Wellbeing: Did I Say Pizza? I Meant Lava Lamp.

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Lava Lamp — reflecting the model of employee wellness and wellbeing promoted by employee well-being consultant Bob MerbergWellness (or wellbeing, if you will) is usually illustrated as a perfect circle divided into uniform wedges. Gallup’s 5 wedges, for example, represent Social, Financial, Physical, Community, and Career Purpose wellbeing. National Wellness Institute has its Occupational, Physical, Social, Intellectual, Spiritual, and Emotional dimensions.

There’s no end to how circles can be sliced up into the elements of wellness, whether there are 6, 7, 8 wedges, or — even as some models have it — 12 wedges of an inner circle surrounded by 8 pastel sections that join to form 2 concentric circles. (Stop this ride, I’m getting dizzy!)

Many models of wellness and wellbeing with circles and wedges to show the elements or dimensions of wellness and well-being.These wellness merry-go-rounds are mostly the product of an American spin on wellness. Elsewhere, especially Europe, the focus is on what wellness is — something related to happiness and life satisfaction. You know… wellbeing! In the US we obsess over the components of wellness — no time to fret about what they add up to — as you may recall from my post “Wellbeing and Pizza: In Search of the Secret Sauce.”

These tidy geometrics are a swell way to say that wellbeing goes beyond physical health. But a handful of static, one dimensional, and evenly distributed wedges — crammed into a flawlessly circular vessel — don’t resonate with my experience of wellness. And I wonder if they’re an ideal way to describe what other people’s wellbeing — ultimately their lives — are or can be.

Meet My Globules

My wellness is more like a lava lamp: An ever-changing bunch of free-floating globules of different shapes and sizes. I’ve got fitness globules, mental health globules, spiritual globules. Some rise to the surface for as others submerge. They’re fluid. They expand and they contract.

Some globules, like my health globule and my financial globule, merge for a while. My emotional globule occasionally smothers my intellectual globule; other times, it’s the other way around. Look: My creativity globule and logic globule are going at each other right now!

But even the lava lamp analogy eventually runs dry. Ultimately, I want my globules to be set free, to be unbound by time and space, and to interconnect with others’ globules — those of people who love me and those of people who don’t. Any model of real wellbeing has to show our globules interacting and interconnecting. You heard me right: We must have global globules.

The change starts within. To paraphrase an ancient sage: Be a lava lamp unto thyself.

Copyright 2020 by Bob Merberg. All rights reserved. (My globules may be your globules. But my work is not.)

Wellbeing and Pizza: In Search of the Secret Sauce

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing, Employee Wellness Programs

pizza[Originally published on LinkedIn 2018-03-15]

“It’s the damnedest thing, hahaha” my father-in-law would say, his thick Irish brogue muscling its way forward through his baritone laugh. “I hate tomato sauce and cheese, and I don’t like bread, but I like pizza. Hahahahah!”

As a Brooklynite weaned on pizza, this really was the damndest thing I’d ever heard. But the corporate world’s newfound adoration of “wellbeing” gives me insight into my father-in-law’s pizza predilections. And vice versa.
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Wellbeing — What Is It Good For?

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing, industrial organizational psychology, job crafting

Pie illustrations depicting wellbeingIn previous posts about the transition from wellness to wellbeing, I neglected to address the studies of wellbeing — including many attempts to define it — that were done before corporate America appropriated the term.

As legendary occupational psychologist Sir Cary Cooper says, “Define wellbeing? We can’t even agree on how to spell it Hyphen or no hyphen?” (I’ve paraphrased Sir Cary.)

One employer survey defined wellbeing by contrasting it with health and wellness. In an article called “Survey Shows Shift from Wellness to Holistic Wellbeing,” the investigators declared:

“Wellness programs focus on physical health while well-being addresses ‘all things that are stressors in an employee’s life.’

So far, so good.

