Lately, I have been reflecting on well-being in the workplace for my studies. Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as " general health and happiness, or  emotional/physical/psychological well-being", its implications are sprawling and not limited to workplace factors. The makeup of well-being is multi-layered.
There appear to be eight influences that impact the betterment or deterioration of well-being. These are physical/mental health, family, friends/relationships, home life, education, recruitment process, paid employment, and money. As people professionals, we care implicitly about how energised and healthy employees are. I will now explore and comment on each influence in turn.
These are the anchors for acting on and fulfilling free will in the world. Here, well-being is affected by motor functions and thought cycles. A discomfort or complication of either invariably affects the other. Some may be facts of life. Although occupational health assessments exist, they measure capability versus a role's requirements. This can lead to unemployment, reduced duties, or workplace withdrawal if incompatible. They are not designed to alleviate discomfort, only to identify its impact on employment. To be on an NHS waiting list typically prolongs and metastases suffering. Some employers offer private healthcare as a benefit. Even a non-exhaustive one is a moral good. The physical and mental health of a person is often minimised or hidden. It is a lonesome state of being as the experience is singularly known and only externally described. How well articulated these divulgences are benchmarks for understanding.
The welcome greeting to life comes from the family. Family members are the first foray and interaction with the world. Speech is learned, trust is earned, and encouragement is given. Not all family units are the same, and it increasingly appears no one optimal unit exists. The substance of family is kindnesses lived, choices made, and boundaries set to shape individuality. Through the family, we see glimpses of a possible future and journeys in motion. Of course, replication is not possible as times change, but learning and synthesis are possible. The individual learns to interact and think of themselves relative to the world. Composed of people, the family unit is fallible. This means consequences happen, primarily unintended, but are sometimes malicious. It is a bond that simultaneously builds resilience and shatters confidence. For good or ill, the family cannot be discontinued into adulthood and continues to have a powerful influence. This is an area we, as people professionals, should keep a respectful distance from, save for empathising and signposting. Reference other resources and charities only when requested.
The most complicated relationship people have is with themselves first and others second. Relations, familiar or romantic, are random and wildly vary in depth. No one could or should meet everyone. Even at depth, the knowledge of another is incomplete and can never be fully understood. People are drawn to those who make sense of the world and its place within it. Often viewed as an adoptive family of people chosen to be close to. Relations have many hallmark family influences, with increased vulnerability and dissatisfaction. Peer pressure is a known factor that impairs individual judgement. Many justifications are made as a compromise to mitigate the threat of losing a community. It is an inevitable truth that proximity to, and time spent with, others in a shared environment springs both familiarity and animosity. As people professionals, we must maintain a respectful distance from our employees, save for being empathetic and understanding.
Home life is composed of living arrangements and means of survival. A safe place to sleep, eat, relax, and soothe oneself is vital to well-being. Not all homes provide this. They vary according to locale, construction quality, amenities, transport access, resources, crime rates, cost, social experiences, and noise pollution. In the UK, many occupy accommodation in short-term rental leases with strangers (i.e., roommates). Short-termism fosters disjointed sentiment. When engaged with for long enough, the revolving doors of no privacy, forced social interaction, and postcode hopping offer marginal benefits. Settlement is crucial to well-being. If people consistently occupy temporary housing, it makes the idea of making where you live a home, instead of a mere room with sparse surroundings, simply futile. Absence management for home maintenance appointments and performance management is the extent of an organisation's interest in home life.
Letters, numbers, and percentages measure academic achievement. This in itself allows distinctions to be drawn between people. It is assumed to represent capabilities. What matters is what and how the measurement was made. Much of UK secondary education rewards memory and recall of a subject. It does not reward thinking beyond the subject's scope. This is practical as choices must be made on what material to teach. However, the grade is inextricably viewed as the sole determining factor of what you can contribute. Such exaltation of memory and recall damages the self-belief of those who observe peers excelling when they do not (i.e., learned helplessness). Many learning styles exist. However, over-populated classrooms vs. one-to-one private tutoring show an increased likelihood of tailoring in the latter. Despite increased access to online learning, it is often only worth something to the learner. Little traction is made with recruiters unless a CV shows a degree, master's or technical qualification. At this point, several assumptions are made of the individual's aptitude, regardless of module rigour. Increased competition of degree holders forces more nuanced, arcane, and flimsy judgements to be made. The level of intelligence is perceived as equivalent to the level of education. People professionals know this is not necessarily true. However, in the absence of more precise or practical means of measuring competency, academic achievement, as defined, will continue to be used.
Much of the hiring circuit borrows from dating app psychology. It follows that the most appealing candidate will attract a recruiter's interest. It starts with a meeting and ends with acceptance or rejection. Like dating, it requires a degree of acting, self-promotion, sociability, likability, reticence, and verbosity. All of these will land according to the temperament and calibre of the interviewer. Recruitment is not a science and is often prone to judgements based on bias, particularly with the informal interview format. In the UK, reasons for no contact or rejection from a recruiter are rarely communicated honestly. This leads to more anxiety for the candidate and misinformation. Not everyone right for a particular kind of employment gets hired. Spaces are few, and competition is fiercely contested. Is it any wonder well-being is impacted when a stranger determines your immediate future? It is an enormous responsibility to get right. Many recruitment practices and processes yield better results (i.e., structured interviews).
Paid employment is designed to reward good work. It is best honoured when the vacancy draws upon many shared skills and talents. Lending a craft to the betterment of society and the wider community is a force for good in the world. Yet millions of Google search entries reveal how contemptuous many are of what they do for work. If options are scarce, it is understandable how candidate deception is learned through repeated frustration with the recruitment process. This does no good to anyone in the long term. It may explain the higher rate of transience with job hopping. Satisfaction will follow if the work is meaningful and people are treated humanely. It is eternally baffling that some countries are yet to legislate notice periods (i.e., the USA). That an employer could dismiss without warning, for any reason, with little to no financial recourse, makes it clear why people end up destitute. The key is job design. A position that invests, believes, and trusts in the individual is ethical. Fulfilling the 'duties' versus 'pursuit' of desired outcomes will never work out long-term for the former.
Money derives its value from the commodification of all things and experiences. In society, everything has a price: food, communication, entertainment, shelter, education, et al. The message sent is that some things are beyond reach unless the price can be paid. On the one hand, it is reasonable to establish a value measurement as craftmanship represents effort. However, the price does not necessarily match the value of the thing. Sometimes, the price does not represent the effort or sacrifices required to match the price. There is some subjectivity involved in what has value and what does not. But all are relative to income. This creates pockets of humanity who 'have this' and 'do not have that'. The most valuable use of money is supporting the individual's basic needs and pursuing interests. Frequent disruption of these factors nurtures envy, anxiety, and negative feelings. This is why pay reviews are so crucial for people and professionals. Organisations trade capital for employee effort. It is crucial effort matches reward.
The running issue seems transactionality, which says all things are fleeting, temporary, and disposable. Those who possess something others value get more (but not forever). The substance of value is fleeting. Humble resilience in the face of indifference is the real determiner of well-being. This goes for those subjected to indifference and those who work against the tide. I find it difficult to see how anyone forever swimming against a current of envy, anxiety, and learned helplessness can be happy. We, the people professionals, have a responsibility not to ignore or add to the tide. We should accept that people's past cannot be changed but endeavour to nurture gentle stability, belief, trust, and acceptance. The degree of impact the workplace can have on each of the eight influences is unclear. However, awareness of these societal questions and a deeper understanding of the eight influences drastically improve the understanding of well-being.