The intangibles of workplace wellbeing

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

We all know the easy answers when it comes to keeping employees happy at work. But what is less easy to understand are the intangible aspects of workplace wellbeing – the existential issues all employees face that aren’t as easy to define as pay and comfort. This could include thoughts on belonging, values, goals and the impact of change.

In an effort to better understand these intangibles, we at Barnett Waddingham surveyed 3,000 employees, representing a cross section of full and part-time permanent workers, across all major industries and locations throughout the UK.

Here are some of the findings we found, which give insight into the pressures facing employees in 2023.

Handling change

Q: I tend to embrace a sudden change in circumstance in the workplace without it affecting my focus or personal life [Agree / Disagree]

I tend to embrace change without it affecting my focus:

Age group16-2425-3435-4445-5455+

As to be expected, age plays a large role in an employee’s ability to handle sudden change, progressively worsening over time – those in the 16 – 24 age bracket, still relatively new to their careers so not as accustomed to the “status quo”, are much more capable of adapting to upheaval than those approaching retirement age.

What may be more surprising is how it impacts on men and women. Our survey showed that women’s ability to embrace sudden change remains more consistent across their career, with those agreeing that it doesn’t affect their focus only fluctuating by 8% between those in the 16 – 24 age bracket (22%) and 55+ (14%). The difference is much more drastic with men though, with a fall from 35% in those in the lowest age bracket, to 17% in the highest, representing a 51% drop.

Handling stress

Q: I tend to stay calm during times of high stress in the workplace [Agree / Disagree]

I tend to stay calm during times of high stress

Age groupOverall16-2425-3435-4445-5455+

In these results, age doesn’t have a consistent bearing on an employee’s ability to manage stress, although gender does, with women on average 28% less capable of remaining calm in a stressful work environment. 

One factor that does make a difference is earning, with the ability to stay calm increasing with wages.

Earnings bracket<£15K15-35K35-55K55-75K>75K
Staying calm during stress21%21%21%27%31%

Overall however, it is concerning that there is generally a low tolerance for stress across all demographics. HR teams may want to look into this internally, and see if resources need to be diverted towards wellbeing services that can help with creating better coping strategies. 

Goals, Ambitions, Principles and Values 

The following two questions were used as proxies to indicate signs of resilience:

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Q: Have you got clear goals and/or ambitions in terms of your career?

Statement% Agree
Yes, I have a set list of goals that I refer to often43%
Yes, I have a vague list of goals but rarely consider them29%
Not really, I only have a few general goals19%
No, I don’t have any set goals9%

Q: Can you name the life values and principles you believe in the most?

Statement% Agree
Yes, I can name my values and principles clearly36%
Yes, I can name my values and principles, though not clearly44%
No, it would be difficult for me to name my values and principles13%
I do not have any clear values or principles2%
Not sure5%

The point was not to understand what these values, goals and ambitions may be (though you should certainly look to find that out internally!), but to see if people have a grasp of what they want and what they stand for, and how important these things are to them.

Split by gender, it appears men are slightly more resilient than women based on these indicators overall but interestingly, but the stronger correlation has to do with age. We can see a significant drop-off over time, with men seeing a much more drastic decline over time than women. 

Age groupOverall16-2425-3435-4445-5455+

As we saw previously, there is also an upward trend when wages are factored in. Of those earning £15,000 pa or less, only 31% and 27% respectively admit to having a clear set of goals and ambitions in their career and can name their values and principles. These numbers rise to 71% and 51% respectively for those earning £75,000 pa or more.

Along the same lines of earnings, we find that those working more than one job are also more likely to be able to list their goals, values, and principles.

So what can be gleaned from this? It appears that career progression is a big factor. Although our only “success” factor is earnings, the parallel trajectories of resilience – increasing with earning but declining with age – shows that those who are unable to achieve their goals and “success” in monetary terms over the course of their careers are in turn more likely to have low levels of resilience for things such as stress and change. 


Our research has highlighted some perhaps overlooked causes of low workplace wellbeing, that can’t necessarily be handled in the typical fashion. For a lot of them, there is no “quick fix”, that can be deployed to help improve matters.

However, everything highlighted above can be helped. Some aspects need to be considered over time, such as consistent change management to help those for whom sudden change will negatively affect. Others require a wide range of smaller strategies to help improve. But overall, the biggest takeaway is that just talking to your staff, outside of the usual conversations about pay and working arrangements, can give you insights into issues you would have never considered, and in turn help to start finding solutions that help everyone.

*We asked respondents to confirm their gender and since less than 1% of our sample indicated “other”, we will only consider men and women in our demographic breakdowns  


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