The World of Work Project

Wellbeing: What it is and how to Improve it

Wellbeing is defined as the state of feeling healthy, happy and free of negative physical or emotional factors. Wellbeing can be improved with effort, and doing so improves individual happiness and organizational performance.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Wellbeing

Wellbeing can be defined as a state of feeling healthy and happy. As a concept, it brings together both physical and mental wellness and has connotations of peacefulness, contentedness, harmony, connectedness and a lack of negativity or disruption.

Wellbeing is a popular phrase at the moment, and one that’s often associated with stress, resilience, work-life balance and mental health.  Many people think that wellbeing is increasingly important in a world that continues to become more connected, faster paced and perhaps more stressful. Luckily, there are lots of things that individuals and leaders can do to improve their own, or their teams’, wellbeing.

The two domains of wellbeing

Wellbeing combines both physical health and mental health. These two domains are distinct, and it’s possible for individuals to have excellent mental wellbeing with poor physical wellbeing, and vice versa.

While this is possible, the two domains of wellbeing are often highly linked. Lack of physical wellbeing may lead to a reduction in mental wellbeing, and likewise a lack of mental wellbeing may lead to a reduction of physical wellbeing. In some instances somaticizing occurs. This is when mental conditions like stress and anxiety actually lead to physical ailments ranging from aches and chronic pain through to fainting, memory loss or even paralysis.

Factors that contribute to wellbeing

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) in the UK, has done some research and determined that there are 10 underlying factors that affect an individual’s level of wellbeing. These factors are not all in the control of the individual, and it’s clear that wider societal trends and circumstances affect how individuals feel. In fact, each of the wellbeing factors identified by the ONS have a knock on impact on each other factors.

The 10 factors of wellbeing as proposed by the ONS are (in no particular order): the natural environment, personal wellbeing, our relationships, where we live, education and skills, what we do, governance, the economy, our personal finance and our health. If we think about an individual, it might be possible to assess their overall level of wellbeing through these factors. A hypothetical example is below.

While the 10 factors of wellbeing that the ONS have identified are useful from a rather theoretical perspective, there are other tools that can be used to assess wellbeing such as the Warwick Edinburgh mental wellbeing scale (which we’ve yet to write about).

Personal wellbeing is a particularly important dimension which we define as how satisfied we are with our lives. It’s helpful because it pulls together our sense that what we do in life is worthwhile, our day to day emotional experiences (happiness and anxiety) and our wider mental wellbeing.

How employee wellbeing affects organizations

An employee with high engagement and wellbeing?

Organizations are increasingly aware that wellbeing and engagement significantly contribute to performance. It’s only when organizations have high levels of both employee wellbeing and engagement that they can flourish.

High levels of wellbeing translate into higher levels of effectiveness in performance. High levels of wellbeing and engagement are also often contagious, helping increase the effectiveness of others. In addition, organizations with high levels of wellbeing are attractive organizations for talent to join (particularly modern talent). Some organizations are even experimenting with four day weeks as there is some belief this will increase productivity by increasing wellbeing, focus and motivation.

Improving your own wellbeing

Individual wellbeing can be improved with time, focus and perhaps some effort. To grow your wellbeing though, you need to invest in yourself, which is something that many people do not feel they have time, space or perhaps permission to do. Overall, there are many different things that individuals can do to improve their wellbeing.

Some of the factors that help increase an individual’s well being can be thought of as self care. These factors may require some self control, or some element of sacrificing current pay-offs for future payoffs. These factors include diet, exercise, sleep, and looking after yourself and your environment (e.g. groom yourself and clean your room).

People recharge in different ways.

Another set of wellbeing factors can be thought of as using your time well to recharge your mind and body. Factors that contribute to this include making time to relax or making time for activities that you find engaging and recharging. Some people are passionate about their hobbies, some spend time in nature and some people meditate to help themselves recover. There is no right answer, but everyone has some activity that they can do to help them feel well.

The last set of factors that affect wellbeing can be thought of as more social factors. Individuals often find that their wellbeing improves when they have the support of others. Interestingly, an individual’s wellbeing also often increases if they start to contribute to others. The act of helping other people is something that people find rewarding and which contributes to a sense of wellbeing.

Improving the wellbeing of your team

As a leader or manager you have a keen interest in the wellbeing of the people in your team. Not only do you have some duty of care for the individuals in your team, but the greater their wellbeing, the more effective they will be at their roles.

There are many things that leaders and managers can do to help their teams have higher levels of wellbeing. Of course, some of these things may appear to be a trade off between a benefit for the individual and a benefit for the organization or leader. This clearly needs to be balanced, but it’s important to remember that individuals with high levels of wellbeing will perform better, be more resilient and often be more motivated.

The World of Work Project View

Wellbeing is a helpful concept for individuals and leaders to be aware of. In our view, the essence of wellbeing is that if you invest in an individual (yourself or another), that individual will generally experience improved mental and physical health. Unfortunately, like all investments, making the decision to invest in yourself or someone else means making the decision not to do something else. In many cases people just feel that there are better other ways to use their time and resources than to invest in their or another’s wellbeing. This is particularly true in the workplace where definite tensions exist in relation to employee wellbeing.

In our view, wellbeing is very important. In many ways, we think it more important than many other factors such as wealth or power. We might even ask, what’s the point of gaining wealth or power if the process required to gain it destroys your health and happiness. Of course, not everyone feels this way. Also, not everyone has the luxury of being able to invest in their own wellbeing, or the wellbeing of others. Many people simply need to get through the day and put food on the table, whatever the cost to themselves.

In summary, we think that individuals are better off when they make time to invest in themselves, and that organizations and leaders are better off when they invest in the wellbeing of their people. Not only does doing so improve productivity, it also creates better and more human futures for everyone involved.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

Most of the original work on which this post comes from a mixture of personal experience and varied sources. We recommend looking at the UK’s Office of National Statistics work as a starting point for some insights into wellbeing.

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