January is an obvious time to reflect on the year gone by and the 365 days that 2019 has to offer.
Therefore, I have decided to begin the new year by sharing some of my greatest hopes and wishes for the new year with you. As you will see, these hopes and wishes strike both major and minor chords.
Briefly put, my hope and wish for 2019 are that politicians and other decision-makers will begin to listen much more to the citizens of our country and their professional opinions when they contribute to the public debate. Many of these professional voices try to reach the politicians with arguments that call for and draw on the essence of the rich potential contributions that research, including well-being research, can make by improving well-being in the workplace.
Hence, another wish of mine is that we get better at integrating the essence of well-being research in our daily work. That we may lean on it, like a wind in our back, to begin to offer a well-founded counter perspective to the prevailing economic growth paradigm. A counter perspective that includes a clear-eyed understanding of the ways in which the growing emphasis on documentation, quantitative goals and efficiency, combined with increasing control and surveillance, undermine the motivation and well-being of both management and staff and erode the qualities that drive our sense of purpose and meaning. We need a strong practice that integrates knowledge about what we can do in a workplace context to promote and preserve well-being in the short as well as the long term.
More than ever, it seems to that we, as a society, need to realize how we have driven efficiency and dehumanization so far in our organizations, companies and teams that we are left with a large labour force that struggles to find meaning and purpose and find joy in their work.
Recently I looked at some of the latest, and not exactly encouraging, statistics on well-being, which only provided further testimony that the pervasive growth paradigm is leading to growing discouragement on almost every level. Here are some of the figures from recent studies that made me sit up and take notice:
- Four in ten often or always find that their workload is too much to handle (Epinion for HK Privat).
- Only one in four managers feel properly equipped to help an employee who is stressed (Userneeds).
- Almost half of all FOA members (Danish union of public employees) suffering from stress find it shameful to take sick leave (FOA).
- A little more than one in five managers finds that they are not receiving the necessary support from their superiors (FTF).
- Also, the number of non-administrative public-sector employees who engage directly with the daily needs of the citizens has plummeted: while the number of academics in the municipalities has grown by 6,300 in just six years, the number of employees overall has dropped by 35,000 (Statistics Denmark, 2017)
Let us use research-based knowledge to improve well-being
But everything is not doom and gloom. Fortunately, we are hearing more and more prominent voices speak up for change and for embracing the well-being paradigm I have advocated for more than 20 years. We saw a good example of this recently when 336 leading well-being scholars challenged the constant pursuit of growth and profits in an open letter to a number of international media.
Because the research in the field is so clear, and as a growing number of leading experts are rejecting the basic idea of constant growth as the dominant measure of success, we, as a society, and our politicians have a responsibility to develop new models.
Well-being research tells us that we generate well-being when we allow employees to pursue meaning in a holistic framework, when they have influence on their own work and planning, and when we reduce control, surveillance and the short-sighted pursuit of growth.
In my opinion, we, as a society, are stuck in the hamster wheel, where growth and profits come before well-being, because we are driven by a basic assumption that our current economic model is the only option.
Why not use 2019 to challenge our traditional mindset and ask ourselves whether there might not be a different approach?
A shared focus on added well-being
Perhaps it is high time we rephrased the question from how we can maximize efficiency to how we can maximize well-being?
I would also encourage our politicians to address that question, since we cannot continue simply to hope that our political decision-makers take their responsibility for our national well-being seriously; we have to demand that they do, since the lack of well-being for a country’s citizens is costly, in both human and economic terms.
So yes, I am concerned when politicians shirk their responsibility. When they worry more about clinging to positions of power than on initiating the long-term, sustainable shift away from the tyranny of efficiency and bureaucracy and lay the foundation for a new reality where our leaders offer a form of leadership that enables employees to improve the quality of the services they deliver by focusing their efforts on their actual professional fields. This would allow them to deliver the care that our sick and elderly citizens need and deserve, the education that our students need, and so that tomorrow’s citizens and decision-makers – our children – receive the personal engagement they need to develop and thrive.
Meanwhile, as we continue to try to make our politicians wake up, we have to do everything we can under the current conditions and structures in our organizations and in our workplaces to shape a working life based on values, collaboration and co-creation to promote and preserve well-being.
And maybe it would be a good idea to challenge our current notions of leadership and following, so that we can pool our resources and pull together locally, wherever we are, to create the best possible conditions for maximizing meaning, coherence and well-being. Often, the ‘little’ things can make the biggest difference. Being present in a conversation, taking the time to listen, remembering traditional virtues, like keeping appointments, striving for decency in the way we treat each other and for each of us to contribute constructively to humanizing the world we live in.
In 2019 I suggest that we insist on humanity in our working relationships. Nothing less. That we give ourselves and each other the opportunity to give while growing.
The goal should be free-flowing well-being for all.
Happy New Year!
Well-being in practice – would you like to know more?
If you would like to know more about what promotes well-being in practice I offer my Well-Being Coach programme for managers and staff again this year, starting in late March. The programme, which takes place over three weekends, introduces you to effective tools to help you reduce sick leave, promote a healthier psychological working environment and boost job satisfaction, motivation and quality of life overall.
This fall for the second time, the programme is also offered in Switzerland; it is taught in German with English translation.