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Facilitative Leadership is Key to Engaged Employees

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Leading for engagement and resilience to avoid psychosocial risks

The need for engagement

The focus of this video is on engagement and how leaders can make their staff more psychosocially robust by encouraging them to be more engaged with their colleagues, the organisation and with the work they do.

As a leader it is important to ensure that psychosocial risk is reduced. This can be achieved by promoting wellbeing in the workplace, such as advocating exercise, healthy eating and avoiding isolation.

How to make staff more psychosocially robust

Watch the video to understand this topic better.

Part 6 – The Use of Outcome Based Job Definitions

And watch the previous video here:

Part 4 – The Protection of Resilience

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript


Hi, Andrew from SACS and welcome to video number five in our eight video sequence on psychosocial risk and its management.

In the earlier videos in this sequence, we talked about issues like what is psycho social risk and how to manage it, and also how to work with resilience to cause people to be more psychosocially robust and able to cope with challenges.

In this video, we’ll be talking about engagement, which is all about how leaders can cause their staff to be more psychosocially robust through a positive psychological state, which is all about being engaged with your colleagues, with the organisation, with the work that you do, and with you as a leader to ensure that psychosocial risk is reduced.

And the rest of the videos in this sequence, the following three, are all about managing specific psychosocial risks that have been identified as factors that tend to cause lower levels of wellbeing.

Firstly, let’s talk about some things that are generally extremely worthwhile to promote in your workplace.


The first is exercise.

If you can run programs encouraging people to exercise, exercise is almost the best thing that you can do psychologically and physically.

And in fact, if people are exercising, the stress chemicals that tend to be generated by the fight flight and freeze response, one of the best ways of getting rid of them is to exercise, because in fact, that’s what they were evolved to do.

Avoiding isolation

One of the things that can be really useful is to encourage people to connect not just socially, but providing opportunities for staff to work together to improve the workplace, to pursue opportunities or to overcome challenges, because we know that that causes them to be much more engaged in what they do, but it also creates this sense of esprit de corps, which is very good for protecting people from psychosocial damage.


The next one is about diet and so encouraging your employees to eat whole foods, to eat healthily.

Gut health seems to be an extremely big determinant of psychological wellbeing, often overlooked historically, but we are just starting to understand how powerful it is.

So avoiding high glycemic, sugary foods, and eating whole foods is something that is worth promoting in your workplace.

Avoiding drugs and alcohol.

Solution-based approaches

That tends to be well supported in many organisations anyway, but solution-based approaches rather than emotion-based approaches.

Just maintaining a positivity balance in the conversations that you have and in the experiences that people have at work tends to cause people to be more engaged and more likely to withstand psychosocial damage.

As I mentioned in one of the earlier videos, psychological wellbeing for many people is six positive experiences for every one negative experience.

And if it’s more than that, so much the better.

So in effect, creating an atmosphere of solution focused rather than a kind of an emotional complaint focused perspective, can be extremely good for people’s psychological wellbeing and is shown to be helpful in growing both engagement and resilience.

Links between engagement and resilience

What about the link between engagement and resilience?

Well, it could be said that resilience is kind of like engagement at an individual level.

An engagement is kind of like resilience in the group because when groups are highly engaged, which means that they have a very positive mental state about the organisation that they belong to, the team that they belong to, the work that they’re doing, that tends to make them individually resilient.

So you could call engagement kind of like a group resilience factor.

Defining work engagement

Now, there are a number of things that can be done to cause this to happen, but firstly, let’s talk about a definition.

This is the findings of a very important paper from 2011 and it’s certainly been supported by more recent research that engagement has these three characteristics, vigour, which is about being energetic, dedication, which is about being committed and absorption, which is about where you get immersed in your work and in your team to the point where time flies.

You are happily engrossed in what you do.

Now, if you have these three characteristics in a group what it means is that that that group will tend to be more productive, tend to have higher levels of wellbeing and also will tend to be more resilient.