Then they wrote:

Improving employee health was the most frequently mentioned (82%) reason for offering well-being programs, followed by: decrease medical premiums and claim costs…”

If those two quotes don’t have you scratching your head, you’re reading too fast. Please back up and keep rereading until you’re appropriately distressed.)

Gallup’s Essential Elements of Wellbeing

In recent years, Gallup describes wellbeing, based on their massive surveys, as consisting of (these are verbatim):

  • Purpose*: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  • Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
  • Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Community: liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community
  • Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

In 2010, Gallup’s Tom Rath and James Harter published “Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements.”  The book served up the same five elements that Gallup advocates today, except the book used the label “Career,” whereas Gallup now calls the same element “Purpose.” Hmmm.

Gallup, with their partner Healthways (which eventually was acquired by Sharecare — creating the Gallup-Sharecare pair) argues that employers should address all five elements of wellbeing. For a price, they offer consulting services to help.

Employers faithfully adopted the five elements, depicting their wellbeing program goals with circles perfectly divided into equal parts — each representing one of the five elements — sometimes shoehorning in another element or two, like “emotional,” “environmental,” or “spiritual.”

But employers have not been well-served by their simplistic pie diagrams, which are used as virtual checklists to perfunctorily confirm that each element is addressed…

A fragmented effort to address what is in wellbeing, rather than a cohesive strategy to support what wellbeing is, may be one reason why, in practice, nothing but the name has changed.

Subjective Wellbeing

Since his groundbreaking review, “Subjective Wellbeing,” first appeared in 1984, psychologist Ed Diener has probably published more wellbeing research than anyone. Though Diener evaluated the elements of what he calls “subjective wellbeing,” he defined it not by its elements but by the experience. To Diener, wellbeing is…

“…how people evaluate their lives — both at the moment and for longer periods… These evaluations include people’s emotional reactions to events, their moods, and judgments they form about their life satisfaction, fulfillment, and satisfaction with domains such as marriage and work. Thus, subjective wellbeing concerns the study of what lay people might call happiness or satisfaction.

“Happiness or satisfaction.” Isn’t that what we always knew wellbeing to be, before we picked it apart?

I Feel Good! 

With the various definitions of wellbeing circulating helter skelter, Uncle Sam (in the form of the CDC) played peacekeeper:

“There is no consensus around a single definition of well-being, but there is general agreement that at minimum, well-being includes the presence of positive emotions and moods (e.g., contentment, happiness), the absence of negative emotions (e.g., depression, anxiety), satisfaction with life, fulfillment and positive functioning. In simple terms, well-being can be described as judging life positively and feeling good.”

Rath and Harter’s description of wellbeing and other definitions of wellbeing emphasizes how you get there — the road to wellbeing. Diener and other psychologists emphasize how you are when you arrive.

Wellbeing and Burnout

Diener mentioned marriage and work, referring to domain-specific wellbeing. Here’s where that comes into play…

In job crafting research — as with a lot of organizational development research — “wellbeing” often is measured in the work domain only. Work wellbeing doesn’t just mean job satisfaction; it goes deeper to how employees are.

How do you measure how employees are at work?

For perspective, consider the symptoms of burnout:

  1. Exhaustion
  2. A feeling of not making a difference
  3. Cynicism

It’s not unreasonable to say that the opposite of burnout is work wellbeing — having energy, purpose, and optimism at work. This is why burnout metrics have, sometimes, been used to measure work wellbeing.

Focusing on work wellbeing — which, on the surface, seems to be just one domain — may be heresy to employee wellness leaders looking to check off their list each element of wellbeing.

But employee wellbeing programs risk getting in their own way if they try to do too much. Would it make sense to help employees thrive at work — the domain over which employers have most control — before trying to get them to thrive in, say, relationships, community, or even physical health?

On one hand, focusing on work wellbeing seems to contradict arguments against checking the elements off one-by-one. On the other hand, if the elements are interdependent, bolstering work wellbeing helps support the other elements. And if the others are supported at the appropriate time and place, work wellbeing will benefit.