Thursday, 4 August 2011

Beyond Engagement - part 2: Wellbeing


   The other recent piece of news relating to engagement and the role of the UK government supported Employee Engagement Taskforce was last week’s report from the National Wellbeing Taskforce and the Office for National Statistics.

The Taskforce was set up by David Cameron to create a Happiness Index that would balance the existing measure of GDP.  However the focus is actually a lot more than happiness. This is partly because the taskforce believes happiness is intangible whereas wellbeing is “measurable in the same way our economy is” (I’m not sure that’s true).

But it’s also because happiness is seen as more short-term as well as a bit gimmicky:

“Wellbeing and happiness are not the same thing, although they are sometimes used interchangeably. What we are interested in is overall wellbeing, which the Government has described as a positive physical, social and mental state. It’s not about feeling happy for a few minutes at having won £10 on the lottery or buying a new pair of shoes. It’s about building a sense of long-term wellbeing in individuals and communities that improves quality of life for all citizens across the UK.”


The shift echoes that of Martin Seligman, one of the originators of the field of happiness within the school of positive psychology who’s new book about wellbeing, Flourish, also seeks to move the debate on from happiness which “essentially measures cheerful mood, so it isn’t entitled to a central place in any theory that aims to be more than happiology”.

I also much prefer the concept of wellness or wellbeing to that of engagement (also see my comments in part 1 of this post):

  • Firstly wellness is much more of a two-way, shared sort of concept (“It is essential that the set of measures of well-being is relevant and well-based in what matters to people, both as individuals and for the UK as a whole”).
  • Secondly, the language is more natural and therefore compelling.
  • Thirdly it’s a broader term, incorporating a number of different elements of human capital.


I like the Seligman describes this last point: “Wellbeing theory denies that the topic of positive psychology is a real thing; rather the topic is a construct – wellbeing – which in turn has several measurable elements, each a real thing, each contributing to wellbeing, but none defining wellbeing.”

A good example of these different elements is provided by Gallup Healthways Well-being Index (pictured).

The government also seems to have understood this point about wellness being a construct. The taskforce are defining wellbeing as consisting of these five themes: health; good connections with friends and family; job satisfaction and economic security; present and future conditions of the environment; and education and training.

Also, rather than trying to create a single index, the intent is to report (in July 2012) on eight different aspects of wellbeing. The first four of these are satisfaction; happiness; anxiety and meaning which will be measured through these questions in the government’s Integrated Household Survey:

  • How satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
  • How happy did you feel yesterday?
  • How anxious did you feel yesterday?
  • To what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?


The taskforce is still working on how it is going to measure four other areas of wellbeing: childhood; economy and inequality; health and work/life balance.

I think organisation’s could learn a lot from this research, for example by extending surveys from engagement to something broader, two-way and more compelling – possibly the concept of wellbeing, and by reporting on these different aspects rather than just one overall index alone.



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1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post, Jon, and I'm pleased to see the Task Force addressing this.

    Gallup has also tagged the importance of well-being, noting it's the "next engagement."

    Others are writing about it as well, largely focused on helping employees seeing the value of their work. I commented on that research: When I feel valued – when I believe my contributions are helpful to my team members, my customers, my company – I perform at my peak. I’m running on a pure sense of that what I do really matters within the big picture.

    That post is available in full here: (citing the Gallup and HBR research/writings)


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