satisfaction and perceived quality of care. When nonprofit organization members believe that they are valued for their unique personal characteristics and are recognized as important members of the organization, employee engagement, trust, satisfaction, commitment and retention improve.”

3. Work-life balance is an issue across the globe

A study that analyzed data from 34 Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries found that men and women all over the globe struggled to find that seemingly-elusive work-life balance.

In an otherwise-unremarkable study, one statistic stood out: men seemed to care more about what was termed “leisure and personal care” than women did. This may indicate men’s willingness to demand more personal time than women and is a statistic worth looking at for your company and its unique employee profile.

4. “Reattached” employees enjoy work more

Likewise, many studies have indicated the importance of leaving work at work (detaching) at the end of the day, but a new study found that “reattaching” with your job every morning was equally important.

The study authors found that:

“Through reattachment, employees are able to activate work-related goals, which then further creates positive experiences which allow people to be more engaged at work. Engagement is a sense of energy, sense of feeling absorbed, feeling dedicated to work…[employees are] more satisfied with work, more committed to work, enjoy work tasks more, perform better and help out more with extra tasks.”

5. Bullying bosses compromise workplace safety

Employees who feel undervalued or bullied are at greater risk for non-compliance with safety regulations and other company policies. Poor treatment by a boss can make an employee more concerned with their own survival in the workplace, a behavior that can place customers or clients at risk, too.

Study authors highlighted the importance of addressing this issue, noting that, “It’s really critical to manage such leader behavior, support victimized employees and prevent such issues.”

6. Ethical leadership prevents toxic work environments

On the other side of the leadership coin, leaders who utilize clear and positive communication and offer emotional support for their employees promote the same characteristic in employees. This is especially true when dealing with social undermining that might occur in the workplace.

One of the crucial parts of this study found that leaders who acknowledged “hindrance stress” had the most success with employee happiness, productivity, and retention. Hindrance stress occurs when an employee’s personal conflicts and demands at work become an obstacle within the company.

Ethical leaders respond to this type of stress (and the potential for negative employee behavior and social undermining) with warmth and support, not punitive measures.

7. Stress at work can be deadly

Ethical leaders also know that healthy employees are the best kind. New research from the European Society of Cardiology has confirmed this once again.

Employees who have trouble sleeping due to work-related stress are at a threefold risk of cardiovascular death when they already have hypertension. Considering that 33% of your workforce likely has hypertension, this is a study to pay attention to.

8. Disclosing invisible stigmas is linked to increased job satisfaction

Another way to stay healthy at work is to just be yourself.

Rice University researchers found that disclosing invisible illness or stigmas at work helped employees to feel more accepted. This employee disclosure was also linked to decreased job anxiety and an increased commitment to their job and their company.

Unfortunately, the study found that the same could not be said about visible traits (e.g., race or disability). Employees still reported plenty of negative reactions and responses to visible differences among them.

9. It’s easier to get healthy at work

Nearly half of all workplaces in the U.S. offer some kind of health and wellness progra for employees. As the size of the workplace increased, the likelihood of a wellness program did, too.

Laura Linnan, professor in the Department of Health Behavior at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and founding director of the Carolina Collaborative for Research on Work and Health connected employee time at work with an employer’s obligation to care for their employees. She noted that:

“Most American adults work, and many spend half or more of their waking hours at work. Where we work, how long we work, the conditions of our work, who we work with – all of these factors impact our health. Employers have an opportunity to shape work environments and work conditions in ways that support employee health.”

10. Virtual reality training improves health and safety of employees

Learning in the workplace that utilizes virtual reality can be more effective in training employees in emergency situations (e.g. fire drills or other building evacuations).

When compared to training received through a PowerPoint, virtual reality training produced better long-term retention of information and more engagement in the training itself.

This research on the effectiveness of online learning that uses virtual reality for employee training suggests that the more engaged in learning employees are, the more effective the training will be.

11. The best employers don’t only focus on the bottom line

If your supervisors make decisions based only on profit, get ready for a surprise. Researchers at Baylor University found that this profits-driven practice can actually hurt you in the long run through loss of employees (and the increased cost of recruiting new ones).

Lead researcher Matthew Quade, Ph.D., noted that:

“Supervisors who focus only on profits to the exclusion of caring about other important outcomes, such as employee well-being or environmental or ethical concerns, turn out to be detrimental to employees. This results in relationships that are marked by distrust, dissatisfaction and lack of affection for the supervisor. And ultimately, that leads to employees who are less likely to complete tasks at a high level and less likely to go above and beyond the call of duty.”

The bottom line of all of this employee engagement research? It’s time to create a work environment that values employees—just as they are—and incorporates habits to help them achieve a healthier work-life balance. Do that and they’ll likely be more engaged while at work.

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