Work and Well-Being

Labor Day seems like the perfect time to look at the connection between work and well-being.

“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

I got that from the US Department of Labor website.

I’m not sure how to measure “strength” and “prosperity,” but I’m familiar with the World Health Organization’s metrics for mental health.

A state of well-being in which one:

  • Can realize one’s potential.
  • Can cope with the normal stresses of life.
  • Can work productively and fruitfully.
  • Is able to make a contribution to one’s community.

Realizing Potential

Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans addresses and reframes some dysfunctional beliefs around business success and potential.

Dysfunctional Belief: If you are successful, you will be happy.

Reframe: True happiness comes from designing a life that works for you.

One of the ways they suggest doing this is to consider how you balance health, work, love, and play. They don’t suggest that all four have to be in balance all the time, but it’s difficult to realize our potential if we are depleted in one or more categories for prolonged periods.

Coping with Stress

One of the reasons that one cannot realize one’s potential simply through work alone is that the metric for success in the corporate world is economic growth. It is the nature of business cycles to alternate between periods of expansion and contraction.

If one’s only metric for well-being is one’s professional status, life will be a roller coaster of stressful ups and downs.

For knowledge workers, the sedentary nature of the job and the culture of working long hours can leave insufficient time for stress-relieving exercise, relationships, or simple unstructured recreation.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction originated as a tool to help cancer patients cope with the stress of their physical illness. Now, companies are increasingly recognizing its benefits as a way to encourage productivity and innovation in the workplace.

Working Productively and Fruitfully

In Are You Ready to Succeed? Unconventional strategies for achieving personal mastery in business and life, Srikumar S. Rao writes: “As long as material accumulation remains the index of success, we will have excess. We will have things galore, but happiness will remain a stranger.”

The good news is that once a certain income level is met (this varies by cost of living in the United States) additional income may well feed your ego, but not your sense of well-being.

When considering work-life balance, instead of putting in more hours to pay for that prestige car or address, consider this finding from the National Academy of Sciences. “Despite rising incomes, people around the world are feeling increasingly pressed for time, undermining well-being. We show that the time famine of modern life can be reduced by using money to buy time. Surveys of large, diverse samples from four countries reveal that spending money on time-saving services is linked to greater life satisfaction.”

Making a Contribution to Your Community

Bill Gates, the wealthiest American, was once a very successful businessman. What does his organization do today? “We work with partner organizations worldwide to tackle critical problems in four program areas. Our Global Development Division works to help the world’s poorest people lift themselves out of hunger and poverty. Our Global Health Division aims to harness advances in science and technology to save lives in developing countries. Our United States Division works to improve U.S. high school and postsecondary education and support vulnerable children and families in Washington State. And our Global Policy & Advocacy Division seeks to build strategic relationships and promote policies that will help advance our work. Our approach to grantmaking in all four areas emphasizes collaboration, innovation, risk-taking, and, most importantly, results.”

Fortunately, you don’t have to be as wealthy as Bill Gates to experience the well-being of making a contribution to your community. In many cases, all you need to do is find an area where you’d like to make a difference and volunteer.

Author: Bruce Cantwell

Writer, journalist and long-time mindfulness practitioner.