Well-being at Work: Five Key Elements

Many of you would say that the best things your boss could do to improve your well-being would be to pay you more and let you go home earlier! But, apparently, there are more important factors at play. Social Researchers, Tom Rath and Jim Harter, authors of Well-being: The Five Essential Elements, have identified five key areas that determine a person's well-being at work.

The first is Career Well-being, enjoying what you do each day. Now while it is close to impossible to enjoy 100% of your work (I am not a big fan of paperwork), I do believe that people who are happy and engaged enjoy at least 85% of what they do. Great managers tend to align, as much as possible, an employee's strengths and interests with their work.

Sadly, according to research by the Gallup Organisation, only a third of employees say that they get to do what they do best each day. And we wonder why people are unmotivated or taking sick days! Work that is challenging also contributes to people enjoying what they do. An interesting outcome of surveys I have undertaken at workplaces is that at least 40% of staff say they would like more challenge.

The second element is Social Well-being, having strong, close relationships. Research finds that staff are more engaged and less likely to have sick leave when they have very good relationships with their manager and co-workers. The relationship between a manager and his or her staff is especially important. It is often said that employees join an organisation, but leave a manager. Rath and Harter found that if a manager ignores an employee, there is a 40% chance that the employee will be actively disengaged or filled with hostility about their job. But if that manager gives them attention, even negative attention, the chances of that employee being disengaged reduces to 22%.

Great managers also find time to talk with their staff, asking how they are going, and being genuinely interested in the replies. Great managers also encourage social interactions at work. They know that great relationships help staff to feel happier and more energised. People are also more likely to help each other out when needed.

The third element is Financial Well-being, where staff are managing their finances well so as to reduce stress and increase their security. Workplaces can obviously increase financial well-being by paying staff well for what the do and providing other benefits - opportunity to progress their career, learn new skills, work from home, etc.

One company I know helps to encourage financial well-being by providing free, independent financial advice to all of their staff. Others provide automatic deductions to savings accounts. Many welfare agencies are able to pay part of their staff's wages as a tax-free component, lifting the real value of their wage considerably.

Number four is Physical Well-being, where staff have enough energy to do what they need to do each day. Great workplaces support staff with their health by having reasonable expectations so the stress of an unreasonable workload does not impact on their health. Some even provide salary benefits for green transport to work, paying staff extra for travel to work through walking, running or cycling.

Many workplaces provide amenities such as showers, change rooms and bike racks at work to make it easier for employees to exercise on the way to work or during their lunch break. Some even provide work-sponsored personal trainers or stop-smoking programs. The expense of such programs is recouped by reduced sick leave and higher productivity.

The fifth element is Community Well-being, where people are engaged in the area in which they live. Great workplaces enable part-time hours or flexible working conditions for staff who wish to pursue interests outside of work. Great managers also take an interest in passions or causes that are close to an employee's heart - perhaps their passion for a sport, their children, or their support of a particular cause in their community.

One workplace I know undertook a fundraising drive to support a charity chosen by the entire staff. They later said it was one of the best things they did to improve relationships and morale at their workplace.

What makes people happy and productive at work can be slightly different for individuals. But you will only know if you ask them. Start making time to touch base with your manager and colleagues, asking how they are going. Honest, two-way discussions on a regular basis is part of what great workplaces do to enhance staff well-being and their engagement and productivity at work. 


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