The way we work: a watershed moment?

Having been in hibernation since the beginning of the year, I thought it was about time to communicate with the outside world again. Since temporarily stepping away from my career at the end of last year to focus on my PhD (examining  working from home (WFH), flourishing and technology), I’ve been analysing the online survey responses and immersing myself in a key research theme; well-being and flourishing.

Before I started this research, I hadn’t thought too much about what it means to flourish. Maybe just being happy and doing well? The dictionary definition of flourishing is relatively generic: ‘growing or developing successfully’, so it might surprise you that flourishing has a very specific meaning in terms of psychological well-being and positive mental health.  Keyes (2002), the American sociologist and psychologist, coined the term flourishing in the psychological context, “flourishing represents the achievement of a balanced life in which individuals feel good about lives in which they are functioning well”.

The graphic below illustrates mental well-being on a spectrum from low to high, with flourishing being on the high end of the spectrum . There’s no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ place to be on the spectrum and you’ll notice that most people are considered to have ‘mental wellness’ and be somewhere in the middle. We can move across the spectrum depending on what is going on in our lives and work.

In 2019/20 it was estimated that 828,000 UK workers were suffering from work-related stress depression or anxiety (ONS, 2020). That’s 51% of all work-related illness and works out at 17.9 million working days lost to work-related stress, depression and anxiety. Work-related stress has been on the increase in the UK and the impact of Covid-19 on our lives in increasing stress and anxiety levels for many people.  

Pre Covid-19 the responsible employers were focused on how to address the increasing levels of work-related stress. Since Covid-19, lots of people working from home are experiencing significant levels of stress for different reasons and employers are looking for ways to help them.  Whilst this is obviously the right thing to do, I wonder how employers can reverse the trend and address the current WFH challenges? Could this be a watershed moment where organisations will actually look at addressing the root causes of work-related stress rather than just ‘papering over the cracks’? Is this the time for fundamental change in working practices?

That’s my research in a nutshell, I’m interested in what impact working from home has on our experience of flourishing and what role technology plays. Does ICT (information and communication technology) help or hinder? I’m excited to tell you that my analysis is unearthing some interesting themes which I will share in future messages. In the meantime, if you would like to find out more you can have a look at my little website. It gets lonely in hibernation so if you have any ideas or thoughts to share, please get in touch with me (r02sb18@abdn.ac.uk).

2 thoughts on “The way we work: a watershed moment?”

  1. I think technology has made things better and worse. Better in the sense of facilitating our connection and communication with each other, and worse in compounding that growing culture of attachment we have to our devices, the pressure of being always on, especially across global barriers and timezones. We need to revisit how we set up boundaries between work and home life to help people relax between shifts. And there probably needs to be new working processes that support the kind of interaction and encouragement we need to stop ourselves from becoming too isolated.

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