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Creating Strategic Wellbeing at Work

Prof Sir Cary Cooper (Manchester) sparked a lively discussion on how to create a strategic framework for wellbeing at work at the latest of the Wellbeing Research Centre’s Seminar Series.

Having founded the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work in 2015, Sir Cary shared ideas on the need for board-level buy-in, what policymakers can learn from the Gender Pay Gap, and how further research into both individual-level and organisation-level wellbeing interventions is required.

Watch the full presentation on the Centre’s YouTube channel.

The Gender Wellbeing Gap

Prof Alex Bryson (UCL) shared compelling evidence for a widespread gender wellbeing gap at the latest of the Wellbeing Research Centre’s Seminar Series.

His research, undertaken alongside Prof David Blanchflower (Dartmouth), explores data from multiple surveys, across various countries and age groups.

Watch the full presentation on the Centre’s YouTube channel.

The power of human hope vs. despair

Emotions and Demotions

Dr Redzo Mujcic (Warwick) shared work which reveals a hidden ‘over-the-hill’ phenomenon around autonomy and job seniority at the latest of the Wellbeing Research Centre’s Seminar Series.

His research, undertaken alongside Senior Research Fellow Prof Andrew Oswald, examines the longitudinal relationship between workers’ feelings around autonomy in their role as they age.

Watch the full presentation on the Centre’s YouTube channel.

HSBC announces two-year Research Fellowship in partnership with the University of Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Centre

HSBC and the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford are pleased to announce the launch of the HSBC Research Fellowship, a two-year programme that seeks to advance our understanding of the relationship between financial health and general wellbeing. Moreover, the partnership will also conduct interdisciplinary research on the role and impact that different themes such as financial fitness and mental wellbeing play for our overall quality of life.

As part of the fellowship, a post-doctoral researcher will be hosted at the University of Oxford for the duration of the programme, with the insights from this academically independent fellowship being used to inform HSBC’s market-leading health and wealth business model.

Areas of interest for the collaboration will include the further exploration of the behavioural drivers and obstacles for each of the key dimensions of human health, and to gain a deeper understanding of the geographical, cultural, demographic differences and similarities with the aim of producing a set of recommendations for how to improve holistic wellbeing overall. The HSBC Research Fellowship will take an interdisciplinary approach with methods based on economics, behavioural science and psychology, as well as leveraging state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools.

These areas of interest aim to also build upon the findings of the HSBC Life +Factor Study, completed in 2021 and 2022, by the life insurance business of the HSBC Group. It assessed the link between various aspects of wellbeing and confirmed the relationship and compound effect of mental, physical and financial health for overall wellbeing.

Both HSBC and the Wellbeing Research Centre are also founding members of the not-for-profit World Wellbeing Movement, which seeks to place wellbeing at the heart of both business and public policy.

Greg Hingston, CEO of HSBC Global Insurance, commented: “The Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford is a leader in its field, specialising in interdisciplinary wellbeing research as a driver for public policy, interventions, and for improving the wellbeing of future generations. At HSBC, we are fully aligned with these objectives and are delighted to partner with them on such an important area of study for the financial services and insurance industry.

“Health, wealth and life insurance play a key role across a universe of customer needs. Demand for life solutions is continuing to grow, globally, as ageing populations and rising healthcare costs continue to be an issue leading to the widening of the protection gap. Through this partnership and subsequent research, we aim to grow awareness of the benefits of healthier living and wellbeing, the need for protection and the cross over to wealth, as well as inform our health and wealth strategy to provide enhanced and market-leading solutions to our customers.”

Professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Director of the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford, added: “We are delighted to be collaborating with a like-minded partner in the form of HSBC to create this exciting new HSBC Research Fellowship. Our research already suggests that our financial situation is a key component of how we feel about our lives, and this collaboration will enable us to dig deeper into those factors which impact upon quality of life.

“By using the Wellbeing Research Centre as an independent platform for knowledge exchange, it is our hope that this research fellowship, and subsequent research, will enable meaningful and sustainable positive change in the sphere of financial wellbeing.”

Wellbeing in the workplace: A discussion with Oxford’s VC

Professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve has appeared on the University of Oxford’s Fire & Wire podcast to discuss the latest insights into workplace wellbeing with Vice-Chancellor, Professor Irene Tracey.

The pair pick over the business case for increasing wellbeing in a workplace context, as well as the objective impacts that an improvement in subjective wellbeing can have on companies and organisations. They also discuss findings from the world’s largest study of workplace wellbeing, undertaken in partnership between the Wellbeing Research Centre and recruitment platform Indeed.

Listen to the full conversation on SoundCloud.

