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Tom Rath on why we need to care about workers’ well-being

3 min read


In his new book  “Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements,” Tom Rath offers a fascinating look at the impact of what drives our sense of well-being, both at work and in our personal lives. I recently spoke to Tom about  how his findings can help people be better managers and leaders within their organizations.

The book positions career well-being as central to happiness. But if I am an HR official or manager at my company, why should I care how “happy” my workers are? Is there a connection between their well-being and satisfaction and the bottom line?

TOM: Yes, a very direct connection. We have asked millions of employees whether or not their manager truly cares about them as a person, and found that when managers care about their people, these employees are more productive, produce higher quality work, have fewer sick days and are more likely to stay with the organization. Investing in the engagement and well-being of employees isn’t just a “nice” thing to do — it is something managers must do if they want to decrease costs and increase productivity.

Are there any specific steps that managers can take to improve workers’ sense of career well-being?

At the most basic level, we need to like what we are doing on a day-to-day basis. Right now, only 20% of workers in the United States can “strongly agree” when we ask them if they “like what they do each day.” So the first step for managers is to help each worker to see how they can use their strengths in their job regularly. When managers do so, the odds of a worker being “actively disengaged” or extremely negative about their job is just 1 in 100.

Then another step is to help employees see how their work connects to the company’s overall goals and mission. When workers can use their strengths each day to achieve a common mission — and have a good manager, leader or mentor — this boosts career well-being rapidly.

The book mentions the devastating effect that long-term unemployment can have on a person’s well-being. Given the economic conditions of the past couple of years, that scenario covers a lot of people in this country. What do you think the consequence of that will be on our overall well-being as a nation?

There will be more severe psychological consequences from the recession than most people are thinking about today. Our data suggest this sustained unemployment will lead to notable increases in diagnoses of anxiety and depression over the next few years. These rates could double for the millions of people who have been unemployed for more than a year.

Fortunately, shorter periods of unemployment do not appear to be as detrimental. A more encouraging finding from our research is that as workers become more engaged in their jobs, it could cut the rates of anxiety and depression in half (when compared to people who are actively disengaged in their current jobs).

Image credit, skynesher, via iStock