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Why measure well-being?

“Wellbeing can be understood as how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole.”

Unlike traditional mental and physical health diagnostics, or work engagement scores, or job satisfaction surveys, experienced well-being is predictive of all four critical drivers of the company’s bottom line.

  • Employee work performance day-to-day

  • Employee physical and mental health

  • Employee absence rates

  • Intention to leave the company

In 2018, Levell’s workforce survey measured employees’ experienced levels of exhaustion, stress, motivation, and frustration in work and their intent to leave. We found a strong correlation between employees’ experienced well-being and their likelihood to churn. The more stressed, exhausted, frustrated, and, or motivated an individual is by their work, the more likely they are to leave the company.

If the average workforce has 20% churn, feelings of stress, exhaustion, low motivation, and frustration will explain almost 50% of all turnover.

This means that companies that wish to drive down turnover levels need to provide employees, teams and leaders with an efficient way to measure, monitor and optimize for the high levels of energy, calm, motivation and mood in work every day.

How do you measure well-being?

Well-being exists in two dimensions, subjective and objective. Subjective (and in particular, experienced) well-being is what we are measuring and managing least frequently in work, even though it is the most critical and important.

Measuring objective wellbeing

First you have to create a list of the specific things that you think objectively define well-being or having a ‘good life’.

When trying to measure the well-being of citizens, many policymakers start with this approach.

This may mean having money in the bank, having completed basic schooling, or having a close knit family. Then you need to come up with a way to measure this.

Typically, this involves analyzing available data - for example:

  • Having a high school graduation certificate

  • Measuring the number of times that you call your relatives per week

  • Measuring the amount of money you have saved

Increasingly, people and companies are trying to assess objective well-being through external biometric markers of your physical (physiological) state, and, or tracking health behaviors as a proxy for levels of physical health. This includes:

  • Capturing data on your heart rate variability

  • Using wearables to capture measures of physiological stress, such as galvanic skin response

  • Tracking personal health patterns, such as steps and sleep trends

  • Setting targets to achieve personal goals, to help measure and monitor well-being through objective actions

The advantage of an objective approach to defining well-being is that it is very easy for policymakers to assess. This can be through pre-existing data, or wearable devices which can monitor any changes in individuals.

There is a major disadvantage to measuring well-being with an objective well-being approach. The disadvantage of this approach is that objective well-being doesn’t necessarily mean that you have subjective well-being.

You may have thousands and thousands of dollars in the bank, or have completed many years of education, or have a low heart rate variability, and still not feel satisfied with what you have in life, not enjoy day-to-day life, feel exhausted every day, or lack a sense of purpose or meaning.

Measuring subjective wellbeing

Subjective well-being is a measure of how you feel about yourself in your life.

Subjective well-being captures three concepts:

Experience: how you feel when living your life.

Satisfaction: how content you are with your life.

Purpose: how meaningful your life seems.

You measure subjective well-being by thinking about and recording what you feel (or think) through self-reflection.

To measure subjective well-being, you need to allow time to reflect and evaluate your life. How? (David B Newman et al)

  • An online well-being survey

  • Self journaling

  • Measurement apps

This self-reflection should focus on how you feel when living your life, how content you are with your life, and how meaningful your life seems.

It also is appropriate to regularly reflect on personal data to be able to visually see the dips and spikes in that area to learn what’s causing an effect.

How often should you measure well-being?

One’s perception of life satisfaction and purpose in life tends to be relatively stable over time. These measures are only influenced by major shifts in environment, habits or resources, or a life change. (Veenhoven)

The main contributing factors to life satisfaction are not completely understood yet, and the weight they are given by each individual varies; but, research has found that they likely fall into one of four sequential categories (Positive Psychology) :

  1. Life chances

  2. Course of events

  3. Flow of experience

  4. Evaluation of life (Veenhoven, 1996)

Experienced well-being, or the aspect of well-being related to day-to-day experiences in life, is much harder to measure because it relates to how you feel daily.

It is the sum total of emotional, physical, or mental journey in life across all the minutes you have lived and felt in the moment.

Evidence has shown that survey questionnaires that ask you to look back on how you feel over more than a day are not appropriate to measure experienced well-being.

That’s because our memories of our own feelings are skewed by negative events or very intense events and so are both biased and inaccurate.

The gold standard for measuring effect is the experience sampling method (ESM), where participants are prompted to record their feelings and perhaps the activity they are undertaking at either random or fixed time points, usually several times a day, throughout the study period, which can last several weeks. (OECD)

Instead, researchers have devised two clever ways to measure experienced well-being, which minimizes bias and delivers accurate results. These both fall under the umbrella of experience sampling techniques.

The two major experience sampling techniques:

  • Momentary assessments (ESM). This is to regularly reflect on personal feelings and drivers in the moment, and find a reason why. You reflect on feelings and activities, events or contexts, at three intervals throughout the day (often: morning, midday, and night).

  • Day reconstruction method (DRM). This is to regularly reflect on personal feelings and drivers in the recent past, and to find a reasoning why. You reflect on feelings and activities, events or contexts, but only once, and with respect to the entire day. This approach involves less frequent self reflection, but a bit longer reflection and a bit more work. It tends to be quite structured, for example, involving a self-reflection at 9am, every day, to enable the ability to capture every activity and feeling per hour over a 24 hour time period, and an overall view at the end of each 24 hour time period.

Both of these methods are extremely useful because it captures an accurate picture of how you are feeling throughout the day, and - if done right - use this to create a timeline of your experienced well-being over the course of weeks, months and years of your life.

The additional advantage of experienced sampling techniques is that, by capturing activities, events or contexts along with how you feel, you quickly learn what actually drives, drains, impacts and influences your well-being in life on a daily basis.

When you compare your experienced well-being with activities, environments or events, even after a short week, you can reflect and look back and see interesting and important patterns.

For example:

  • Is what you do in work increasing your happiness in life?

  • What is actually making you stressed?

  • Does a better diet or exercise actually give you more energy during the day?

  • What tasks or interactions do you need to avoid because they drain your motivation?

Diagram of wellbeing, theories and measurement techniques

Diagram: (Gallup)

What is the ideal measurement of well-being?

Overall, the ideal situation is to combine experience sampling of your daily life with annual or quarterly reflections on your feeling of life satisfaction and purpose.

This is the approach loosely taken by WHO, which curated a project to measure well-being called SAGE, using the day reconstruction method.

The purpose was to measure subjective well-being through a combination of eight questions based on overall life satisfaction, satisfaction with different domains of life, and overall experienced well-being. (World Health Organization).

How do companies usually measure well-being and performance at work?

Typically, companies measure well-being of their workforce through 121s, walking around to check up on team members, and ad hoc workplace surveys.

There are pros and cons to these methods. It is usually down to one individual to pay attention to the well-being of staff, and this can be time consuming. There is also a chance of a lack of consistency of information available to really measure well-being appropriately, and this could cause difficulty to really analyze the data and understand what it’s telling you.

This can lead to a misunderstanding of the next best approach for everyone, and one of which could be biased also.

How companies (and employees) can get ahead

The key steps to unlock the well-being performance opportunity:

  • Measure and monitor the four core feelings that matter for performance and health at work

  • Use well-being data to design work

  • Increase business revenue and reduce risk

  • Experience the performance uplift

  • Supercharge company financial performance

How can Levell help you measure well-being, to improve performance of your company and employees?

Levell is a wellbeing measurement platform, built for work.

At Levell, we exist to help people like you measure, monitor, and utilize data on experienced well-being in work, to sustain health and supercharge your performance.

Measure you and your team’s well-being, and supercharge performance.

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