Oxford University Communications · Fire & Wire Episode 2: Wellbeing in the workplace

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

Studying causality in subjective scales

Professor Leonard Goff (Calgary) presented a new method for studying causality within subjective scales at the latest of the Wellbeing Research Centre’s Seminar Series.

His research, presented under the title ‘Causal identification with subjective outcomes’, examines relationships with a continuous variation of a variable, x, with important implications for subjective wellbeing scales.

Watch the full presentation on the Centre’s YouTube channel.

How we feel matters at work: new research shows first causal link between wellbeing and productivity

  • One-point increase in self-reported happiness led to around a 12% increase in productivity, on average, among call centre workers
  • Six-month study of 1,793 workers at British Telecom (BT) call centres across the UK
  • Wellbeing scientists used observations of British weather to track its impact on mood as well as detailed indicators of worker performance

Researchers have demonstrated a causal link between worker happiness and productivity in the first large-scale field study of its kind.

Their findings, published in the journal Management Science, serve as the clearest real-world evidence of wellbeing’s impact on worker performance to date.

The study of almost 1,800 BT call centre workers shows that a one-point increase in happiness (on a scale of 0 to 10) was was associated with a 12% increase in their productivity, as measured by weekly sales data.

Co-author Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Director of the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford and a Professor of Economics and Behavioural Science at the Saïd Business School, said:

“There is no question that caring for how employees feel at work is the right thing to do. Both the moral and business cases are now settled, especially given our most recent field research showing that employee wellbeing drives productivity as well as recruitment and retention of talent which, in turn, has measurable impact on a company’s overall financial performance.”

Researchers from Erasmus University Rotterdam, the University of Oxford, and MIT, observed workers from 11 UK call centres over six months in 2017 and 2018.

They used a well-established mechanism for measuring subjective wellbeing in the form of a weekly one-question survey emailed to workers, asking them to rate their happiness for the last week on a five-point scale1.

These scores were then anonymously mapped to workers’ individual performance for the same period, which showed a positive correlation between happiness and productivity. The results build on previous research showing mood effects in laboratory settings2, and demonstrate that happiness has an impact on productivity when it comes to workers, tasks, and jobs in the real world.

The effect of happiness differed across tasks. Simple ‘order taking’ calls were less impacted by a worker’s mood, whereas more complex tasks – like negotiating, selling bundles of products, and re-contracting – saw productivity increases closer to 20%, on average, per one-point improvement in happiness.

Co-author George Ward, a Research Fellow in Economics at the University of Oxford and recent graduate of the MIT Sloan School of Management, added:

“The findings suggest that the relationship between mood and productivity is not a always straightforward one, and can depend on the types of jobs people are doing. Mood seems to be a particularly strong driver of performance in tasks that require human interaction and where social and emotional skills play a large role in how productive someone is. These types of jobs make up a growing share of the economy, suggesting that the importance of worker happiness is likely to increase over time.”

The researchers went a step further to test the robustness of their findings, by using data on the amount of windows across the call centres combined with weather conditions – to use differential visual exposure to weather across workers as a form of natural experiment.

They were able to identify trends in mood that correlated with visual weather conditions – with workers reporting lower happiness on gloomy days, particularly in call centres with lots of windows where workers are visually exposed to the changeable patterns of British weather.3

Co-author Clément Bellet, an Assistant Professor at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, explained:

“We made an important contribution to the field by not only directly measuring employee happiness but also isolating the effect of weather exposure on mood using the diverse architecture of BT office buildings. This was a challenging task as past research on weather and mood often assumed the impact of visual exposure without measuring mood directly. By isolating these weather-induced mood shocks, we were able to gain deeper insights into the causal impact of mood on performance in a real-world setting.”

Does employee happiness have an impact on productivity?’ is published in Management Science.

  1. The survey question, “Overall, how happy did you feel this week?” is based on the OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being (2013).
  2. Oswald, Andrew J., Eugenio Proto, and Daniel Sgroi. “Happiness and productivity.” Journal of Labor Economics 33.4 (2015): 789-822.
  3. Keller, Matthew C, Barbara L Fredrickson, Oscar Ybarra, Stéphane Côté, Kareem Johnson, Joe Mikels, Anne Conway, and Tor Wager. 2005. “A warm heart and a clear head: The contingent effects of weather on mood and cognition.” Psychological Science, 16(9): 724-731.

Nature vs. nurture in human wellbeing

Professor Maoliang Ye of Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen provided a new approach to the long-standing income-happiness question with new evidence from China at the latest of the Wellbeing Research Centre’s Seminar Series.

His research compares income data and happiness measures among monozygotic twins to attempt to examine nature versus nurture in human wellbeing, with intriguing implications for future policy interventions.

Watch the full presentation on the Centre’s YouTube channel.