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Wellbeing in the workplace: what does it mean?

By Lynn Graves

Lynn Graves

Research indicates that wellbeing in the workplace is not just beneficial for employees: it makes commercial sense for businesses too1. But the concept of wellbeing can mean different things to different people. So, how best to define it and how exactly does it work?

Back in 2010 globally recognised researchers Gallup undertook a survey2 of people in more than 150 countries to identify what they understood by wellbeing. The results identified five elements of wellbeing: career, social, financial, physical and community. Those who believed that they were living a successful, happy and fully functional life attributed this in part to achieving what they felt was a comfortable level across all five elements.

It is perhaps no surprise to find that financial wellbeing is one of the main components of a happy existence. People need to feel at ease financially to thrive. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to be high earners nor that money buys you happiness. What’s important here is that they feel that they are managing their money effectively – reducing their financial worries and concerns whilst improving their financial security3.

One of the ways to address this is to enhance their financial planning capabilities, including planning for later life. This can include, for example, reviewing pension provision and ensuring they will have enough to retire on. Improving knowledge about how to save enough money to support their future lifestyle can take an individual’s stress levels down a few gears4.

Similarly, how people earn their income has a considerable impact on their overall happiness or wellbeing. The importance of liking what you do for a living should not be underestimated. The Gallup research claims that those with higher levels of career wellbeing are more than twice as likely to feel positive about, and be successful in life in general.

But inevitably work and life bring challenges, many of which may require the support of close relationships. It is at such times that social wellbeing plays a critical role. The research indicates that people need six hours of social time a day to reduce stress and anxiety. That time does not need to be outside the work environment, it can be time spent at work (if not necessarily on work), for instance talking on the phone or emailing, as well as time spent with family and friends.

Physical wellbeing is also a must. Even if we don’t necessarily manage it, we all know that we need to take enough exercise and get sufficient sleep to be able to function at our best. But wellbeing is not just about taking care of ourselves. It’s been found that people get a “helper’s high” from giving their time to help others in their community, with the additional bonus of making them feel stronger, more energetic and more motivated.

According to the survey an individual performs to the best of their ability when they are happy with where they believe themselves to be across all five of the interconnected elements of wellbeing. A crack in one can spread, causing others to begin to crumble. An employee with financial concerns, for instance, may become stressed which could negatively impact their effectiveness at work, leading to periods of absence which could potentially have a knock-on effect on their work colleagues and ultimately their employer.

The opposite is equally true; happy, thriving employees, who are comfortable in ‘wellbeing’ terms, are much more likely to be engaged with their work, so will be more productive, cost-effective and more inclined to help improve the communities within which they live. According to the Gallup research they actually add value to the brands they work for.

The most successful companies have recognised for years that their businesses are their people. A contented workforce will be a productive workforce, happy to go the extra mile when workloads demand. Ensuring that you are doing whatever you possibly can to support employee wellbeing may require some additional investment, but there is every indication that it will be time and money very well spent.

Sources:

  1. Building the case for wellness, PWC, 4 February 2008
  2. Gallup Business Journal, Tom Rath and Jim Harter:
    • The Five Essential Elements of Wellbeing, 4 May 2010
    • Your Career Wellbeing and Identity, 22 July 2010
    • Your Friends and Your Social Wellbeing, 19 August 2010
    • Exercise, Sleep and Physical Wellbeing, 21 October 2010
    • Giving and Your Community Wellbeing, 30 November 2010
  3. Forbes, Your Wellbeing is a Serious Matter, Tom Rath and Jim Harter, 6 July 2010
  4. Secondsight White Paper: Is There a Need for Financial Education in the Workplace, October 2014

For employer use only.