Monday, 6 May 2013

The changing definition of well-being at work

If you were stopped on the street and asked what well-being at work is, maybe you could answer the question. But what are the new trends and in what direction is working life developing?

There are many questions such as, how do leadership and well-being methods help individuals to invest in their own personal well-being at work, and in their leisure time? Where does work time start, and leisure time end? Does this difference exist anymore?

Work goes everywhere and we are always within reach. With modern technology and flexibility it is possible to work at home and even at the beach. Who is responsible of well-being at work when working is possible anywhere?

How will new leadership and well-being actions cover working life, so that it fits all areas of work and everyday life?

Since industrialization began in Scandinavia we have long separated work and other areas of life. Balancing work with family life, society involvement, coping in the culture we live in, or developing our own personal self-image did not belong to the discussions of professional identity and professional self-esteem. When we do reviews at work we still find it a taboo to talk about how we or our family is coping with the way we work!

According to the definition of The Finnish Institution of Occupational Health, well-being is an entity that combines work, health, safety and welfare. Occupational well-being is a broad concept, where labor, health, safety and well-being issues and their various features are simultaneously examined. Well-being at work can be examined, for example, through objective working conditions, the subjective experience of well-being, and through compensation perspectives. The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, defines well-being at work to mean that the work is carried out in a meaningful, well flowing, safe, health-promoting, career and community supporting environment. Well-being at work can be measured. Wellbeing at work is closely related to the concept of quality of working life.

Several definitions of well-being at work still examine it as a ‘stand alone’ entity that takes place only at work premises.

We should be looking more than just our working environment, at all levels of society:  

  • individual lives during work and outside work hours (almost impossible to separate in a lot of professions)
  •  groups we are involved in (at work and outside),
  • at our work place/organization in its entirety (we tend to look at only our immediate collaborators)
  • the society and culture we live and grow in

Still substantially the missing areas are the individual's relationship to family, communities and cultures. Individual's relationship to their closest collaborators at work is examined, but the relationship to people and the environment outside the work is missing.
Well-being at work in health care is often understood only to cover working time in specific working areas where work is performed. This way we only look at work related problems when they arise at work. We do not look at factors that arise outside workinghours. It overlooks each employee as an individual participating in a wider environment, in groups, organizations, community and society.

The way and where we work is changing so we need to change the definition and actions of working life as well. Since we can´t separate working and free time, we have come to a time where well-being at work should have more holistic approach.

Let’s look at Finland
Every  3 out of 10 workers in Finland work remotely at least once a month, every fourth work remotely sometimes. Every twentieth worker is a full time remote worker. Men work remotely more than women. Of men 45 % and of women 34 % say they work remotely sometimes. To work remotely is more common around the capital city of Helsinki. In Helsinki and surrounding areas 46 % work remotely from home sometimes, when the rest of the country percentage is 39 %. Distance to work has an effect, but according to the study it is not a substantial factor. People want to work remotely, since it brings flexibility to their everyday life. According to the study (below) working at home is a more peaceful environment to work, and involves less commuting, time and money. This Study was done during August and September 2012 for an Insurance Company that introduced a new insurance for remote workers. There were 1,094 working persons who answered the study.

Let’s look at Microsoft in Finland

They have a new concept called “Läsnätyö”. Translation does not exist yet in English language so let’s separate the word in two parts. “Läsnä” means to be present and “työ” means work. So it is freely translated “work being where you are present”. You can give full work input regardless of where your location is. New technology is making this possible, and the agreed rules of the game.  It needs new examination of how we manage and organize our work and leisure time.

More and more work and leisure activities are merged into a single entity of human life. Thus, it is time to deal with well-being as a whole. Well-being at work is “where you are present”. Therefore, the concept of well-being at work should be transformed to the well-being of people of working age, to cover all four levels of society (individual, group, organization and society), which are more and more integrated in the work.

The key issues at work, as in life, is to be part of  a meaningful environment that is promoting openness, self-direction, intentionality, sense of community and common purpose.

We need to look at a more humanistic aspect of well-being, where working is taken into various levels reflecting each other. What affects the individual level is also affected by the other levels of the society and vice versa.  If the entity is not feeling well individually it is reflected negatively at  other levels (group, organization and society) and in both directionOne level can’t function without the other.
Society of WellBeing – Reflections on four levels of the society

There are various methods and tools to develop the well-being of people of working age. Supervision, coaching, and humanistic management are holistic approaches that count in the areas that are so often still missing.

Helena Kemppainen, supervisor, coach, empowerment trainerÒ, humanistic management specialist, gsm: +358 (0)50 4922161, Email
Ulla Heinonen, Ph.D., Lic.Ed., Master-CSLE®, gsm: +358 (0)50 591 7199, Email

Society of Well-being develops methods and tools for improving working life. We promote well-being on all areas of life, and are part of The Global Humanistic Management Network.


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