HealthyWorkplaces is helping to spearhead the paradigm shift from single variable models of wellness toward an interdisciplinary model of well-being that gives prominence to the physical and psychological states that correlate with and give rise to the development and sustainability of worker health and well-being. As a think tank, with a mission to do and apply interdisciplinary research, HealthyWorkplaces seeks to re-conceptualize worker health and well-being. We seek to understand worker health and well-being less as a single variable associated exclusively with physiological indices of health (wellness) and more toward a multivariate framework that recognizes the primacy of psychological states and principal drivers in the context of considering other worker and organizational attributes.
A new chapter is being written about the role and definition of health and well-being in the workplace. Four decades after the advent of workplace behavioral health programs and interventions, we are witnessing the emergence of a number of new and diverse “Version 2.0” models of wellness. This transformation is being driven largely by powerful economic and social changes and the response on the part of organizations to create strategic initiatives designed to contain health care expenditures and compete for the recruitment and harnessing of global human talent.
In retrospect, first generation health and wellness programs and interventions––while based on sound intentions to eliminate or mitigate behaviors and physical conditions associated with degenerative disease (e.g., smoking, obesity, drug abuse)–– were often misconceived and limited in their design and methodologies. Many “Version 1.0” workplace health and wellness programs have become obsolete, primarily due to the failure of these programs to yield significant, sustainable behavioral changes, and failure to decrease the mounting burden of worker healthcare costs. The vast majority of these wellness programs investigated single variables and interventions (e.g., smoking cessation & weight-loss programs, exercise regimes, etc.) to determine their efficacy in improving discrete biometrics of physical health (e.g., blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol, immunity, etc.).
These failures of early wellness interventions have been studied and written about by Leiter & Maslach (2014) as they pertain to job burnout and stress. The authors have identified how, beginning in the 1970’s, stress became a phenomenon of real concern to organizations and individuals alike. Systematic attempts to deal with stress bifurcated into (1) practical interventions to prevent and lessen stress, and (2) applied research that was designed to clearly understand the nature of stress, how it is generated, and what the potential repercussions might be for individuals and organizations. Studies centering on stress, focused on changing work patterns, developing coping skills, obtaining social support, learning and engaging in relaxation strategies, and promoting health and fitness. However, as Leiter & Maslach assert: “There have been relatively few assessments of the effectiveness of any of these ideas. There have been no clear definitions of burnout or of what kind of “problem” is being fixed, no clear criteria for what would be successful outcomes, and no solid evaluation research methods. Early intervention strategies naively isolated variables, thought to be more significant, leading potentially to compromised validity and generalizability of findings.
While these early forays into wellness research produced little intended change, they did promote greater awareness about the importance of a number of wellness behaviors and practices. Moreover, it created the conditions for a more focused dialogue about concept validity and reliable methodology. Prominent wellness researchers, such as psychologist Edward Diener, have long advocated for a critical analysis of interventions based solely on single variables or events, in favor of multivariate methodological approaches that are inclusive of the relationships between behavior and potent variables such as personality, emotion and attitudes.
The HealthyWorkplaces model, shown below, makes an important distinction between wellness and well-being.
Diener and other researchers have suggested that well-being is a highly subjective, complex phenomenon with multidimensional demographic, environmental, social, and organizational variables that must be considered in the context of controlled research. However, little interdisciplinary research regarding the relationships between psychological states and well-being actually exists today. As a result of our extensive and selective literature search we have constructed a model of well-being that posits a number of principal drivers and psychological states hypothesized to correlate with subjective well-being: Positive emotions occupies a central position among these psychological states and is understood to act as a first order experience from which the subjective sense of well-being arises.
- Sense of meaning and purpose in life
This includes feeling part of something bigger than oneself, contributing and making a positive difference. It includes having clear longer term goals, and working in accord with core personal values.
- Sense of belonging and social connection
This includes enjoyment of positive relations with others, feeling valued and feeling supported by others.
- Sense of being challenged and growing personally
This includes facing challenges that are stretching but not overwhelming and the feeling of growing and developing as a person.
- Sense of Autonomy
This a general feeling of being in control of your life and includes the feeling that meaningful choices are available to you.
- Sense of Accomplishment/Mastery
This includes the feeling you have the skills and confidence to do whatever is asked of you in life and that you are achieving, or on your way to achieving, important life goals.
- High Ratio of Positive to Negative Emotions
This involves experiencing on average more positive emotion (joy, serenity, awe, love, humor, hope, gratitude) than negative emotion (anger, fear, anxiety, depression). It includes self-acceptance, positive self-regard, and feeling balanced as a person.
- Feeling Safe and Secure
This involves feeling free from risk and danger, as well as free from worries and persistent negative thinking.
- Physical health and Vitality
This includes a balanced diet, sufficient physical activity (1.25 hours aerobic per week, or 2.5 hours mildly aerobic), and sufficient sleep and opportunities to rest/recover.
HealthyWorkplaces’ unique emphasis on interdisciplinary research and the contributions of diverse, subject-matter experts, is an attempt to address the difficult work of identifying and understanding the physical, psychological, and contextual factors that foster and sustain individual, organizational and societal well-being. We are suggesting that the questions evoked by previous wellness research will serve as the impetus for interdisciplinary approaches to investigate the interactions between psychological and contextual variables, perhaps once ignored or thought to be irrelevant. What interdisciplinary contributions might be forthcoming from diverse disciplines such as ergonomics, architectural design, business leadership, and medicine? Also to be considered are the psychological states that are engendered by organizational attributes such as biophilia, management, work/hour flexibility, air quality, office layout, leadership and development opportunities, food options, social support,organizational culture, and the like. Our interdisciplinary approach and the significance it assigns to the centrality of principal drivers and psychological states, is intended as a point of departure for future research to validate or amend, based on data harnessed from interdisciplinary partnering and collaboration in the investigation of the nature and structure of well-being and what constitutes a healthy workplace.
Arthur Giacalone, Ph.D.
Arthur Giacalone is a Consulting Expert to HealthyWorkplaces. Arthur Giacalone, Ph.D. (Clinical/Consulting Psychologist), provides consultation and training in evidence-based, mindfulness-focused executive coaching, leadership and organization development. The focus of Dr. Giacalone’s expertise has been on cultivating excellence in executive leadership through the application of principles of emotional intelligence in a number of areas of executive talent management such as: selection, on-boarding, executive assessment, development, coaching, mentoring and succession planning. He is also interested in corporate narratives and the unique outcomes of emotionally intelligent teams and organizations with functional and successful internal work cultures and norms.