The Forgotten Side of Wellbeing

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Levent Çaglar, Chief Ergonomist at FIRA, gives us a different perspective –considering the psychological factors of wellbeing.

Wellbeing at work is now widely recognised as being an important consideration for employers if they want to recruit and retain the best candidates as well as keep them motivated, efficient and productive. But what is really meant by wellbeing? The Oxford dictionary definition of wellbeing is ‘The state of being comfortable, healthy or happy’.

The Health and Safety at Work Act and other European health and safety regulations, along with building regulations and standards, help to protect employees’ safety and physical needs. However, it is now being recognised that protecting workers’ physical environment alone is not sufficient to engender wellbeing. There are rules and standards for such aspects of the physical environment as temperature, ventilation, noise, lighting and furniture dimensions. These specify numbers, but wellbeing does not depend only on meeting these values. It also depends upon the perception by staff that meeting these values actually contributes to their wellbeing.

I believe that we do not pay enough attention to the psychological factors that have a strong bearing on wellbeing. Some are interlinked. Here is a selection of these important factors:

Stress in the workplace

Too much stress in the workplace can diminish wellbeing. Reducing stress on individuals has the immediate effect of people feeling better about themselves, regardless of the cause of the stress. Sources include too much work, too little work, office politics, being demoralised or feeling undervalued.

Mental wellbeing

Mental health still carries a stigma in the workplace. No-one will readily admit that they may have mental issues. Unless this stigma is removed, mental wellbeing will not be improved.

Job satisfaction

Jobs that are well designed to suit particular individuals and/or individuals that are carefully selected for particular jobs can contribute to job satisfaction, as the job is fitted to the person. If employees enjoy their jobs, their sense of wellbeing is likely to increase. If they just watch the clock for the end of the workday, their sense of wellbeing and productivity are likely to be lower.

Feeling of being valued

Employees need to feel that they are an essential part of the success of the organisation they are working for – and that their managers recognise this.

Feeling of being involved

Employees should be consulted about and participate in the key decisions concerning the future of their jobs. What is needed is a feeling of being listened to, not just being heard.

It is easy for organisations to state that they buy into the wellbeing of their staff and support various initiatives, but it is much more difficult to encourage staff to buy into initiatives, take part in them and then turn them into lifelong habits. For example, if an organisation states that it believes in creating a healthier workforce and encouraging cycling to work, but does not provide secure bike parking or showering facilities, it is not surprising that few staff, if any, take up cycling to work.

One effective way of solving these issues is through taking a human-centred approach. In 2016, a new international standard, BS ISO 27500, entitled ‘The human-centred organisation – rationale and general principles’, was published. It focuses mainly on how managers can introduce policies to optimise performance, minimise risks to the organisation and individuals and maximise wellbeing in the workplace. However, employees buying into any changes is just as important as introducing the changes. The organisation must enable employees to participate in wellbeing initiatives and adopt them naturally, so they automatically make healthy choices. The organisation must also ensure that initiatives enable employees to perceive them as beneficial to their wellbeing. The organisation should also address other psychological factors.