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What is occupational wellness?

Understanding the nature of occupational wellness can help us think.about work in a nuanced, and real, way.
Published 5 Apr 2022
Updated 1 Dec 2022
9 min read
Two women talking about occupational wellness

What role does work play in your life?

There’s no doubt about it – we predominantly go to work to earn a wage to support our lives. But, while money to live will always be at the heart of why we work, it would be simplistic to say that wages are the only reason that someone would care about their employment.

Whether you’re a business owner, an employee or a leader, understanding the nature of occupational wellness can help us think and talk about work in a nuanced – and real – way.

What is occupational wellness?

Occupational wellness or ‘occupational health’ is your sense of fulfilment and happiness in your professional life.

When you have a strong sense of occupational wellbeing, you might have;

  • A sense of purpose around the work that you do
  • A positive connection with your team and leaders, who appreciate the work that you do
  • An ongoing interest in learning and development
  • Shared values with your employers
  • A psychologically safe environment to work authentically in
  • A perception that you are being fairly compensated for the work that you do

When you have a weak sense of occupational wellbeing, you might have;

  • A sense of disconnection around the work that you do
  • A feeling of disconnect with your colleagues, who do not recognise the work that you do
  • A desire to just ‘get through the workday’
  • A dislike of your employer’s objectives
  • A discomfort within your working environment
  • A perception that you are being underpaid or taken advantage of by your employer

Loving the role that you have and having a poor sense of occupational wellness aren’t mutually exclusive. You could be doing your dream job yet still feel a sense of dissatisfaction and disconnection from your work and team.

Once in a while, everyone will have an off day at work, but this doesn’t mean they don’t have a generally positive sense of occupational wellbeing. No job will ever be perfect, after all. But if there are more bad days than good and work begins to feel meaningless and unfulfilling – these could be signs of low occupational wellbeing.

Occupational wellbeing is one of the ‘7 Dimensions of Wellbeing’, a framework that we like to use to gain a holistic picture of health. The other dimensions include; physical, mental, financial, relational, spiritual and recreational.Graph - the Seven Dimensions of Wellness

Source: Employment Hero’s 2022 Wellness at Work Report

Why is occupational wellness important in 2022?

Following the peak of the pandemic, and all of the disruption that came with it, many employees are reconsidering what work means to them.

Employees experienced job losses, stand down and furlough, not to mention those who were exposed to greater risks if they were working with the public. There were also silver linings to come out of the situation, like a dramatic shift to remote working.

Whatever experience you had, there was a dramatic amount of change to the way we work in a stunningly short amount of time.

Now, the way we think about work has changed. People are wondering what role work plays in their lives, what their career will look like in a remote environment and if, after such a stressful few years, they need to seek more fulfilment in their working life. In other words, people have started questioning their sense of occupational health.

Cue, the Great Resignation. The term was coined after four million Americans quit their jobs in April of 2021, but it quickly became a worldwide phenomenon. It’s also far from over; our Employee Movement and Retention Report (September 2021) found that 48% of Australian workers were planning on seeking a new role in the next 12 months.

Employees are now actively pursuing a greater sense of occupational wellness. Savvy employers will know that prioritising employee wellbeing will lead to happier, healthier and stronger teams.

Statistics about occupational wellness

Here are more interesting statistics about occupational wellness from our 2022 Wellness at Work Report. Please note, these facts are an average of surveys conducted in five regions; Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Let’s unpack what we found.

1. 43% of employees agree that Covid-19 has decreased the importance that they place on their career

You know there’s change in the air when 43% of workers agree that Covid-19 has decreased the importance that they put on their career.

This could suggest that many employees are questioning the role of a career. They could be looking to move industries, seek a remote role or try a different kind of working model. Their life circumstances may have also changed; maybe they decided to move out of highly populated areas during the pandemic, start a family sooner than they thought, or perhaps they discovered a new passion project.

The statistic also begs the question; does a reduced level of importance placed on a career necessarily mean a decrease in performance at work? Could a more balanced approach to personal and professional life actually lead to better productivity, ideas and output?

2. 38% of employees agree that Covid-19 has negatively impacted their career progression

With so much disruption during lockdown periods, it’s sad – but not surprising – to see that career impacts have been significant.

For all of the employees who were on track to development prior to the pandemic, these trajectories may have been cut short. With so much growth to catch up on post-pandemic, their development pathways may not have been reinstated.

3. 73% of employees feel their workplace accepts them for who they are as people

One of the very positive findings to come out of the report was the sentiment around authenticity.

To do your best work, you need to be able to feel comfortable being yourself. When people feel they have to hide their personalities away, it’s not only difficult for the individual, it’s indicative of a toxic work culture.

With only 7% of respondents feeling like their workplace does not accept them (and 21% unsure), it’s positive to see that the grand majority are feeling embraced by their employers and teams.

4. 52% of employees feel that they have a clear career path at their business

With so many people experiencing a stalling in their careers following Covid, it’s disappointing to see that only half of our survey respondents feel that they have a career path at their current workplace.

An occupationally well employee will always feel like they’re moving forward. Reaching a dead end in their development could turn them into a flight risk; looking for the next best opportunity.Graph - Occupational Health

Source: Employment Hero’s Wellness at Work Report

How do you identify poor levels of occupational wellness?

Are there any warning signs of poor occupational wellness that could signify your staff member is about to jump industries?

Keep your eyes peeled for these red flags.

Productivity

Maybe once your employee was going above and beyond in their role, but now they are doing the bare minimum.

