Wellbeing at Work – Dr Liz Crowe

This post accompanies Episode 208 of the St Emlyn’s Podcast


The World Health Organisation defined wellbeing as:

‘The realisation of the fullest potential of an individual physically, psychologically, socially spiritually and economically in the fulfillment of one’s role expectations in the family, community, place of worship, workplace, and other settings. (Smith et al, 2006: p344)

Wellbeing is very complex, as it is an individual construct that is strongly aligned and interpreted through a lens of personal values, philosophy, culture, faith, and goals for life (Smith 2018). Most importantly, wellbeing is dynamic rather than homeostatic (Smith et al, 2018, Dodge et al, 2012). Wellbeing is a subjective state determined by the individual.

The Podcast

Common Determinants of Wellbeing at Work Identified in the Literature

Central CharacteristicsDescriptionReference                            
Self-acceptanceAcknowledges and accepts multiple aspects of self, present and past. Awareness of potential and limitations.Ryff, 2014 Keyes, 2007
Optimism and Positive EmotionsExtends beyond happiness. Ability to be hopeful, curious, interested and joyful. Ability to flourish.Seligman, 2018 Eckelberry-Hunt et al., 2017b  
Social Support and Positive RelationshipsA sense of belonging. Depth of connection. Positive relationships with partners, family, friends, colleagues, and the broader community. Relationships based on trust, empathy, support, love, and affection. Feeling of being valued by others. Care about the welfare of others.De Hert, 2020 Rehman, 2020 National Academies, 2019 Shapiro et al., 2019 Seligman, 2018 Eckelberry-Hunt et al., 2017b Sonnentag, 2015 Ryff, 2014 Ryff and Keyes, 1995
Environmental MasteryThe capacity and resources to manage life successfully. Maximises opportunities. Chooses contexts that meet personal needs and values.Seligman, 2018 Sonnentag, 2015 Ryff, 2014 Keyes, 2007 Demerouti et al., 2001 Ryff and Keyes, 1995
AutonomyThe ability to control and determine one’s life decisions. Sense of self-determination and self-governance. Living in accord with personal convictions.De Hert, 2020 National Academies, 2019 Rothenberger, 2017 Ryff, 2014 Ryff and Keyes, 1995
ContributionA sense of achievement. Ability to fulfil goals. Ability to offer something of value to others.National Academies, 2019 Shapiro et al., 2019 Seligman, 2018 Sonnentag, 2015 Ng and Fisher, 2013
Life and career satisfactionHigher life satisfaction is associated with increased career and job satisfaction and organisational commitmentEckelberry-Hunt et al., 2017b Sonnentag, 2015 Unanue et al., 2017  
MeaningFeeling that life has contribution, purpose and meaning. Sense of direction based on meaning.De Hert, 2020 National Academies, 2019 Seligman, 2018; Eckleberry-Hunt et al., 2017b Ryff, 2014 Deci and Ryan, 2008 Ryff and Keyes, 1995
Personal Growth and DevelopmentSense of continued development in self, knowledge, skills, and experience. Use of personal talents and potential.National Academies, 2019 Ryff, 2014 Ryff and Keyes, 1995
Appreciation and RewardAbility to feel valued and acknowledged. Renumeration for contribution.Shapiro, et al., 2019

Debate about the definition and conceptualisation of wellbeing is often oversimplified and has made researching, measuring and achievement of wellbeing problematic (de Chavez et al, 2005). An absence of clarity of wellbeing has led to researchers defaulting to using research tools that measure psychological affect such as burnout at work with an assumption that absence of negative emotions and experiences (burnout or distress) equates to ‘wellbeing’. Wellbeing is not the opposite of burnout.  Wellbeing may not be binary or sit on a scale. Wellbeing may not be a continuum where it sits at the polar opposite to burnout, distress, compassion fatigue etc.

Life is messy and in the same shift you can be frustrated by the bureaucracy, love your team get, be stressed, and annoyed by the continual lack of resources, and hugely value and achieve meaning from patient care. Parts of life can be great while simultaneously parts of life can be hugely challenging.

It is important that all of us have a clear idea of what wellbeing is to US as individuals. How would you know if you were experiencing wellbeing? What threatens and what builds your wellbeing?

5 Dimensions to Wellbeing (PERMA) (Dr Martin Seligman) 

  1. Positive emotions
  2. Engagement
  3. Relationships
  4. Meaning
  5. Accomplishment

Wellbeing is not happiness. Evidence to suggest that the more we pursue and excessively value the idea of ‘happiness’ the more vulnerable we may become to the symptoms of depression and unhappiness (Humphrey, Szoka and Bastian, 2021) and poorer wellbeing (Ford, Shallcross, Mauss, Floerke and Gruber, 2014) .

2 Types of Happiness: Hedonistic and Eudaimonic

Hedonistic happiness: is described as happiness derived from instant gratification, pleasure, and positive feelings . In isolation hedonistic happiness is not sustainable and often leaves individuals wanting and chasing more, more, more. Hedonism yields pleasure not necessarily wellbeing.

Eudaimonic happiness: is found in purpose, meaning, and living a life of value and contribution. Eudaimonic happiness is operationalised by self-acceptance, optimism and positive emotions, social support and positive relationships, environmental mastery, autonomy, contribution, life, and career satisfaction, meaning, personal growth and development, and appreciation. Eudaimonic happiness leads to wellbeing.

Self-awareness is really fundamental in wellbeing. Wellbeing is an ACTIVE and DYNAMIC process that requires insight, reflection and often work. It is really important to understand your habits when it comes to things that threaten and assist with wellbeing.  What do you routinely do to numb yourself when work and life are challenging and stressful.  Do you numb with food, alcohol, screen time, online shopping, avoidance? We can do these activities with the delusion we are addressing our ‘wellbeing’. However, we need to find numbing agents that assist with our wellbeing, a walk with a friend, mindfulness or meditation, a yoga or boxing class that finishes with a shared meal and time with others, rest, nature, just to suggest a few. Activities that numb though do not necessarily aid our wellbeing are okay in moderation or used as a treat on precious days off. However, if they are your only source of wellbeing, they can become harmful and very ineffective over time.

The St Emlyn’s Hierachy of Wellbeing

In the workplace we cannot focus on the higher parts of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs until we have addressed the foundational components such as physiological, safety and the belonging needs.

Cite this article as: Liz Crowe, "Wellbeing at Work – Dr Liz Crowe," in St.Emlyn's, December 12, 2022, https://www.stemlynsblog.org/wellbeing-at-work-dr-liz-crowe/.

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