A holistic view of employee well-being

Employee well-being is much broader than just whether someone is happy in their workplace. Actually, it is about happiness and wellbeing in life in general - says Indy Wijngaards. In addition, the measurement of well-being in the workplace - which many large companies are doing nowadays - has to be done very precisely, otherwise the answers will still be useless.

On 18 November, Indy Wijngaards will receive his PhD from the Erasmus School of Health and Policy Management (ESHPM) with his research on measuring employee well-being. He is also working as a consultant to be able to put his expertise into practice immediately.

Why did you research the issue of employee well-being?

"Measuring employee wellbeing is a trend, every large company does it nowadays. From an ethical point of view it is smart. From a business technical point of view as well, because happy employees are less likely to call in sick and perform better. My point is: the better you map out the well-being of your employees as an employer, the better you can uncover well-being problems and evaluate interventions.

However, in many organisations, employee well-being is often poorly measured, based on incomplete questionnaires. I make suggestions on how to do it better."

Why is the measurement of well-being not done properly in practice?

"It is difficult to measure all components of employee well-being properly. First, there is time pressure: employees are not waiting for a twenty-page survey.

The second difficulty lies in fathoming the large and ever-expanding scientific literature on defining and measuring employee well-being. In my dissertation, I try to create order out of chaos."

How can it be fully measured?

"To start with, I searched the literature for an answer to the question: what is employee wellbeing and what is the best way to measure it? My main conclusion is that you want to measure more than just how satisfied an employee is with his or her job. To capture the wellbeing of working people, you also need to include non-work aspects such as financial and social satisfaction. A nice weekend with friends can have an influence on how you sit at your desk on Monday morning. Just as an argument with a manager can affect your evening off. Experiences from work flow through to the rest of your life and vice versa."  

"Experiences from work flow into the rest of your life and vice versa"

Are you saying that employee welfare is actually general welfare?

"Yes, it is largely related to general wellbeing. In addition, time plays an important role in the definition of employee wellbeing. I conducted a study on the happiness of Dutch truck drivers. Every hour, they received a message on their phone with a number of questions about their activities and happiness. It showed that there were huge fluctuations in well-being throughout the day. So if you want to measure holistically or fully, you have to measure at different times."

But I guess most employees don't feel like filling in a questionnaire every week either?

"No, indeed, so I also investigated: what is the best way to measure frequency in practice? I concluded that a measuring instrument should meet two criteria: validity and time efficiency.

In addition, you want to measure as many aspects of employee wellbeing as possible. Often only one component is measured. An example: a certain intervention can help participants to reduce stress, but has no effect on engagement. You can imagine that measuring a single wellbeing variable could lead to unsubtle conclusions about the effectiveness of the intervention."

Do you have a tip for doing it right?

"You could send out a short questionnaire once a month, in which you measure various well-being concepts, for example job satisfaction, stress and engagement. That way, you get a more complete and nuanced picture. I am explicitly against the summing up of all well-being variables in one single score. That is often done in corporates - sixteen dimensions of well-being and work experience are summarised in 'the engagement score'. That does not work. You have to report each variable in its own right. And find out what the patterns are over time.

Furthermore, to analyse open questions, you have to use text analysis. Sentiment analysis works reliably and well these days, I simply explain in my thesis how you can get started with it." 

"Summarising sixteen dimensions of well-being and work experience into an 'engagement score' does not work. You have to report each variable in its own right"

PhD student

Indy Wijngaards MSc

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PhD defence I. (Indy) Wijngaards

On 18 November 2021, I. Wijngaards will defend his PhD dissertation, entitled: ‘Measuring Worker Well-Being: An evaluation of closed and open-ended survey quest

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