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Wellbeing at Work

The contemporary workplace is in crisis. Only a small minority of employees report that they are truly engaged at work. The rest lack the emotional investment in their work to be fully productive and to create significant value for their organisations.

What is the cause and consequence of this situation? In some cases, it is burnout. In many cases, it is presenteeism. In all cases, it is poor mental health and a lack of wellbeing.

According to a recent survey, the proportion of employees experiencing poor work-related mental health is rising and currently stands at almost 40 per cent. At the same time, the report reveals, the proportion of employees who believe their organization does well in supporting those with poor mental health is in decline and currently also stands at around 40 per cent.

This situation provides business with a commercial opportunity; the global wellness industry is in explosive growth and is currently worth around $4.2 trillion. But for most companies, the situation poses a direct threat, and some are starting to respond. Thirty large corporations have signed a pledge to promote employee wellbeing and they call on other businesses to sign it.

Contrary to some popular perceptions, 'wellbeing' is about much more than happiness or positive feelings. It is about a meaningful life, with good work and relationships, and a sense of responsibility and freedom. This idea, often associated with Aristotle, is in fact embodied in the earlier and broader Hebrew notion of 'shalom'.

Shalom is not merely about 'peace' in the sense of the absence of conflict. It's about God's blessing in every area of human life, including work. This is clear even from the passage of Scripture about peace most commonly cited at military remembrance ceremonies around the word, Micah 4:1-4.

In this passage, peace is not about the burying of weapons ('swords'). It is about repurposing them into agricultural equipment ('ploughshares') that will increase the productivity of the food industry and allow people to enjoy rewards from their labour. Its picture of people sitting under 'their own vines and under their own fig trees' provides a magnificent metaphor for the true vocation of work: to satisfy human needs through the employment of human gifts.

This shalom is 'wellbeing at work', in both meanings of that phrase. It is the way things were for humans in the garden of Eden, and will be for them in the coming city. In it lies the redemption of the contemporary workplace.

Peter Heslam

companies are responding to the wellbeing crisis

wellbeing is about a life of meaning and purpose