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07.11.2019

Wellbeing at Work | Connecting with Culture

The contemporary workplace is in crisis.

Only a small minority of employees report that they are truly engaged at work. The rest lack the emotional investment in their work to be fully productive and to create significant value for their organisations.

What is the cause and consequence of this situation? In some cases, it is burnout. In many cases, it is presenteeism. In all cases, it is poor mental health and a lack of wellbeing.

According to a recent survey, the proportion of employees experiencing poor work-related mental health is rising and currently stands at almost 40 per cent. At the same time, the report reveals, the proportion of employees who believe their organization does well in supporting those with poor mental health is in decline and currently also stands at around 40 per cent.

This situation provides business with a commercial opportunity; the global wellness industry is in explosive growth and is currently worth around $4.2 trillion. But for most companies, the situation poses a direct threat, and some are starting to respond. Thirty large corporations have signed a pledge to promote employee wellbeing and they call on other businesses to sign it.

Contrary to some popular perceptions, ‘wellbeing’ is about much more than happiness or positive feelings. It is about a meaningful life, with good work and relationships, and a sense of responsibility and freedom. This idea, often associated with Aristotle, is in fact embodied in the earlier and broader Hebrew notion of ‘shalom’.

Shalom is not merely about ‘peace’ in the sense of the absence of conflict. It’s about God’s blessing in every area of human life, including work. This is clear even from the passage of Scripture about peace most commonly cited at military remembrance ceremonies around the world, Micah 4:1-4.

In this passage, peace is not about the burying of weapons (‘swords’). It is about repurposing them into agricultural equipment (‘ploughshares’) that will increase the productivity of the food industry and allow people to enjoy rewards from their labour. Its picture of people sitting under ‘their own vines and under their own fig trees’ provides a magnificent metaphor for the true vocation of work: to satisfy human needs through the employment of human gifts.

This shalom is ‘wellbeing at work’, in both meanings of that phrase. It is the way things were for humans in the garden of Eden, and will be for them in the coming city. In it lies the redemption of the contemporary workplace.

 

Peter S Heslam
Peter is director of Transforming Business and of Faith in Business, Cambridge.

Comments

  1. Thank you, Peter, for this helpful and insightful contribution. You are obviously unable to do a complete analysis in such a short thought-piece so, as a comment, I would just add another dimension. For completeness we also need to look at this perceived “mental health/wellbeing” crisis in the workplace with spiritual lenses.
    I would contend that in most workplaces the idea that all their employees have bodies, souls and spirits, all three seeking health and wellbeing, is unconsidered. This lack of understanding is present in all parts of our national life and the remedy is not political… i.e. to throw more money or resources at the problem. The remedy lies in first acknowledging our tri-partheid nature (body, soul, spirit) as created human beings… and I mean all of us, not just the religiously minded and definitely including sceptics, agnostics and atheists!

    By Jeremy Clare - 8th November 2019
  2. ‘to satisfy human needs through the employment of human gifts.’ Good point. I’ve lately been thinking that in some areas of the western workplace, there’s over productivity and accompanying wastefulness – and stress. Not least the food industry.

    By Bruce Gulland - 8th November 2019
  3. The “Why?” we do work, rather than the “What we do” is surely another part of the puzzle. Companies that do not have a vision that inspires will always have people who just show up for the pay cheque, a soul-destroying existence. And as Christians we have the even higher purpose – “to God be the glory”.

    By Colin Anderson - 8th November 2019

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