The Wellbeing Equation: Making managing wellbeing at work simple

Looking at difficult complex mathematics equation on balckboard

How can we make managing wellbeing at work simple? This is a question we get asked by our clients so often. With a proliferation of providers, reports and models pointing to different solutions, managing wellbeing can feel like an insurmountable challenge.  At Affinity Health at Work, one of our driving principles is to disseminate high quality evidence as far as possible. By sharing of knowledge and evidence, we can best support others to manage and protect the wellbeing of their employees and teams. What this means is that the answer to the question needs to be simple, but it also needs to work.

So how do you manage wellbeing in a way that works best?

Research evidence tells us that the most effective way to do this is to focus on preventing ill-health.  This means providing good working conditions for employees through well designed and managed jobs. As asserted by the recent WHO Mental Health at Work guidelines. However, although it’s necessary, only offering training and development (allowing employees to develop their skills, knowledge and confidence to manage their work and health) or only offering support to those who are struggling (through, for instance, EAPs) is not enough to manage wellbeing effectively.

Prevention focuses on increasing those aspects of work that enable individuals to thrive (resources) and reducing those aspects of work which act as stressors (demands).  These stressors or demands might include:

  • Unmanageable workload, work pace,working hours
  • Exposure to traumatic content or materials at work
  • Experience of, or exposure to harmful behaviour such as violence, bullying or sexual harassment.  demands.

One of the most strongly supported scientific models in the wellbeing literature is the Demands-Control-Support model, developed by Karasek and Theorell in 1990, which points to this synergistic relationship between demands and resources. This demonstrates that if we increase our resources (the elements of the environment that support us and enable us to thrive), we can reduce the harmful impact, or risk of impact of those stressors and demands.

What then are resources, those aspects which enable us to thrive at work?

For this we can go to Basic Psychological Need Theory.  Basic Psychological Need Theory, a mini-theory within the theory of Self Determination, developed by Ryan and Deci in 2017, identifies three basic needs, or elements essential for our wellbeing which are:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Belonging
  3. Competence.

Sometimes called the ABC of psychological needs, this theory has been supported by a huge body of evidence, demonstrating their role in wellbeing across the globe.

Autonomy refers to having some choice, freedom and flexibility to craft elements of our work which could include work location, working hours, how the job is performed and other aspects of the job role.

Belonging refers to environments where we feel connected to the organisation and people within it and with the wider aims and purpose of the organisation, where there are supportive colleague and manager relationships and where we feel valued and recognised.

Competence refers to a working environment where we can use our skills, develop knowledge and progress within the organisation, gain a sense of accomplishment from our work and receive information and communication to remain competent.

So how is this made simple?

The answer is the wellbeing equation, which draws together the the importance of prevention, the role of demands and resources, and the synergistic relationship between the two.  And the equation is (nearly) as simple as ABC.   

Wellbeing = (Autonomy + Belonging + Control) – Demands

In other words, Wellbeing = (A + B + C) – D

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