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What Leaders Can Do Right Now to Optimize Worker Potential

Updated: May 11, 2021


  • Workers who are fully optimized outperform all others

  • Just 7% of U.S. workers are fully optimized

  • Optimize workers by connecting engagement, wellbeing and strengths

Leaders who are looking to take their organization to the next level of performance would be well-rewarded with an approach that balances employee engagement, wellbeing and strengths-based development. This is based on new research by Gallup that examines how these three disciplines, working in concert with one another, result in human and business outcomes that exceed what can be found through engagement and wellbeing alone.

Connecting Strengths With Engagement and Wellbeing

Past research has demonstrated the critical importance of holistic wellbeing (i.e., having high wellbeing across all five essential elements) compared with physical wellness alone in elevating key business outcomes. Highly engaged work teams, in turn, have been shown in a worldwide meta-analysis to have quadruple the odds of success in an overall composite metric of performance compared with poorly engaged teams. Furthermore, engagement and wellbeing are highly reciprocal, each influencing the future state of the other. And when studied in combination, high wellbeing enhances engagement, hoisting employee performance to levels not found through engagement alone.

But what about strengths? Strengths usage is also highly influential to both wellbeing and engagement. For example, workers who strongly agree that they use their strengths to do what they do best are substantially more likely to have high levels of wellbeing (i.e., to be "thriving") across all five elements: career, social, financial, community and physical. Employees whose strengths are the focal point of their managers -- about 37% of all workers -- are also vastly more likely to be engaged with their jobs (61%) than to be actively disengaged (1%), while those who are ignored are 40 times more likely to be actively disengaged.

Strengths usage is more than just a way to influence wellbeing or engagement, however. Strengths-based development has been shown to powerfully impact business performance in its own right -- with business units achieving increases of up to 7% in customer engagement, 15% in employee engagement and 29% in profit, coupled with decreases of up to 59% in safety incidents, 16 percentage points in turnover in low-turnover organizations and 72 points in turnover in high-turnover organizations. So, the question arises: How might the power of strengths combine with engagement and wellbeing in influencing workplace performance?

In other words, can the three working in tandem elevate performance still further?

What Leaders Can Do to Build Optimized Workers

First, it starts with simply recognizing the synergy among strengths, engagement and wellbeing and that their interactions represent clear opportunities to be leveraged. Getting leadership fully versed and committed to these principles is a required vanguard to successfully implementing the concepts in a practical manner.

Next, it involves taking a step back and realizing that it's hard to manage to someone's strengths if you don't know what they are. A critical, basic step for many organizations is to simply determine the unique strengths of everyone who works there.

The CliftonStrengths assessment and supporting online and in-person courses are designed to help people "name, claim and aim" their strengths. Once you have laid the foundation of strengths throughout the organization, you can begin to build your culture around them.

The final step, of course, is applying the principles in practice. One Gallup client, for example, is currently exploring the strengths-engagement-wellbeing relationship in one of its groups responsible for community outreach -- a smart strategy for improving community, social and career wellbeing alike. Teams are encouraged to sign up to support different community programs sponsored by their organization, with their leaders having ongoing conversations about how to introduce strengths and engagement initiatives into those teams in the context of the outreach. As these volunteers come together, their strengths can be explored to better understand who they are both individually and as a team and how this can be leveraged to help them successfully navigate the community projects they are working on. The 12 critical psychological needs of employee engagement can, in turn, be used to both prepare for and debrief the experience, such as:

  • Are we clear on what is expected of us regarding this community project?

  • Do we have what we need to succeed? Based on who we are as a group, is each person's set of strengths being kept in mind?

  • Is my role on the project best aligned with my own personal strengths?

  • Are we celebrating our successes on the project based on how each individual uniquely prefers to be recognized?

  • Am I given the opportunity to propose ideas about how each person on the team can best contribute to the project, based on their individual aptitudes?

By weaving both strengths and engagement initiatives into organizational processes already aimed at driving wellbeing, leaders can fully benefit from existing opportunities. And by building robust coaching models aimed at capitalizing on the interactions among strengths, engagement and wellbeing, organizations can take their performance to the next level and fully leverage these indispensable components of optimized human potential.

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