What does well-being even mean, and how can the concept of eudaimonia contribute to the promotion of employee well-being?

Zone’s Employee Experience Strategist, Megan Trotter, explores how the concept of eudaimonia contributes to the promotion of employee well-being.

Mental health is an increasingly important aspect of the employee experience that organisations need to address. Each year, one in four adults will experience anxiety, depression, or stress, and in 2018, work-related stress alone cost society between up to $187 billion [£152 billion]. With the current employment rate in the UK resting at 75%, the workplace presents an untapped opportunity for increasing employee psychological well-being. Plenty of research has shown the benefits to employers for investing in employee well-being, such as increased productivity, reduced turnover, and generally greater innovation. But what does mental well-being even mean? And what can employers do to craft employee experiences that nurture mental well-being?

Towards a more nuanced understanding of well-being

Traditionally, research on well-being has underscored one of two perspectives regarding a person’s feelings of well-being: the hedonic and eudaimonic perspective. Hedonia is usually defined by feelings of pleasure, enjoyment, and satisfaction. Many studies on the link between employee wellbeing and productivity have taken a hedonic perspective of well-being. However, a more significant route to performance exists through the eudaimonic (often called psychological well-being) perspective, which is more concerned with experiences of flourishing, reaching potential and living a meaningful life.

Eudaimonia was presented to the field of psychology by Carol Ryff in 1989 to challenge the theoretical foundations of hedonic-based measures of subjective well-being and to provide a more well-rounded conceptualisation of well-being. Based on Ryff’s model, a person experiences greater psychological well-being when they are accepting of themselves, have positive relationships with others, have a sense of personal growth, purpose in life, competence in managing their environment, and autonomy.

These two perspectives on well-being are complementary though, as an employee can be simultaneously unhappy (when viewed through a hedonic lens) and happy (when viewed through a eudaimonic lens) — so both lenses are important. Additionally, hedonia and eudaimonia contribute to well-being on different time scales. Eudaimonic pursuits generate longer-term outcomes, such as building mental resources, whereas hedonic pursuits generate more immediate effects, such as emotional regulation.

As a lack of eudaimonic well-being has been identified as a risk factor for depression, a greater focus may need to be placed on promoting this type of well-being. To identify areas where the greatest opportunities are for increasing eudaimonic well-being in the employee experience, employers could use the eudaimonic workplace well-being scale (EWWS) to conduct an initial diagnosis. The EWWS is a two-dimensional measure that captures intrapersonal and interpersonal dimensions of eudaimonic well-being in the workplace. I will dive into how each of these can be developed in the sections below.

Promoting eudaimonic well-being through purpose (or meaning)

The intrapersonal dimension of the EWWS is concerned with the sense of value or meaning that work provides to employees. Meaningful work consists of three components, each of which can be developed and aligned to increase scores on the intrapersonal dimension:

  1. Sense of self,
  2. The work itself,
  3. The workplace.

To develop their ‘sense of selfcomponent, individuals can identify their sense of purpose by reflecting on their values, beliefs, and strengths. An individual’s sense of self is then affirmed by acting in ways that are congruent with the aforementioned factors. ‘The work itself’ is a means for individuals to live out their purpose and reinforce their sense of self; it consists of developing expertise and energy in completing tasks aligned with one’s sense of self. Finally, ‘the workplace’ represents a larger context through which meaningful work can ensue by enabling employees to align their ‘sense of selfwith ‘the work itself’.

For some, work that contributes to a greater economic, social, and environmental good provides the most sense of meaning in work. However, research has identified that for most, a sense of meaning occurs when there is congruence between a person’s values, goals, and motivations and their work and working environment.

In practical terms, to increase employees’ intrapersonal psychological wellbeing, employers could support employees to reflect on the alignment of their personal mission, vision and values and that of the organisation’s. Job crafting — a reimagining and redefining technique managers can apply with employees to design their work to make them more personally meaningful — is one example of a method in which this could be achieved. Additionally, organisations can develop employee experience principles based on their purpose (that guides the design of the employee experience), to ensure that the company’s mission, vision, and values are constantly being communicated at every stage in the employee journey (e.g., attraction, onboarding, development, etc).

Alternatively, where organisations are already succeeding with promoting intrapersonal eudaimonic well-being, there may be a need to prioritise the interpersonal dimension instead. As the world is moving to a hybrid-working model and placing an ever-increasing focus on EDI (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion), nurturing interpersonal eudaimonic well-being becomes important.

Promoting eudaimonic well-being through relationships (or belonging)

The ‘Positive relations with others’ dimension of Ryff’s (2014) eudaimonic model of wellbeing relates to the degree to which an individual perceives:

● their relationships as trusting, warm and satisfying,

● themselves as concerned with the well-being of others,

● themselves as capable one is of experiencing empathy,

● the give and take of relationships.

However, having positive relationships is different to a sense of belonging, which is a fundamental need that, when fulfilled, can increase perceptions of meaningfulness. Belonging is also a key proponent of an employee’s perceptions of whether a workplace is inclusive.

Referring to the ‘sense of self’ component of the meaningful work construct mentioned above, belonging fosters a sense of self by enabling an individual to feel comfortable with the activities in their everyday work. Drawing on the concept of social well-being, our relationships also shape how much we perceive our work to be worthwhile in terms of how much of social contribution they make socially.

A sense of belonging occurs when an employee believes that they have stable relationships with others who demonstrate care and concern for their well-being, growth, and success. Along with this, these relationships must be maintained through positive, frequent contact or interactions that involve minimal conflict. To cultivate a sense of belonging, employers can develop and implement an employee community strategy for providing employees with opportunities to build relationships with and serve others.

Communities aren’t just a Slack channel of people who share a common interest. A Slack channel may be a tool for a community to communicate; however, there needs to be an agreed purpose for the community, clear ways for people to collaborate and add value to other members of the community, and key moments where people come together to develop their relationships with each other.

On a team level, belonging can also be generated amongst employees by building psychological safety. This can be achieved by coordinating activities for team members to share their growth goals and decide on how they will support each other in their development. Running values alignment retrospectives are also a useful way for teams to build a sense of belonging by reflecting on what is important in their working relationships and have conversations about what is working well and what could be improved. Finally, running a Team Index survey on a semi-frequent basis can help to remind and reinforce behaviours that build psychological safety and identify when there is an area that needs addressing.

Wrapping it all up

Hopefully, this article on the eudaimonic perspective of well-being has given you a more well-rounded understanding of wellbeing and some practical ways to promote it. The next generation of employees expect more from their workplace in providing opportunities to increase their well-being and live a good life, and so it is important that employers intentionally craft an employee experience strategy that provides opportunities for employees to grow their sense of meaning and belonging at work.

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