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Work wellbeing - protections and vulnerabilities

Disruption of work and increase in distress symptoms have made work well-being an important topic. Among solutions offered there is no shortage of instructions and gadgetry targeted at people’s bodily processes. But psychological well-being has attracted surprisingly little attention. Work well-being is here examined through particular protections and vulnerabilities, open naming and discussion of which promotes psychological well-being. Well-being should not be reduced to an individual's bodily problem but seen as a topic in leadership and teamwork - a competency in itself.

Protections


Both folk wisdom and scientific research attest to the fact that human relationships, attitude toward change as well as optimism serve as protections to work wellbeing.

Human relations

Human relations have always been thought as protecting and promoting psychological well-being. Scientific research lends also support to this notion. Obviously, half of all people are fine by themselves, feel comfortable alone and lesser socia­bility or shyness does not mean or lead to mental discomfort. But less sociable people should keep in mind that in times of hardship human relations can serve as a valuable source for practical and mental support.

There is an important difference between the amount and experience of human relations in affecting well-being. Social identification concerns the experience of human relations, the feeling of social belonging (or its absence) which is equally prevalent among the shy or withdrawing individuals and extraverted “socialites”. Steffens’ and colleagues’ recent meta-analysis (2016) shows that identification with one’s work team and organization has significant influence on both people’s physical and psychological health, found in a composite sample amounting to almost 20.000 individuals.

Human relations’ protective influence upon health and well-being is an issue not only for the individual but a challenge to the whole work community. Organizations and teams should actively promote help giving, communality and sharing so that everyone is better enabled to experience belongingness and realize that relying on others is a culturally prescribed thing to do.

Attitude to change

The constant change in work life afflicts us all. Favoring novelty and change in one’s surroundings has a protective effect on well-being in times of change. In contrast, those who favor environmental clarity and stability become much more challenged by change. The strength of clarity, stability favoring people is in being organized and disciplined which does not mean or lead to dis­comfort. But, they must realize also the positive opportunities often related to change. They should also relax from their sometimes un­compromis­ing principles. Obviously, strong novelty, variety seekers’ risk is in headless running around and not being able to settle down on the current situation. Ultimately, the attitude towards change is an outlook which can be influenced and altered at one’ own will.

Optimism

Optimism is the expectancy of being successful in one’s strivings and not being too easily discouraged by failure. Optimism (“glass half full”) has always been thought of protecting and promoting wellbeing. Scientific research lends also support to this, even to its health promoting effects. The strength of less optimistic people is in realism and awareness of limited resources (“glass half empty”) which does not itself mean or lead to mental dis­comfort. But such people should realize the alternative futures, good things can also be expected to happen.

Obviously overoptimism can undermine judgment leading to denial of health risks. Winston Churchill who reached the high age of 90 shows considerable optimism (or self-irony) in his famous statement: “I drink a great deal. I sleep a little, and I smoke cigar after cigar. That is why I am in two-hundred percent form.” However, this wisdom is not to be recommended as a maxim for life nor an excuse for not stopping to drink, smoke or enjoy a good night’s sleep. In summary, people more often have too little optimism or their level optimism has dropped for some reason. Ultimately, optimism is an outlook on life, the bases of which may be examined in calm manner and influenced at one’s own will.

Vulnerabilities


While competitive and focused achievement motives are important resources for competent performance, they may contribute to lowered well-being when combined to other unfavorable factors.

A-typicality

A-typical behavior pattern derives from competitive, results-oriented achievement motivation combined to quick, risk-taking and impatient decision making. If this pattern co-occurs with bad health habits, overweight, heightened blood pressure and hereditary factors, the consequence according to research may be develop­ment of heart and coro­nary trouble. In such case, the advice is to take things easier, spare oneself and practice a healthier lifestyle. One of life’s paradoxes is that a strong competitive drive and quick decision style count as resources in the pursuit of victories and success. But, when combined with less healthy lifestyle and hereditary risk factors, the consequence may be development of heart and coronary symptoms.

See Wikipedia: A-typicality

Burn-out prospects

Vulnerability to burnout derives from the combination of focused, perfectionistic achievement motivation and very low or lowered optimism. Focused, quality-oriented achievement motivation does not itself mean or lead to burnout but is a resource in qualified and persistent performance. But, combined with lowered optimism the consequence may according to research be vulnerability to burnout. In such case the advice is to set one’s quality standards on a more reasonable level and stop attending to every minute detail. Also the reasons for lowered optimism should be examined. One of life’s paradoxes is that strong focus and uncompromising persistence are resources in attaining good quality. But in combination to lowered expectancies of success, burning out may be the consequence.

See Wikipedia: Burn-out prospects

Steffens, N.K., Haslam, S.A., Schuh, S.C., Jetten, J. and van Dick, R. (2016). A Meta-analytic Review of Social Identification and Health in Organizational Contexts. Personality and Social Psychology Review, July 7.

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