Their timelines might stretch out, and their work may be returned unpolished.

Team interaction

Engaged team members play an active part in team discussions.

If your employee has stopped contributing to conversations or brainstorming sessions, this might be a big red flag, signalling their head may be elsewhere.

Opportunity uptake

When your employee is offered coaching or development opportunities in their area, do they want to take them up?

Are they instead showing interest in skills or courses that are outside their area, or maybe they don’t want to sign up for training at all?

5 ways that leaders can boost occupational wellness in the workplace

So, you’ve noticed that your team member is displaying some of the above behaviours. What can you do to refresh their interest in being on your team?

The good news is, there’s lots that employers and leaders can do to guide their team towards a more fulfilling working life. Here are our top tips.

1. Outline a meaningful company mission and supporting values

Without a mission to work towards, your whole company will lack direction. It’s not enough to just want to be the ‘best’ at what you do, companies need to find their why – and live by it.

Your mission is most likely what you thought about when you started your business. Although it’s something that you want your company to achieve, it should also be able to motivate your team.

For example, Employment Hero’s mission isn’t:

“Build an ever-evolving, world-class software product to improve employment.”

It’s:

“Make employment easier and more valuable for everyone.”

Values are also crucial when it comes to giving your team purpose. They are another way of expressing what is important to the business, and providing guidance when your team makes decisions.

The five values that guide Employment Hero?

  • We serve
  • We are one team
  • We are bold and ambitious
  • We invent
  • Own it

2. Be open to movement within your business

It’s much better to keep great talent within your business by reappointing them, rather than losing them to another company. There may be training costs and a learning curve, but keep in mind – the person already knows a lot about how your business operates and its processes.

Talk to your team member about their role, and ask if there’s any other area of the business that they’re interested in exploring. Talk about how you could make their move easier with internal mentorship, a gradual transition or job-sharing.

3. Prioritise learning and development for each individual employee

Coaching and developing employee potential is a key way to get your team engaged with their work and feeling satisfied in their career.

Growing our knowledge is one of the fastest ways for us to evolve. It’s invaluable to everyone, both professionally and personally. Without learning and development, we don’t have innovation. We don’t have creativity, growth or transformation.

Learning at work can help employees tackle unique challenges, spark new ideas, build confidence, and keep their skills relevant. It’s always been an essential part of positive occupational wellbeing, but in the current climate, its relevance is even more prominent.

Learning goes hand-in-hand with development and progression within a business, which can further boost a sense of individual workplace satisfaction. It sends a message to your employee; you are valued, and we are investing in your future. It nurtures a very healthy career outlook indeed.

4. Be open to flexible working in terms of location or time

Sometimes, a desire to jump industries might be confused with a desire for more work-life balance. During the pandemic many people decided that they wanted to invest more time in hobbies, seeing family and friends or starting a side hustle. They might believe that the only way to do that is to switch roles or industries.

If your employee seems like they’re looking elsewhere, float the conversation about increased flexibility. Would they like to drop to three or four days a week? Would working from home all or part of the time give them greater access to their personal interests? Reach a resolution and then confirm it with a remote working agreement.

5. Facilitate meaningful team connections

We spend a third of our lives at work, which means we spend a third of our lives with our colleagues.

The workplace can be a great space to forge meaningful connections with others. Your colleagues don’t have to be your best personal friends, but if you can connect, laugh and be transparent with them; your happiness at work will skyrocket. In order to do this, you need two things; the freedom to be your authentic self and the opportunity to spend quality time with others. Leaders can help with both.

To ensure authenticity at work, leaders need to create a space where everyone feels like they can belong. A key part of this is having a diversity and inclusion-focused mindset, with a firm strategy behind it.

As for quality time? Your team isn’t just going to connect on their own, especially in a remote setting. Organise social events where work is not on the agenda. Whether that’s a meet up in your local area or a fun virtual game – bringing your team together can create great relationships and help you understand each other on a deeper level.

Check out our list of 39 virtual team building games.

6. Help your team set individual goals

Is there any better feeling than smashing a milestone that you’ve been working towards for months? The journey to achieving goals can be hard, but ticking them off makes you feel accomplished, satisfied and proud.

When we don’t have goals in place, we can easily fall off track and become aimless in our work. If we have nothing to work towards, or if we don’t know what we’re working towards, we’re going to lose our motivation fast.

Of course, there’s a science to great goal setting. SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and timely) is a great framework to set goals, and OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) can help you measure and track your progress. Our favourite thing about the OKRs framework? They help your team members see how their wins are feeding into the company’s overall success. Learn more about OKRs with our free guide.

7. Recognise great work

While achieving goals is important for occupational wellness, receiving recognition for the work you do is equally essential.

Put together a reward and recognition framework at your business, so that you can create a culture of appreciation. Think about ways that you can celebrate the great work that your team does ahead of time. Whether it’s with a personal letter from the CEO, a shout out in a weekly team meeting, a celebratory dinner or a gift from the company – there’s a way to recognise a win of every size.

A little bit of appreciation can go a long way in making a person feel fulfilled and respected at work. Learn more about the impact of a great reward and recognition program.

Learn more about wellness at work

We’ve uncovered occupational wellness here, but what about the other seven dimensions? Learn more about everything workplace wellbeing in our Wellness at Work 2022 report. Visit the interactive dashboard to explore wellbeing in your region now.Wellness at Work 2022

Isabelle Comber
People Specialist - Employment Hero
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