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Workplace
Employee Wellbeing Starts at Work
Workplace

Employee Wellbeing Starts at Work

Story Highlights

  • In most cases, limiting work won't make work better
  • People with high career wellbeing are more likely to be thriving
  • Burnout is a career killer, but managers can help

We often put work and wellbeing at opposite ends of the spectrum. "Work" is all the drudgery that we go through to have the things in life that make us happy, such as spending time with family and friends. If only we didn't have so much work to do, we could get to things that really matter.

As a result, many solutions to lessening burnout and increasing wellbeing focus on decreasing work: limiting access to email, requiring fewer days or fewer hours, mandating that employees use their vacation time. In other words, the less people work, the better off they will be.

To some extent, this is true: Spending less time at a toxic workplace is certainly going to feel better. But Gallup's analysis of employee burnout has found that how people experience their workload has a stronger influence on burnout than how many hours they work. And when it comes to overall wellbeing, the quality of the work experience has 2.5 to three times the impact of the number of days or hours worked.

In short, the quantity of work does matter, but the quality of work matters more.

But Gallup's analysis of employee burnout has found that how people experience their workload has a stronger influence on burnout than how many hours they work.

People Want to Work

Those who think life would be better without work are wrong. Meaningful work is an important part of a fulfilling life. When Gallup asks people across the world what they want most, the most common reply is a good job.

Gallup has identified five elements of wellbeing:

  • Career wellbeing: You like what you do every day.
  • Social wellbeing: You have meaningful friendships in your life.
  • Financial wellbeing: You manage your money well.
  • Physical wellbeing: You have energy to get things done.
  • Community wellbeing: You like where you live.

Which do you think is the most important for a thriving life?

Gallup analysis has shown that career wellbeing -- liking what you do every day -- has the strongest impact on overall wellbeing. People with high career wellbeing are more than twice as likely to be thriving in their life overall.

This makes sense. A good job can improve all aspects of wellbeing. It provides financial benefits, but it also offers social interactions, physical activity and connection to one's community. Working provides people a wealth of meaning in life. In fact, Gallup surveys in Germany and the U.S. have shown that most employees would continue to work, even if they had so much money that they never had to work again.

Work doesn't stand in the way of wellbeing. Work you love is the foundation of a life well lived.

Meaningful work is an important part of a fulfilling life. When Gallup asks people across the world what they want most, the most common reply is a good job.

What Is Career Wellbeing?

Gallup defines career wellbeing as liking what you do every day.

When you enjoy what you're doing, motivation to do it comes easily. It's rewarding in itself, not just a means to a paycheck. When you like what you do, the work itself is easier. Gallup research has found that highly engaged employees typically work more hours per week than their counterparts, likely because they naturally find their work interesting and inspiring.

When you like what you do, you do more of it, get better at it and increasingly reap the rewards of your labor. It's a virtuous cycle of personal growth and professional development: a journey as rewarding as the destination. That doesn't mean that work isn't hard, but it does mean that the hard work feels worth it.

Leaders and managers can help employees like what they do every day by maximizing an employee's unique personality, talents and passions. Sometimes, this means moving team members into roles that let them do more of what they enjoy or changing job descriptions to better fit employees' work styles. Managers can also learn what people dislike most about their daily work and provide support and tools to minimize those aspects.

When you like what you do, you do more of it, get better at it and increasingly reap the rewards of your labor. It's a virtuous cycle of personal growth and professional development.

Unfortunately, thriving career wellbeing is not the norm. Only 20% of employees strongly agree that they like what they do every day. And even more feel chronically burnt out: 28% of U.S. employees say they feel burnt out at work very often or always.

Workplace burnout harms every aspect of a person's life. Burnt-out employees report more sick days and emergency room visits and negative implications for their family life.

A large-scale review of publicly available data sources published in Management Science found that U.S. companies with high workplace stressors may contribute to more than 120,000 deaths per year and approximately 5% to 8% of annual healthcare costs. Workplace-associated mortality exceeds the number of deaths from diabetes, Alzheimer's or influenza.

Career wellbeing is the foundation of a thriving life -- and that's no more apparent than when someone is suffering at work.

Burnout is a career killer. Employees who frequently experience burnout at work are:

  • 2.6 times as likely to leave their current employer
  • half as likely to discuss how to approach performance goals with their manager
  • 13% less confident in their performance

Employers don't get more out of burnt-out employees -- they get less.

The primary causes of burnout at work are: unfair treatment, an unmanageable workload, lack of role clarity, and a lack of communication and support from one's manager. However, the last cause may encompass all the rest. A good manager is an advocate for their team members -- they address unfairness, help manage priorities and clarify expectations. Gallup data suggest that in most cases of burnout, a good manager was missing.

Putting Work in Wellbeing and Wellbeing in Work

Although we try to compartmentalize work and life, life inevitably affects our work -- and work affects our broader life. Whether they like it or not, employers and team leaders are often at the crossroads of work and life. Wellbeing is not a perk or benefit; it's a requirement for high-performing teams. However, by focusing on career wellbeing, managers can boost both engagement and wellbeing at work.

So how can leaders boost their employees' career wellbeing?

In Gallup's latest bestseller, Wellbeing at Work, Jim Clifton and Jim Harter offer leaders the following career wellbeing action items:

  • Make sure everyone in your organization knows their strengths. Use a strengths-based strategy to design an employee experience -- from attraction to hiring to onboarding, engagement and performance -- that leads to a culture of high development.
  • Remove abusive managers. No organization should tolerate managers who destroy the lives of the people you rely on to get work done. In today's workforce, bad managers are your highest risk.
  • Upskill managers to move from boss to coach. Use proven methods to transition your managers' mentality from boss to coach. Think of this as a yearlong journey that starts with learning about high-performance teams. Each manager should become an expert at setting goals and providing meaningful feedback at least once a week.
  • Make wellbeing part of career development conversations. Once they establish trust, managers and teams can dream big together -- not just about career goals and development but about life and overall purpose and wellbeing.

Working less doesn't mean happier work -- here's how to foster real change:

Author(s)

Ryan Pendell is a Workplace Science Writer at Gallup.


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