So when bad things happen, the people within that group will individually and as a collective tend to cope better.

That’s what engagement is.

Now, the important thing to understand about engagement and wellbeing generally at a group level, is that it tends to be very locally based.

In other words, if you are in a team of five people in a large organisation, 80% of your wellbeing comes from the team that you belong to, as this diagram from Cotton and Heart shows, that people if they have a really functional and effective team, that’s going to go a long way to causing them to have a wonderful work life.

Now, if you’re in a wonderful organisation, but in a bad team, sadly the opposite is true.

80% of your wellbeing is then at risk.

Now, the reason I think that this is important to discuss is that sometimes leaders look at this in a an organisational sense, and they think, oh, well, you know, I’d like to do better, but the organisation doesn’t support this very well or whatever.

Well, in fact, it’s really down to the individual leaders in the local work groups.

They can create wellbeing or they can be antagonistic to wellbeing by how they behave.

Leader behaviours

So let’s talk about leader behaviours.

Leader behaviours can have a massive impact on people’s levels of engagement.

And this is the results (refer to video) of a study that we undertook where we measured the engagement of about 3000 people across Australia and New Zealand and we measured the behaviours that they experience at work.

So the question we were asking is could you predict this engagement from the leader behaviours?

And the answer is, yes, we could.

We were able to to do this statistically significantly.

And these 10 behaviours, you’ll see that there are four of them that are about creating a learning environment, being supportive to staff, causing teamwork to happen and empowering them.

And then there’s another couple of really positive ones about celebrating success and being optimistic and positive.

And the four in the middle are all about accountability.

Accountability for appropriate behaviours and accountability for appropriate performance.

The essence of all of this is that it seems that good leadership is kind of a range of positive behaviours, being supportive, helping people learn, empowering them, those kinds of things wrapped around an accountability framework.

An accountability framework is twofold.

One, are people doing their jobs and two, are they behaving in an appropriate fashion?

Now, if you think of all of this, the positivity which is wrapped around the accountability, creates a positive mental state, which is likely to make people more robust to psychosocial risk and therefore to be less likely to be damaged in the sense of sinking into anxiety or depression or in any of the other kinds of psychosocial problems that tend to arise when people are under stress.

But the accountability part is crucial too.

When there is good accountability from leaders, what that means is that employees can be safe, that they won’t have to pick up the burden of work from other people who are underperforming or simply not choosing to do their work.

And it also protects them from negative behaviours because negative behaviours at their extremes, they can be things like bullying or even things like neglect, incivility, where you are being not really out and out awful to people, but you’re just not treating them with great respect.

Now we know that those are also issues which will cause psychosocial risk and psychosocial damage.

Best predictors of engagement

If you look at the bottom right hand corner of this diagram (refer to video) and you’ll see that there are four leader behaviours that seem to be very important for creating a highly engaged workplace and the first of them is empowerment.

One of the things that we know from the various research that’s been undertaken into psychosocial risk is that low levels of control over your work environment cause people to be more likely to be psychosocially damaged.

That’s one of the reasons why empowerment is very important.

The second is about optimism and positivity.

In other words, leaders need to be optimistic and positive to create a highly engaged work group, which will be more likely to cause the individual employees to be resilient.

So optimism and positivity is about taking the view that we can cope, and again, that’s a protector against psychosocial risk.

That confidence that tends to come from that sort of an approach causes people to be more individually resilient.

Then about being supportive, that’s the third of these characteristics.

Well, obviously if you are supportive, it’s prophylactics, it’s protecting against psychosocial risk.

You will be providing your employees with support and that will cause them to be more likely to be able to cope.

And the final one is about creates a learning environment.

And as I mentioned in one of the earlier videos, psychosocial risk is best managed in a partnership kind of an approach where we learn how to individually contribute to our own wellbeing.

People don’t get more resilient by having their own we wellbeing taken off them and controlled or managed by an employer.

It should be a partnership.

