Unhappiness at Work Is Rising: An Employee Wellbeing Roadmap for Wellness Companies
By Thierry Malleret, economist
So many new surveys indicate that unhappiness at work has never been such a problem. Macro stressors—from the cost-of-living crisis (notably in Europe) to uncertainty about working from home—are taking a toll on employee wellbeing. Some industries have happier employees than others, like non-profits, perhaps thanks to the sense of purpose they provide—but other industries, despite providing an obvious sense of purpose, such as education and health, are downright miserable as a result of working conditions.
What about employee wellbeing in the wellness space? There’s no data, as wellness companies are so dissimilar in nature: a well-tech startup is very different than a wellness resort. Malleret suggests that wellness companies should consider using the benchmarks outlined by Yale University professor Laurie Santos, a star in the science of wellbeing (4 million people have taken her free course on “The Science of Wellbeing”). She argues that any business has a real opportunity to maximize employees’ happiness at work if it focuses on the right things. Compensation and flexibility, of course, matter, but companies need to focus on these drivers: 1) a sense of belonging and community; (2) time affluence (the subjective sense of having free time); 3) the four-day workweek; 4) “job crafting” (letting employees craft their own roles); 5) a better relationship with rest; and 6) expression of appreciation (not rocket science, but so often forgotten.)
UNHAPPINESS AT WORK HAS NEVER BEEN SUCH A PROBLEM:
According to a new report, unhappiness at work (a proxy for “unwellness”) has never been so prevalent. On average, employees are today more unhappy than they were at the height of the Covid crisis. This study focuses on the US, but there is pervasive evidence that the situation is similar in most other high-income countries around the world, corroborating the results of many other studies and surveys (like those conducted by Gallup).
They all come to a similar conclusion: macro stressors are impacting employees’ wellbeing. Whether it’s inflation and the cost-of-living crisis (notably in Europe), uncertainty about working from home, disenchantment about working conditions, the impact of climate crisis and geopolitical disorder on a company’s bottom line, all these stressors contribute to making employees “gloomy” and victims of a sense of apathy and resignation. What the new study shows is the differentiation by industry: there are some industries that are happier than others (like non-profits, maybe thanks to the sense of purpose they provide) and yet others, despite an obvious sense of purpose, are downright miserable as a result of working conditions (like education and health).
What about employee wellbeing in the wellness space? The business literature comes to the (unsurprising) conclusion that employee wellbeing positively correlates with financial performance. How does that work for companies that operate in the wellness space? It’s hard to tell because wellness companies are so dissimilar in nature: how does a beauty company compare with a well-tech startup, or a wellness think-tank (like the GWI) with a wellness resort? There is no stereotypical wellness industry per se.
EMPLOYEE WELLBEING—A ROADMAP FOR WELLNESS COMPANIES:
However, this doesn’t preclude business executives who operate in the wellness space from assessing their relative performance in terms of employee wellbeing by measuring it against the benchmarks recommended by Laurie Santos, a Yale University professor, and a world star in the science of wellbeing (4 million people have taken her free course on “The Science of Wellbeing”).
Santos argues that any business has a real opportunity to maximize employees’ happiness at work if it focuses on the right things. The main drivers that business executives think of, like compensation and flexibility, matter, but they are “in the middle” of what employees expect.
The “real” drivers of happiness at work are the following: 1) A sense of belonging (Do employees feel they matter? Do they have a sense of community?). 2) Time affluence (the subjective sense that employees have free time) is essential. It’s not the actual amount of free time on offer, but rather the sense that they have time to meet a friend, take on a new project, or have temporal flexibility. 3) The four-day workweek, whenever possible, is a real wellbeing driver that not only makes employees happier but more productive. Time must be seen as a reward, “an incredibly valuable commodity for people’s wellbeing and performance”. 4) “Job crafting,” the opportunity given to employees to craft the job they want, something that gives them meaning and purpose. This often starts by surveying a team’s values and strengths. 5) A better relationship with rest. There’s ample evidence that rest makes us better people, with multiple studies suggesting that when team members take extended breaks, they come back more energized, creative and productive (managers need to remember that practices like these spread when they come from the top). 6) Expression of appreciation. “If you don’t say it, they won’t know it”. Not rocket science, but sometimes counterintuitive. Are wellness companies walking the wellbeing-at-work talk?