What is wellbeing, and why does it matter?

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We are all told to look out for our wellbeing, but it’s a fairly amorphous concept, and pinning down exactly what it is can feel like nailing jelly to a wall.

What is wellbeing?

According to the World Health Organisation, wellbeing is “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Meanwhile, the New Economic Foundation defines it thus: “Wellbeing can be understood as how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole.”

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing suggests that “it’s how we experience life – quality of life, good physical and mental health, and being part of our communities.”

Traditionally, wellbeing has been assessed using metrics such as economy, health and education. But there has been an increasing realisation, in recent years, that this does not take into account people’s own, subjective experience of wellbeing. Key indicators of wellbeing should also include factors such as how we feel about ourselves; the quality of our relationships; our sense of purpose. Any accurate definition of wellbeing should take into account the presence and frequency of positive emotions – pleasure, purpose, happiness – and also of negative emotions, like anxiety, stress, frustration or sadness.


So wellbeing isn’t just about being physically healthy?

No. You can be a gym bunny or a marathon runner and still have poor wellbeing, you’ll just have abs as well. But physical activity certainly helps with wellbeing. A Department of Health fact sheet, ‘What Works to Improve Wellbeing?’ suggests that there is a two-way causality between physical health and wellbeing: “Good health improves wellbeing, and good wellbeing improves health.”

The factsheet also points out that exercise can be a key contributor to improved wellbeing: “There is strong evidence that increased physical activity improves the wellbeing of people in general, and older people in particular.”


Why should I care about wellbeing?

Wellbeing is, in a sense, all-encompassing. It takes into account every aspect of life, from education and opportunity to finance and work, relationships, physical and mental health, and happiness. There’s a lot there to care about. Plus, according to the Department of Health, “it is estimated that high levels of subjective wellbeing can increase life by four to ten years compared with low levels of subjective wellbeing.” So caring about your wellbeing could substantially extend your life.


So how do I go about improving my wellbeing?

Well, clearly there are some external factors over which we have no control. You can’t go back and change your experiences, or your educational background, and it’s not necessarily easy to change your work or your financial status. We might all feel that our wellbeing would be significantly enhanced by a 60ft superyacht, but the chances are we’re never likely to get one (sorry if that’s just burst your bubble).

But there are definitely areas where we can make changes that will benefit our wellbeing. According to mental health charity Mind, we can benefit our mental wellbeing by following some simple steps:

  • Take time to relax (have a bath, go for a walk)
  • Take a break, have a change of scene, have some tech-free time
  • Find a hobby that helps you learn or be creative
  • Spend time in nature
  • Connect with others
  • Look after your physical health and keep active
  • Sleep well


How do you know if you need to improve your wellbeing?

There are some things in life you can’t have too much of, like happiness, love, and Steps albums. Wellbeing certainly falls into this category. We could all do with looking after our wellbeing. You might be physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, culturally and professionally flying high, but your overall wellbeing will always benefit from taking time out to tend to it. Think of it like a garden – it will only look good if you dedicate a bit of time and effort to it. (Please, please don’t look at my garden).


How do you measure wellbeing?

We’re sliding back into jelly-on-the-wall territory here, because once you get beyond the metrics of economics, health and education, you’re into more subjective areas that are harder to quantify. But since 2009, the Office of National Statistics has included the following questions in its annual population survey in an effort to understand the level of national wellbeing:

  • Overall, how satisfied are you with your life, nowadays?
  • Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
  • Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
  • Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?

The World Economic Forum has also stressed the importance of finding “better measures of a person’s lived experience than the value of her income or expenditure.” There are, after all, plenty of miserable billionaires in the world. Just look at Succession.

“One idea is to directly ask people about their wellbeing,” the Forum concludes. In short, if you want to know how people are doing, ask them. If you want to know about your own personal wellbeing, ask yourself. There’s nobody better placed to give you an answer.


Why should an employer care about employee wellbeing?

Finally, this is one area where everyone seems to agree. An employer can do an awful lot for the wellbeing of their workforce, and when they do, everyone benefits. Wellbeing People, a provider of wellbeing services for businesses, organisations and individuals, says: Employers can have a major influence on a person’s sense of wellbeing, which can have a multitude of benefits for the organisation itself.”

 In its report ‘Employee Wellbeing Measurement and Metrics’, The Prince’s Responsible Business Network states that “employee engagement combined with wellbeing leads to sustained employee performance and employees feel trusted and that their work is valued.”

The report also says that 48% of those who state that their employer does not care about their wellbeing also say that they feel less motivated, and considered looking for a new job. Wellbeing People back this up: “Not only does the wellbeing of employees directly correlate to higher levels of productivity and engagement, but it also helps to reduce absenteeism and staff turnover.”

Research by PricewaterhouseCoopers, commissioned by the health Work Wellbeing Executive, points to ‘a wealth of evidence’ suggesting a positive link between the introduction of wellness programmes in the workplace and improved business key performance indicators.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development concludes that “if employers place employee wellbeing at the centre of their business model, and view it as the vital source of value creation, the dividends for organisational health can be significant.”

In short, if you want to get the most from your workforce, make sure their wellbeing is looked after. It’s the right thing to do, both ethically and financially.


So how can employers look after employee wellbeing?

Short of tripling their pay and halving their working hours, they can employ the services of a workplace wellbeing organisation. It’s at this point that, like a cult that’s been slowly reeling you in,  we peel back the curtain to reveal that this article is brought to you by buddyboost, just such a workplace wellbeing organisation. And not a cult. Definitely not a cult. Obviously that’s what a cult would say, but we’re not one, okay?

What buddyboost is, is a proven employee wellbeing tool, using a simple challenge format to help improve wellbeing and support employee engagement. Once a company embarks on a buddyboost challenge, employees download the bespoke app and commit to doing at least 26 minutes of activity every day for 26 days in a month. They can form into virtual groups of buddies to help and motivate one another, and everyone stays in touch on the app’s private feed, posting messages and photos, boosting engagement and fostering team spirit.

Looking once again at the Mind tips for better mental wellbeing, a buddyboost programme encourages participants to go for a walk, take some exercise, get away from tech, have a change of scene, spend time in nature, connect with others, and engage in activity that will result in improved sleep. In other words, it ticks the boxes.

The Department of Health fact sheet also indicates that “taking part in social activities, having good relationships and strong social networks are all shown to be good for people’s levels of wellbeing.” buddyboost’s emphasis on mutual support and buddying up benefits not just participants’ physical and mental health, but also their connectedness with fellow employees.


But does it work?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is YEEEEEESSS!

If we go back to the suggestion that the best way to find out about people’s wellbeing is to ask them, that’s precisely what we have done. We take a mood score at the beginning of the 26 days of activity, and then again at the end. And based on the thousands of participants we’ve had take part in our challenges, the average boost to people’s mood over the 26 days is an impressive 25%. For testimonials from participants, click here.

So, to sum up: Wellbeing is very important. Focussing on it, and tending to it, can improve both the quality and the length of your life. And while we can’t influence every metric that contributes to wellbeing, we can all make some small changes that can reap big dividends. And workplaces can contribute to that too, which will benefit both employer and employee. And finally, buddyboost can help you do that.

Oh, and we’re not a cult.

If you’d like to find out more about how buddyboost can help your organisation get healthier and happier drop us a message below or read more here.

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