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Workplace Well-being

Be the boss they’ll never forget: Psychological well-being in the workplace

We spend a quarter of our lives (at least) working. We'd hope that the norm isn't to be burnout and stressed during all that time. Thankfully, using The Six Dimensions of Psychological Well-Being, created by psychologist Carol Ryff, leaders have a framework for supporting mental health in their workplaces. This article outlines the six dimensions and what it means for your workplace well-being.

Rachel Cox

January 25, 2022

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

- Spider-man 

Being a boss has never been easy. You’re stuck in the middle, never feeling like you’re able to please the higher-ups or your direct reports at the same time. “People over profit” is an easy slogan to say, but it’s a bigger challenge to convince the C-suite to put the company’s money where its (figurative) mouth is.

One positive outcome of the global pandemic has been the more frank and open discussion surrounding equity and fair treatment in the workplace. The Great Resignation of the past year–in which 800,000 workers voluntarily left their position–has made retention a top priority. This is especially prevalent amongst healthcare and technology industries, which saw the biggest losses. The fact that resignation rates are highest for mid-career employees defies expectations. How bad does your job have to be to cut out right when your career arc is ramping up?

One of the biggest factors is stress. SHRM reports that one-third of employees say their manager doesn’t know how to lead them and six out of ten say a manager was the reason they’d left an organization. 3 out of 4 working Americans say their boss is the most stressful part of their job. Is bad management pushing people over the edge? If you could adopt a new management style that would prevent a toxic work environment from taking over your organization, would you?


The Six Dimensions of Psychological Well-Being

The Six Dimensions of Psychological Well-Being were created by American psychologist Carol Ryff in 1989 to describe the most essential aspects of mental health needed in order to attain personal growth and development. 

  • Autonomy (capacity for self-determination)
  • Mastery (ability to manage one’s surrounding world)
  • Purpose (meaning and direction in life)
  • Personal growth (realization of potential)
  • Positive relations with others (high-quality relationships)
  • Self-acceptance (positive self-regard) 

Considering that we spend a quarter of our lives (at least) working, our work environment should strive to cultivate the inner harmony we normally only expect to find during off hours. Simply put: work doesn’t have to be stressful.

The 6 dimensions of psychological well-being (inforgraphic)

Using Psychological Well-Being to build a healthier workplace culture

The first three dimensions–Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose– are coincidentally also identified as the “motivation trifecta” in Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Most people blame themselves for not trying hard enough, but it turns out that motivation is a tricky thing to predict and cultivate due to variations in temperament and personality. One person’s incentive is another person’s disincentive. These guidelines are a first step for managers who want to inspire true motivation in their workplace culture.

Autonomy

Autonomy sounds like the opposite of what a job should be. A job is doing something you’re told to do, right? Not always. Even the most process-specific industries have some aspect of the position that can be left up to the employee. Studies have revealed that giving employees choices over how to do things ​​resulted in higher job satisfaction and better job performance.

The lab technician has to push the right buttons in the right order on the centrifuge to run a blood sample, but maybe they get to decide when to take their lunch break and what office chair they’d prefer.

As a small foray into this concept, have employees take notes throughout the day of the activities they dislike and the ones they enjoy. Set aside a time to review their list. Is there any way to remove or change items on the “loathe” list? Can they be given more responsibilities in the “love” column? Even making a couple of small changes can add to an employees daily happiness and enjoyment of work, in addition to the positive feelings associated with having your voice and opinions not only heard but acted upon. 

Mastery

Everyone likes getting better at something, and the data backs it up. According to the World Health Organization, workplace stress is more common when employees are asked to do things that exceed their knowledge, abilities and coping skills. Daniel Pink coined the term Goldilocks task to indicate a job function that is “just right”–not too hard and not too easy. The trick is not to give tasks fitting a person’s exact capabilities, but to give them space and support to reach a little higher to foster improvement, continual mastery, and growth. 

To execute this appropriately a manager must regularly assess how employees are doing and feeling about their tasks. Skip the annual performance reviews, which aren’t really working anyway–only 14% of employees feel strongly inspired to improve after a performance review. Replace them with more frequent and less formal employee-focused sessions where both parties are aligned in their goal: to improve the employees skill level and abilities at a manageable pace. 

