Wellbeing in the workplace has attracted a lot of attention in the past two years since the onset of COVID pandemic as people have had to stare at professional and personal stressors for an extended period of time. Work life balance, empathy in the workplace, burnout, and ways to prevent it, and other related terms have gained more traction in these years. This current series on wellbeing at work will examine the research behind wellbeing starting from an earlier time and how its widespread recognition in the current context may shape the future workplace and the experiences of employees.
This series will cover topics including history of workplace wellbeing research, factors related to wellbeing including psychological safety, perceived organizational support, what may help improve wellbeing and what may not, emotions in the workplace, mindfulness in the workplace, meaning of wellbeing for gender and other underrepresented groups, distinction between wellbeing and wellness, and related topics.
Part 1. The Importance of Career Wellbeing & Role of Job Crafting
Since 1930s, Gallup has conducted research on different aspects of life including standards of living and health. In 1974-76, Gallup conducted the first public opinion global poll and published it in 1977 in a volume titled, “Human Needs and Satisfactions: A Global Survey” that covered topics like personal happiness, hopes and dreams, job satisfaction, family life, and personal safety that could be directly related to wellbeing. More studies on wellbeing were conducted by Gallup researchers in different continents, including Asia, Africa, and Europe. They distinguished wellbeing in to the following five universal elements of wellbeing:
1. Career wellbeing: Liking what you do every day
2. Social wellbeing: Meaningful connections and friendships in life
3. Financial wellbeing: Managing your money well
4. Physical wellbeing: Have energy to get things done
5. Community wellbeing: Liking where you live
All of these elements are intercorrelated and interdependent.
Gallup found that career wellbeing was the most important and the foundation for the other four elements of wellbeing. This was surprising since one may guess that physical wellbeing was the foundation on which other elements would depend and influence overall wellbeing. Even respondents on a Gallup survey ranked physical wellbeing as the highest in priority.
However, people who scored higher on all of the five elements reported fewer unhealthy days than people scoring high on physical wellbeing alone. Gallup has been asked this question several times- “where will we get our biggest impact in the shortest time?” since individuals and organizations cannot improve all the five elements at once. Career wellbeing is the answer from Gallup’s research. It is also important to note that if one is in the lowest end of these elements (e.g., chronic body pain for physical wellbeing or extreme loneliness for social wellbeing), one has to be rescued from these suffering states and then work on other aspects. And generally speaking, career wellbeing is considered the best starting point.
Career wellbeing has been conceptualized as “individuals’ long-term contentment with their career outcomes, career achievements, career changes, and their sustainable employability amidst the complexities of the contemporary work environment.” One of the proposed ways of improving career wellbeing and promoting thriving at work is job crafting, which is defined as “proactive alterations to the content and confines of one’ jobs and relationship with others to change the meaning of one’s work and the social environment at work” (p. 96, Mahomed & Rothmann, 2019). Job crafting involves individuals in the design of their own jobs.
Job crafting is further classified into cognitive, task, and relational job crafting. Cognitive crafting involves working on task-related boundaries and mindsets (reframing views on tasks). Task crafting is about varying the content of work, including number, scope, and type of responsibilities. Relational crafting is about transforming the quality and amount of interactions with others while working. The three psychological intrinsic needs proposed by the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) – autonomy, relatedness, and competence- are believed to be essential for human flourishing. These needs could be fulfilled by job crafting due to its proactive nature (autonomy), relational crafting (connectedness), and task and cognitive crafting (competence). Research from Stanford has shown that job crafting led to employees being happier and more effective in their work. Job crafting has been shown to lead to work engagement via basic need satisfaction. This may be a vital component for future of work.