Dr. Scott Downey, Director and Professor, Purdue University Center for Food and Agricultural Business

Wellbeing at Work by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter

How do we measure success in business? Most often we have used financial metrics to look at success, but what if we measured success based on how people within a business experienced the work necessary to create these outstanding financial metrics? This is the rough premise of Clifton and Harter’s book, Wellbeing at Work.

In the Gallup research study that led to the book, 100 million people were asked two questions: On a ladder from best possible life (10) to worst possible life (1), where do you stand right now? AND where do you think you’ll be standing on that ladder five years from now? Those who answered with the higher responses on the two questions were considered to be “thriving”.

The authors identified five interrelated areas that make up wellbeing: career, social, financial, physical and community, in that order. We are reminded that a thriving culture at work is made up of thriving individuals. The book talks through several “accelerators” of a thriving culture, depending on how organizations use things like communication, recognition and goal setting, among others. They also reference threats to be wary of, such as lack of clarity and purpose and poorly skilled managers (which were stated to be the greatest risk).

One of the most interesting discussions, in my opinion, was how these processes are influenced by COVID. What happens to wellbeing when we’re not together in the office the way we were a couple years ago? While some of us thrive being away from the office, it’s difficult to create a work culture among people who don’t spend much quality time together. The authors provide evidence that skilled managers provide more specific and frequent feedback in order to support the culture while people work remotely.

I was particularly taken by the point that for organizational leaders, a thriving culture starts with managers who are thriving. For managers, this means employees are thriving. For employees, it often means their families are thriving. In other words, to thrive as an organization, all of us must take responsibility for helping someone else thrive. I wonder if that means our thriving connects as much with what we give as to what we receive. Frankly, I wish the book had explored this a bit more. Instead, the book concludes with five areas each of us can consider in our own engagement. There are several appendices that help readers connect with strength analysis software results, help managers take action in each of the five areas of wellbeing, and provide background on the methodology or comparisons in the study.

As I teach relationship strategy, I often talk about four resources we all have to allocate in order to accomplish our goals: time, money, knowledge and people. The financial costs and benefits of decisions are important, but we shouldn’t ignore the others. The book’s premise that we should measure and consider the wellbeing of people really resonated with me.