Purpose

In larger organizations where employees are far removed from their customers and outcomes, or dysfunctional workplaces where employees feel that nothing they do actually matters, it can be difficult to instill a greater sense of purpose. “People can be inspired to meet stretch goals and tackle impossible challenges,” says Elizabeth Moss Kanter, Professor at Harvard Business School, “if they care about the outcome.” 

Office furniture and architects Steelcase offer concrete suggestions for bringing a sense of purpose into the physical office. Decorating shared spaces with visual reminders of the company’s history, culture, and mission. Use technology to display real-time data (such as the number of customers served or results of customer surveys). Another idea is to ask for employee feedback when writing or revising your vision statement.

Personal growth 

It’s normal for workplaces to offer stipends for professional development and certifications, and this is a perk most employees appreciate. Although the practice is growing, it’s still rare to provide wellness perks like meditation, therapy, and exercise. Although these benefits serve to entice and retain desirable talent, they also have the potential to increase personal fulfillment, which makes a happier employee and more productive teammate. Luckily, the growing demand for wellness perks that show results and are easy to administer means that new services are continually entering the market, giving you plenty to choose from

Another opportunity for personal growth comes from developing a mentorship program within your organization. One company experienced a 49% reduction in employee turnover after embarking on a mentorship program using Together. Have direct conversations with your direct reports to see what kinds of professional associations, memberships, trainings, or certifications work best for their personality and field of interest. Not everyone loves an annual conference; some people might benefit from more regular, shorter interactions with like-minded peers.  

Positive relations with others

Gallup poll data from more than a decade of surveying people has revealed that the most important factor in wellbeing on the job is to have close friends at work. Relationships serve to anchor an employee’s commitment to the larger organization and provide useful mental breaks when work gets overwhelming. The more positive relationships one has at work, the more potential they have for positive interactions, which significantly increases engagement with the organization. Consider increasing opportunities for social interactions both between and within working groups, especially if the office is still remote or semi-remote.

Self-acceptance 

Not only do humans want to improve and grow, they want to feel good about themselves in the meantime. When people are struggling with self-esteem issues, sometimes they need to learn the tools that therapy can provide them with (see tips from Personal Growth, above). But what are some ways to instill confidence in the workplace? General wisdom and data show that positive reinforcement instills more confidence than focusing on what should be improved. Acknowledging successes, celebrating milestones, and continually focusing on employees’ strengths will build confidence and encourage motivation, even during times of struggle. As an added bonus, employees at organizations that focus on strengths are 74% more likely to recommend their company’s products or services to others.

What about identifying people who need more help? There is a new opt-in tracking software called Autumn that can alert management when individuals or teams start to show signs of stress or burnout. This advance notice can be useful for managers, who too often learn about personal issues after they’ve already affected the larger group.

Final thoughts

Before the pandemic began there was a lot of media chatter about the true impact of the open-office environment. Now that many offices are bringing employees back and trying to rebuild their organizational cultures, it seems clear that the open-office’s reputation can never be repaired. This month Forbes ran a story entitled, “Post-Pandemic: Fight For An End To The Open-Plan Office.”

Author Stephanie Sarkis sums the issue up nicely: 

“Open-plan offices don’t just kill productivity and privacy. They also are linked to low job satisfaction, commitment to one’s job, and employee retention. An open-plan office has also been found to increase employee’s feelings of dehumanization. This feeling of dehumanization was tied to feelings of losing individuality, abandonment by the employer, and having to work in a forced environment.”

This perspective shift shows that big changes are coming to U.S. offices. Employees expect more from work than just a paycheck. They want to be treated and considered as whole beings, not just workers. This new era could be a renaissance in the way we think about the meaning of work.

We now have a unique opportunity to do everything differently. You can be the manager you always dreamed of being: someone who inspires creativity, motivates others to strive for excellence, and always remembers that employees are human first. You can be the boss they’ll never forget.

Learn more about starting a workplace wellness program with Together's mentoring programs. We make it easy to pair every employee at the click of a button instead of manually matching them. You can easily find every employee a mentor or peer they can rely on for support, advice, and community. Every workplace well being program needs a strategy to connect employees. Together helps you do that.

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