What types of employees are able to maintain the highest levels of wellbeing? And what can companies do to ensure that as many of their staff as possible are happy at work? We asked Principal Research Fellow, Noeleen Doherty, for an academic’s perspective…
'Wellbeing' has certainly become the buzzword of the moment. In particular, wellbeing at work is very topical since work is a substantial facet of the lives of many people. After all, the workplace is a setting where wellbeing can be impacted both positively and negatively.
In particular, there has been considerable attention paid to the 'resource depletion' potential of the workplace. Factors such as stress, working long hours (or working extra unpaid hours), feeling under pressure to be present, being unable to have sufficient time away from the job and not being able to engage in meaningful work can result in poor health and wellbeing for many employees. The case is closed with the financial cost of poor health and lost productivity.
The business case approach for wellbeing has long been a focus of attention, particularly in the press, where costs of ill-health have monopolised the headlines. While the business case for employee wellbeing is one factor in the equation, instead of asking "at what cost", should we not be asking "what can we do to encourage and support employee wellbeing?"
If, as this question prompts, we take a resource development perspective, acknowledging that wellbeing for the individual is about both feeling good and functioning effectively, the focus shifts to building resilience. The key question then becomes: "How can organisations and their employees adopt resource accumulation strategies?"
Resilient people are more likely to be able to develop adaptive coping mechanisms and have better wellbeing.
This approach would help to fulfil both the duty of care and individual responsibility associated with workplace well-being. Resource accumulation is fostered by the adoption of good management practices as advocated by the Health and Safety Executive. ‘Plain good management’ can support the growth and development of employees by creating a positive work environment.
A positive work environment comes through jobs that share the following qualities; they are well-designed and appropriately matched to individual skills, where the organisational culture provides for a degree of autonomy, work-life balance is supported and employees feel valued and can engage in meaningful relationships. It is this type of environment that supports and facilitates an individual’s ability to become resilient.
This is important, as resilient people are more likely to be able to develop adaptive coping mechanisms and have better wellbeing.
By encouraging such resource accumulation, individual wellbeing is supported and the conditions that drive productivity and organisational effectiveness are reinforced. While the evidence base supporting this approach is disperse and fragmented, we know the basic principles and pockets of good practice abound. But it is not just about headline grabbing initiatives like unlimited holiday or egg & sperm freezing, in isolation. These need to be underpinned by the principles and practices of plain good management.
This is not easy. In fact good management practice borders on being an art. There are many elements. Managers can be helped to develop the skills of good management and facilitated to practice them through supportive organisational cultures. There is rarely a status quo or a situation where organisations should not constantly aspire to the good management practices that underpin well-being and help their employees to aspire to this goal as well.