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Goodbye “Workplace Wellness,” Hello WORK


A few years ago (2010), I read a book put out by Gallup called Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. It outlines Gallup’s Wellbeing Finder tool, which is designed to help people assess how “well” they are in five categories: Career, Social, Financial, Physical, and Community. The book and the model underscore that these five elements aren’t independent entities, but rather intensely interwoven categories. In order to assess one’s wellbeing, each of the elements — as well as the interaction between all five of them — must be evaluated.  Hmmm…strinkingly similar to the concept of a wellfesto!

The book is straightforward…not rocket science…but it illuminated one thing for me that has really stuck with me since then and continues to influence my work.  Career — in the home, out of the home, however you define it — drives well-being.  In fact, Gallup’s data shows that people with high Career Wellbeing are more than twice as likely to be thriving in their lives overall than those who have low Career Wellbeing. This isn’t new news — a 1958 Gallup study found that while the standard retirement age for men in the 1950s was closer to 65, men who lived to be 95 or older did not retire until they were an average of 80 years old.

So what does this mean?  To me, it means that the idea of “workplace wellness” is dead.  Yes, I love working on the treadmill and eating salad in the cafeteria as much as the next person does, but what matters more is how I FEEL when I’m at work.  The well-being conversation should start with WORK — why you work, how you work, when you work, what you do, who you work with (once that’s all set, then the treadmills and salads are icing on the cake).  I’d argue that getting to a place of loving the weekdays as much as the weekends is much better for our overall health than a 3-miler on the treadmill at lunch (which of course, until we reach this utopia, doesn’t hurt).  And to be clear, I’m not talking about working all the time…I’m talking about creating an ecosystem of work that feels additive, not sucking.  One that feels whole, not fragmented.

Our society trains us to think of work as, well, work — something undesirable, something we’re forced to do, something we would avoid if we could.  In this paradigm, workplace wellness makes sense (add on the “wellness” to make up for the work).  I can’t wait until this model goes away, and we enter a world where the focus is on finding joy in the everyday, being the same person at work and outside of work, meeting on bikes and treadmills, and measuring impact instead of hours.  A world where workplace wellness doesn’t need to exist…because work itself keeps us well.

What do you think?  This is a personal quest for me, and I’d love to write a longer post/article about this topic, so if you have ideas/thoughts/examples/skepticism, please comment or send me a note!

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. ebriceno #

    Thanks Brynn. I very much agree with your views, preferences and vision for the world (though I think the Gallup studies could also be interpreted in other ways, like mental engagement being good for longevity, regardless of passion/purpose). One related element to consider for your longer post/article about this is the role schools have in developing this conception of work not being fun and well aligned with our passions, but school being a ‘chore’ we do and the real fun happens elsewhere. If we can make learning experiences about helping people find their passions and learn valuable, important skills, then people can transition to careers with that same view of ‘work’. Here’s a youtube video on a sample school that is doing that:

    May 20, 2013
    • Thanks for your thoughts, Ed. I agree — this definitely starts in school (something I’m so glad you’re working toward). Look forward to watching the video. 🙂

      May 21, 2013
  2. Genia #

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s a compelling and powerfull concept. Reminds me of a quote from Khalil Gibran “work is love made visible”

    May 20, 2013
    • I love that quote. Thanks, Genia. This is a very idealistic world view, but one I think is worth working toward!

      May 21, 2013
  3. Tudor #

    Very interesting take on work. I hope we can figure out a way for well being at work to happen for everybody!

    August 29, 2013

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