A good day at work: the first stop on the long road to wellbeing

More often than not the question ‘did you have a good day at work?’ is met with a grunt, a…

More often than not the question ‘did you have a good day at work?’ is met with a grunt, a sigh, a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders, or even a verbal acknowledgement of ‘OK’. It is certainly not an everyday occurrence that we race to tell people that we have had a great day at work. That’s because, on average, we only have roughly three good days at work out of five.

A new report by business psychologists Robertson Cooper and the Bank Workers Charity (BWC) explores what makes a good day at work for employees and how it can be achieved every day. The research, which was discussed at the Financial Workplace conference at Morgan Stanley in London on 8 October 2018,  surveyed 1,500 UK adults in the public and private sectors.

What is a good day at work?

There is widespread misunderstanding of what makes a good day at work, according to the report, and this negatively affects workforce wellbeing. If we cannot diagnose the symptoms of a decent day at work, how can we curate them every day?

There is a fundamental difference between what people think creates a good day at work compared to what the evidence shows. People tend to believe that completing tasks with fewer obstacles and positive work relationships are staples of a good day at work, with very little mention of work-life balance or rest and recovery.

Yet what the evidence demonstrates is that a good day at work is less about task-focused objectives, and more about the physical and emotional state of employees.

The physical and emotional energy of employees is affected by the workplace environment, which can provide supportive relationships, managers, conversations and technology. If the environment successfully delivers these things, employees feel proud and value their workplace. When coupled with good personal relationships and the right amount of sleep, this approach can improve the overall likelihood of a good day.

The four ‘modes’ of workers

A good day at work holds different meanings for individuals. The report buckets four ‘modes’ of worker based on employee wellbeing, expectations and experiences. Each category of worker reported varying numbers of good days at work a week.

Get in-get out – Employed in roles with low level of control over the volume of tasks they complete and the way in which they accomplish them. Nine per cent of people surveyed related to this category and they have an average of 0.7 good days at work.

Trailblazers – Typically young metropolitans, these employees feel energised by what they do. Almost 70 per cent of people surveyed said they felt their company could not function without them, which makes them valued within the organisation. They have high control over tasks and low control over reward and pay, but they are driven by their sense of purpose at work. Four per cent of people surveyed belonged to this category and reported 3.8 good days at work.

Corporate Citizens – These employees focus on meeting the demands of the business. While 78 per cent of this category reported that their job makes them happy, they admit that when they face barriers they generally have a more negative view on their work. This category represents 63 per cent of people surveyed and they experience 3.4 good days at work.

Sustainably engaged – These employees are as interested in their businesses needs as they are in their personal needs. Work and home lives are integrated and 24 per cent of people want a role that interests and challenges them. These people have high levels of autonomy, they are motivated by good relationships and they enjoy feeling like they are making a difference. This category represents 24 per cent of people surveyed and they report 4.1 good days at work.

While it is the responsibility of the organisation to understand the different needs and expectations of their people, employees also needs to take responsibility for their own wellbeing. The company should support employees to have positive work expectations which – if embraced by people – will improve wellbeing and the ability to perform tasks at peak levels for more sustainable periods. While this approach needs the full support of leadership, long-term change does not come from the top down.

Four steps to long-term wellbeing

The research outlined four key steps organisations can take to establish a long-lasting wellbeing strategy in company culture. Step one involves building employee’s readiness to engage with wellbeing. Step two consists of shifting behaviours to lead to better physical and emotional energy at work. Step three looks at changing the culture to focus on a wellbeing strategy. Finally, step four requires the continual growth and development of the wellbeing programme with the ultimate goal to embed wellbeing into an organisation’s culture.

What is Good Day at Work? Robertson Cooper with Bank Workers Charity. Read the full report here.