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Assessing data quality in a Big convenience sample of work wellbeing

William Fleming, George Ward and Jan-Emmanuel De Neve


Survey research is facing a multitude of challenges to its validity, especially for the study of labour and organisations. Online surveys with non-probability, convenience samples are simultaneously seen as part of the problem and a promising solution. Methodological literature argues that researchers should not think of data quality of online surveys in terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ but in degrees, with a series of recommendations scattered across disciplines for assessing and managing data limitations. We present a case study of a Big, multi-level, online, convenience sample of subjective work wellbeing, the Indeed Work Wellbeing Score survey (IWWS). IWWS is an ongoing international survey of subjective work wellbeing, with over 20,000,000 responses and growing. In this study we evaluate the UK subsample collected by October 2023 (N = 1,463,503). While a prima facie valuable source of data, the data generation process raises concerns of selection bias and inattentive responses. We evaluate the extent of bias, variation in bias, response rates, internal consistency and employer cluster-level reliability. We then turn to considering what types of research questions a researcher may want to answer with the data, especially unit comparisons at different survey units and inter-item relationships. Overall, we suggest that at the individual, employee level, the survey suffers from selection and binary bias in responses, but that at the employer-level IWWS offers a valuable resource to supplement existing random probability surveys of work and wellbeing. In our conclusions we offer practical methodological recommendations for others using Big, online convenience samples. Finally, we provide commentary on the strengths and limitations of the IWWS for ongoing and future research, as well as the value for businesses, jobseekers and policy-makers.


Link between wellbeing and productivity is made ‘clear’

Financial Times

The good news, says William Fleming, research fellow at Oxford university’s Wellbeing Research Centre, is that there is a “clear link between subjective wellbeing and productivity”.

He points to two recent studies that show happier workers make more sales, and wellbeing at work can boost financial performance. They support the business case for tending to staff happiness, he argues. “This is without considering absence rates because of mental health and costs of employee turnover.”

Companies reap bigger dividends from happier staff

Financial Times

For academics Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and George Ward at the University of Oxford, and Micah Kaats at Harvard University, it is no surprise, then, that the company’s share price has performed so strongly: their recent study provides the clearest link yet between staff wellbeing and financial performance in quoted US companies. “We find that higher levels of wellbeing generally predict higher firm valuations, higher return on assets, higher gross profits, and better stock market performance,” they write in a 42-page paper.

Why are workers so sad? These researchers offer clues – and recommendations

Fast Company

Layard cites his research, along with studies by George Ward, an economics research fellow at Oxford University, and Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, a professor of economics and behavioral science at Oxford’s Saïd Business School, which demonstrates the impact of worker well-being on individual- and firm-level performance. 

While more conservative economists prioritize quantifiable measures like income, rather than subjective emotions like happiness, Layard says “we should be measuring the benefit of a policy not by its effect on income, but by its overall effect on well-being.” The professor cheekily rejects the idea that studying wellness is not a hard science. “We are the hard-headed ones and they are the softies,” he argues. 

Working nine to thrive: How to improve employee health and productivity

McKinsey Health Institute

Previously, researchers at the University of Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Centre analyzed data from more than 15 million employees on their well-being and the underlying workplace factors driving it. The researchers identified and tested 11 factors, including compensation, flexibility, purpose, inclusion, achievement, support, trust, belonging, management, and learning. The three top factors for the companies that scored best on well-being were feeling energized, belonging, and trust. Interestingly, they are different from the top drivers that employees think will make them happy and drive well-being at work: pay and flexibility.

Who was the best CEO of 2023?

The Economist

How, then, to choose? One way is to listen to the underlings. After all, a chief executive that hoists the share price but enrages staff is unlikely to succeed for long. We gathered figures from Glassdoor, an employee-review website, on how workers at the five companies felt about their chief executives and their companies more broadly.

When purpose meets beauty: the power of art in the post-pandemic office


The Wellbeing Research Centre of the University of Oxford conducted a study in 2019 that analysed data from 230 independent organisations across 49 industries. The findings suggest that employees’ satisfaction with their company strongly correlated with employee productivity.

Merit-based flexibility could be the future of work as return-to-office mandates fail to prop up productivity


Additionally, hybrid work is the equivalent of an 8% salary increase in terms of employee satisfaction, as Bloom’s findings suggest. An Oxford-Saïd Business School and BT study takes this further, quantifying happiness and its impact on productivity among content workers: a 13% increase in performance.

Execs call for mandatory reporting of employee well-being metrics

Investment News

Though companies like Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc. are facing pressure to report their well-being metrics, not many others have fully embraced the practice. But some research organizations, including Gallup and the Wellbeing Research Centre, are already refining methods of evaluating wellness information.

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Happiest companies better in multiple measures of firm performance

  • Firm value, return on assets and profits all higher for companies with higher workplace wellbeing scores
  • Top 100 ‘happiest’ companies outperform S&P 500 and Dow Jones by 20% since 2021
  • Researchers analyse data from more than 1,600 US companies and 15 million employee surveys in partnership with jobs site Indeed

Companies with higher employee wellbeing scores outperform their counterparts in multiple traditional measures of firm performance, new research has found.

Investment in the top 100 US workplaces ranked by employee wellbeing would have returned 20% more than the same investment in the S&P 500 or Dow Jones over the same two-year period.

The findings are published in the most comprehensive study to date linking employee wellbeing to financial and stock market performance, led by researchers from the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford and Harvard University.

They worked in partnership with the jobs site Indeed, whose Workplace Wellbeing Score is the largest survey of employee wellbeing anywhere in the world with more than 15 million responses collected since its launch in 2019.

The researchers analysed data from more than 1,600 US listed companies whose employees reported anonymously on four key measures: Job satisfaction; Purpose; Happiness; and Stress1, and compared this against publicly available annual accounting data. They found that, on average, higher levels of employee wellbeing were associated with increased firm value, higher return on assets, and higher profits. Pre-pandemic measures of workplace wellbeing also subsequently predicted higher levels of firm performance following the Covid-19 outbreak.

In a separate analysis, the researchers also ranked the top 100 firms by employee wellbeing scores. Starting on January 1, 2021, they ‘invested’ a hypothetical $1,000 dollars into this new wellbeing-oriented portfolio and saw a greater return than equivalent investments in the main US stock indices.

This higher performance held true in both the so-called bull market of sustained growth through much of 2021 and the bear market of prolonged decline in 2022.

Workplace Wellbeing and Firm Performance’ is open access and available as part of the Wellbeing Research Centre’s Working Paper Series.

  1. https://wellbeing.hmc.ox.ac.uk/article/wp-2303-measuring-workplace-wellbeing