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What is Well-Being?

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Staff congratulating each other after successful Wellbeing Surveys, highlighting the four components: Engagement, Stress, Safety, and Diversity Climate

What is well-being and how does it matter to organisations?

 Organisations all over the world are committed to creating high levels of well-being amongst their employees. In general this is for a combination of philanthropic and commercial reasons. It can be demonstrated that looking after the well-being of employees is a good thing for productivity of organisations (e.g. Simons and Buitendach 2013) as well as for the life experience of employees themselves.

Historically organisations focused on physical well-being of employees as demonstrated by the commitment to Occupational Health & Safety. This is of course highly admirable and much to be commended, but it is not enough. We now see a much broader commitment to well-being including the psychological and sometimes even the spiritual well-being of employees.

SACS regularly presents a range of events related to the topic of well-being.

1. Physical Well-being

Ensuring that your employees are physically safe and protected from harm is a key part of wellbeing management.

We are now seeing much more of a proactive focus on physical well-being, including organisations focusing on issues such as exercise, healthy eating, and increased fitness and flexibility. Given the obesity epidemic which is facing the western world this is a valuable contribution to make to people’s lives but it also improves productivity at work through reductions of absenteeism and illness.

2. Engagement

This is a positive psychology concept which relates to the level of employees’:

  • Vigour
  • Dedication
  • Absorption

When employees possess high levels of these three characteristics it means that they bring high levels of energy to their work, they are dedicated and committed to the job that they undertake, they tend to get absorbed or “happily engrossed” in their work.

Engagement measured in this way has been shown to be extremely useful because it correlates highly with the quality and quantity of work that employees do. When people have high levels of engagement they tend to love their job and have high levels of positive emotion towards their employer. They also take less sick days and tend to stay in their jobs.

Employers can recruit for engagement because it is heavily dependent on personality.

Many SACS clients measure the level of potential for engagement in prospective employees before they hire them. See Psychometric Testing to find out how.

Once you have recruited staff the key drivers of their levels of engagement will be the leaders they report to, the work that they do on a day-to-day basis, the group of employees that they work with day by day and the organisation they work for.

Managing these four characteristics is the way to optimise the levels of engagement of staff within a workforce.

workplace wellbeing yoga

3. Resilience

When employees are highly resilient they cope well with negative experiences but also bring a number of positive characteristics with them to work (e.g. Campbell-Sills et al, 2006).

Resilient employees tend to be better at problem-solving, are more accepting of change, tend to be less prey to absenteeism and are generally psychologically healthier. Resilient employees are by definition higher on well-being because of their intrinsic coping capacity.

Once more resilience is highly dependent on personality and can therefore be recruited for. It also correlates highly with engagement at work so highly effective leadership maximises it.

We also see employers increasingly providing specific training on resilience to employees with a focus on interventions from the world of positive psychology. This includes focus exercises such as mindfulness, which proves to be a very effective technique for stress management and resilience optimisation.

4. Stress

A key component of well-being for employees is the level of stress which they are under. Many people think that more stress is bad but the truth is not quite so simple. Too much stress of the wrong sort is bad for people but so is too little stress. If a person does not have enough stress in their life this can lead to a situation where they lack energy and drive and report tiredness, lassitude and boredom. In addition, there are two types of stress which affect people at work (e.g. Podsakoff et al, 2007):

Challenge demands

Challenge demands are in effect “good stress”. Challenge demands include doing demanding work, having a high workload, needing to solve problems, and needing to interact with a wide range of stakeholders. When people have high levels of challenge demands they tend to have high levels of engagement in their work and therefore high levels of well-being.

Hindrance demands

This is bad stress. Hindrance demands include ambiguity about what staff are supposed to achieve at work, conflict and squabbles among colleagues, and absence of necessary resources to get the job done. The higher the hindrance demands the lower the engagement and therefore lower well-being.

The right mix of stress is crucial to a person’s well-being and will vary from individual to individual. In general it can be said that if you are in a job which has high levels of challenges and low levels of hindrances you could be said to have higher levels of well-being, but highly resilient individuals can comfortably cope with more stress than people who are low in resilience.


5. Inclusiveness

One of the earliest phrases that children learn is “it’s not fair”. Human beings have a strong need for justice as do other social primates (De Waal, 1991). For instance, effective chimpanzee leaders tend to be careful to ensure that there is no injustice in distribution of food to their followers. If there is injustice this will lead to a greater probability of a change of leadership.

Organisations therefore need to demonstrate justice in the way that they do their business and how they treat people. In fact, creating an understanding that an organisation is a high integrity organisation with a strong commitment to justice will tend to increase the levels of well-being of employees as well as their emotional commitment to the organisation. On the other hand a perception of injustice or unequal treatment will cause significant declines in well-being.

Inclusive treatment of people from diverse backgrounds is crucial to an organisation being able to adopt a position of moral authority and integrity and will increase the levels of well-being of employees. There is certainly a business case for inclusiveness as shown by a wide range of research (e.g. Hofhuis et al 2005). Highly inclusive organisations tend also to have high levels of engagement and commitment from employees which aids productivity and commercial results.

Four common areas of commitment to diversity are gender, ethnicity, disability and ageing

These are commonly researched topics but this is clearly not an exhaustive list. Rather than seeking to develop individual strategies for each of these forms of diversity the most effective approach seems to be to develop a “diversity climate”. A diversity climate is an organisation wide approach where individual differences are not simply tolerated, but are seen as being unique strengths for an organisation. In such an organisation management makes it clear that diversity is welcome and models the behaviour of treating diversity as a strength.

So, if you are looking for a definition of well-being here it is.

An employee who has high levels of well-being is one who is highly engaged in her work, has appropriate levels of stress – not too high and not too low, is individually resilient and works within an organisation which demonstrates its commitment to justice through its commitment to inclusion.

If you can increase levels of well-being in your employees there is a high probability that you will do well by doing good.

SACS is active in all of these areas. We measure levels of engagement, stress and diversity climate of workforces and we measure the leadership characteristics which contribute to this healthy environment. We also measure individual levels of resilience and can tell you how resilient a group is in total. We also advise organisations and coach leaders on how to create an environment which optimises levels of well-being.

Learn more about upcoming SACS events that focus on the various elements of well-being.

Does Your Team Need More Wellbeing Support?

Discover our Staff Wellbeing Surveys

Campbell-Sills, L., Cohan, S. L., & Stein, M. B. (2006). Relationship of resilience to personality, coping, and psychiatric symptoms in young adults. Behaviour research and therapy, 44(4), 585-599.

De Waal, Frans BM. “The chimpanzee’s sense of social regularity and its relation to the human sense of justice.” American Behavioral Scientist 34.3 (1991): 335-349.

Hofhuis, J., van der Zee, K. I., Otten, S. (2015). Measuring employee perception on the effects of cultural diversity at work: development of the benefits and threats of diversity scale. Quality and Quantity, 49(1), 177-201.

Podsakoff, N. P., LePine, J. A., & LePine, M. A. (2007). Differential challenge stressor-hindrance stressor relationships with job attitudes, turnover intentions, turnover, and withdrawal behavior: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 438–454.

Simons, J. C., & Buitendach, J. H. (2013). Psychological capital, work engagement and organisational commitment amongst call centre employees in South Africa. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 39(2), 1-12.

Andrew Marty

Managing Director at SACS Consulting

Andrew is a qualified psychologist who has over 25 years of human resource management consulting experience, including extensive senior executive search and selection experience.

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