Wellbeing at work: 5 things every employer should know

Well-being at work report
Photo credit:  Ronny-André Bendiksen
MARCH 26, 2014 // BY: KAREN JEFFREY

Wellbeing is in the news again, thanks to new Cabinet Office research into which jobs make us happiest. The findings show that legal professionals (earning on average £75k) report lower average life satisfaction than fitness instructors – despite earning on average £60k more than them per year. (Check out their full list of jobs and salaries ranked by life satisfaction rating here.)

It follows from this – and you probably suspected it all along – that income isn’t the only factor influencing how satisfied people in different professions feel with their lives. So what else is at play? Today, NEF’s Centre for Wellbeing and NEF Consulting well being at work summarising what the evidence shows about wellbeing in the workplace. Here are our top five findings:

  • Work-life balance: A poor work-life balance is one of the greatest predictors of stress at work. Wellbeing appears to increase with hours worked up to an upper-threshold of 35–55 hours per week. For individuals clocking more than 35-55 hours of work per week, there’s a good chance that those extra hours are having a detrimental impact on their wellbeing.
  • Use of strengths and feeling a sense of progress: When people perceive their jobs as matching their skills and desires, they tend to experience higher levels of wellbeing and less stress. Skill underutilisation is associated with low job satisfaction, and opportunities to develop new skills are strongly associated with job satisfaction. So, it seems it’s not just in your employer’s interests for you to learn a new skill that you could use at work.
  • Sense of control: Having a degree of control at work is positively associated with job satisfaction. Lack of personal control at work can be detrimental to performance, which in turn, makes us feel less satisfied with our jobs. Where managers and employees work together to build a trusting relationship that allows staff members to exercise control over their own roles the wellbeing benefits can be significant.
  • Work relationships: It almost goes without saying that good working relationships boost wellbeing, while poor relationships drain it. But the impact of working relationships is a lot stronger than you might think. Some compelling findings show that having a manager who you trust has a greater impact in terms of both job and overall life satisfaction than significant increases in income.
  • Fair pay: And finally, although wellbeing tends to increase with income up to a point, as income increases beyond a certain level, the wellbeing benefits diminish. This means that, for employers seeking to maximise the wellbeing of their workforce as a whole, increasing the incomes of the lowest-paid members of staff will produce the most cost-effective wellbeing gains.

It’s clear from this evidence, and the other findings documented in our report, that employers need to take a rounded approach to fostering wellbeing at work: one where staff are recognised as individuals whose working lives are inextricably linked to their personal lives and employees and employers work together to increase wellbeing.

The good news is that we seem likely to see more action from government on this in the future. A report from the former Head of the Civil service, Gus O’Donnell, was released last week, highlighting wellbeing at work as one of 12 policy priority areas. It argues that wellbeing analysis should be used to influence government policy, citing the benefits in terms of population-wide wellbeing, as well as the numerous benefits to employers – from lower staff turnover to less sickness leave.

How is your wellbeing at work? To find out why not try the Happiness at Work survey from Happiness Works?