We will create a safe workplace and we want you to do what you can to make sure that you are psychologically well as well.

That’s the recipe for resilience.


That leads to three leadership options that are effective to create a highly engaged workforce, but also to sponsor resilience.

Good leaders need to have three approaches.

They need to be able to be top down when necessary.

And the top down part could be, listen, this is a behaviour which is unacceptable in this workplace.

So in future you will not do that behaviour.

That’s a very top down message, but it’s one that can be very helpful for the wellbeing of the people interacting with that staff member.

It will create clarity.

And also I think one of the things that we have to understand is that where people are appropriately top down, this is a line which you cannot cross.

That also tends to create a sense of pride in employees in the workplace that they’re working, because they know that the workplace stands for something.


The second is consultation, where you will go to employees and ask their opinions, but then you’ll make up your own mind and give the solution to employees.

And that’s appropriate, especially where you’re trying to figure out whether an issue needs to be dealt with more widely.

If you speak to 10 relevant people and they all agree, well, okay, fine.

You can probably then go back to model one leadership and say, well, this is what we’re going to do.


But there are times where it’s good to lead like a facilitator.

And when you lead like a facilitator, this is where the leader doesn’t bring the solution.

What they do is they bring a process and there are 10 employees within this room.

This is a room which could be a virtual room, an electronic room, or it could be a physical room.

But you’ll see that the leader has split the groups into three subgroups.

And one of the things that we are doing in that is we are providing people an opportunity to have small group conversations.

Now, those small group conversations can be extremely powerful to create new ideas, to create clarity about where we are heading.

In effect, facilitative leadership is a process where you cause employees to interact with each other in small groups and then to vote on solutions.

Now this tends to result in the highest possible levels of engagement.

It’s empowering, it’s supportive, it’s clearly creating people an opportunity to learn.

And it’s also optimistic and positive because the leader is confident is demonstrating that they’re confident that the group will be able to come up with a solution.

So not surprisingly, you get higher levels of engagement from groups that are managed in that way.

But the point is, a good leader is able to transition across these three methods of leadership to cause high levels of engagement when appropriate.

But also when there is a point which absolutely must be managed in a top-down fashion, then the leader has the capability of doing that.

And so good leaders have that capacity to transition across those three approaches.

Relationship between stress and control

Now, as I said earlier, there is a psychological risk in low levels of control.

And so this diagram (refer to video), this is from a paper by Vanda Der Doef and Maes in 1999 and what it shows is it shows the relationship between stress and control.

And so when people have low control and low stress, that tends to be a sleepy kind of environment.

But then there’s a situation where you can be high in stress and low in control, and that’s the biggest risk, from a psychological point of view.

That’s where people tend to sustain psychological harm.

Now, if people are low in stress and high in control of course they’re very comfortable.

There are times when people are high in stress and high in control and that’s a situation where people tend to find that to be as peak experience, which is to say it’s about as satisfying as work gets.

When you have this situation, you’re pursuing a really worthwhile goal.

You’ve got lots of authority and empowerment to do what you want, and that’s great, and it will often be the best experience that people have in their workplace, but it’s usually time limited.

People in general can’t do that forever.

So that’s when it’s good leadership tactic to draw back the stress from time to time, but to remain with high levels of empowerment.

And of course, levels of support, as we’ve already mentioned, can also make a big difference to people’s levels of wellbeing.

Facilitating leadership for engagement is something that can be very powerful to minimise psychosocial risk and to maximise wellbeing for employees.

In the very next video, we’re going to be talking about another psychosocial risk, which has been identified in research and also by the various work cover authorities across the world, and that’s role clarity.

Click on the link near this video to join us for the next video.

We will explain the concept of role clarity and how to achieve it.

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about Management of Psychosocial Risks:

Part 6 – The Use of Outcome Based Job Definitions

And watch the previous video here:

Part 4 – The Protection of Resilience

And if you’d like some help with promoting psychosocial wellbeing, contact us about our Wellbeing Survey.

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