I’ve been measuring emotional engagement and well-being for over 18 years, and there is a significant change in the way people are self-reporting their wellbeing. I’m not talking about whether levels of well-being are generally rising or falling, I’m talking about the way in which people feel as opposed to the way they think.
So let me clarify this…
I don’t feel old enough (ahem), but back in 1997 I was taking a big step in my journey into wellbeing at work, as I developed CARI™ a tool that can identify both the cognitive and emotional responses to personal wellbeing and measuring employee engagement – not just engagement but emotional engagement. This enabled me to discover much more about wellbeing than any usual survey. And also won me a couple of awards for my trouble!
I was able to discover that there was a big difference between the way that people felt and the way that they said they felt.
This difference is vital. Because, we are rarely upset for the reason we think. So when we ask people questions about how they feel we tend to get rationalised responses. Yes, I know I’ve said this before, but it’s an important thing to remember.
For example, when someone feels under the weather at work, if they say “I feel a bit…meh!” what happens? You know what happens….Everyone starts asking “Why?”
And so the questions begin, and the fact is we really don’t know the answer to them, or… we know, in a way but we just can’t explain. This is because the Limbic system of our brain, the home of our emotions, has no capacity for language. This means that the questions are impossible to answer, so we rationalise.
We create a reason that makes sense – when we can’t find a sensible reason.
When we first started measuring emotional and cognitive responses to wellbeing there was a common pattern in people who were lower in wellbeing. And it was this: people saw the organisation as having everything in place, they scored their employers as having the right policies and procedures on the whole – and where they were not fully in-line with what they believed they should have, there was not such a big gap between what we would have hoped for and reality.
The CARI tool’s ability to measure both the cognitive and the emotional means we have a unique view of the wellbeing of employees from the last 20 years, and the most significant thing about this was not what we expected.
However, and this is the interesting bit… emotionally and responsively people felt much lower in their levels of wellbeing. Their scores showed that even when the organisation was ticking the right boxes, they were feeling…under par.
Back in the early noughties people were presenting as generally under par and a little bit fed up. Our results showed a definite sense of disempowerment.
Have things changed? Yes indeed! And what an interesting, and yet rather sad change there has been.
The trend now in companies is for many people to show a different response. Instead of giving the organisation a big tick for policies and support as they would have done in the past, now people are feeling disillusioned with their organisations BUT they are not showing it.
The biggest and scariest trend of all is “Brave Face Syndrome”. Our scores are showing clearly 100’s of people are putting on a brave face at work, are not dealing with the issues that are causing them harm while they are battling against the odds.
Presenteeism goes far beyond simply being there when you are unfit; it has become modus operandi for many people. It has become an accepted norm that you will go to work feeling unsupported and miserable, but put on your sunny smile and “kick on”.
Well, there is a time and a place for taking a positive attitude, and years of being told “don’t be negative” has clearly taken its toll, with people terrified of being honest about how they feel.
And yet, pretending to be positive when you are dying inside is not, actually, being positive.
Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism says there is a time and a place of a bit of pessimism – like when you have to consider risks. But more importantly, being optimistic and healthy is absolutely NOT about putting on a show. Yes, you sometimes need to tell yourself positive messages when negative messages flood your being. But telling yourself is not enough to alter reality. And sometimes, just telling yourself things which, let’s face it, may simply be untrue, is only putting yourself under immense pressure.
What is very clear is that when you have Brave Face Syndrome, there is only direction that wellbeing is going to travel in… and that’s down.
So if you want to find out if people are putting on a brave face, what they really feel, and if you really want to ensure help gets to the right people at the right time, you may be need to think about what you are actually measuring.
About Maria Paviour and Maria Paviour Co Ltd
Since the beginning of her career Maria Paviour has focussed on the importance of engaging employees and gaining employee commitment. In 2000, she won a European Award for developing technology for measuring and managing stress at work.
Using evidence based research from the last ten years Maria has taken her original, award winning technology and built upon it to create our flagship tool – CARI™ – giving you the ability to drill right down into the key aspects of wellbeing and emotional engagement at work. Contact us for more information on how CARI can help you