Defining Personal and Workplace Wellbeing to Understand The Impact on Staff 

Defining and measuring staff wellbeing is a complex task for schools. Our personal interpretation of wellbeing hinges on our unique perspectives, what we value most, our level of satisfaction with the different areas of our lives, and how we cope with life’s challenges.

In this article, we’ll explore:

  • The definitions of wellbeing, teasing out the interplay between personal and workplace wellbeing
  • Definitions of personal wellbeing and the dimensions of wellbeing
  • The role of coping strategies and resilience in wellbeing
  • How workplace wellbeing takes centre stage, offering an approach that collaboratively nurtures staff’s health and happiness
  • The concept of the “wellbeing sweet spot,” where personal and professional wellbeing merge to achieve overall wellness for our educators

By the time you’ve finished reading this article, my goal is for you, especially school leaders, to grasp the intricate dynamics of staff wellbeing. It provides a foundation for understanding the components necessary to develop a holistic approach to wellbeing in our schools that resonates with those working within our educational systems.

So, embark on this exploration with me as we navigate the delicate dance between personal and workplace wellbeing—a dance that, when mastered, empowers individuals, transforms school cultures and influences the life and learning outcomes of those we come to work for – our students.

School Staff Wellbeing: Merging Personal and Workplace Wellbeing 

When it comes to teacher and educator wellbeing, recognising the interconnectedness of personal and workplace wellbeing is paramount. Within the context of a Well-Led School or one that “leads with wellbeing in mind,” the assumption is that both personal and workplace wellbeing are integral, each influencing the other.

While personal wellbeing spans all aspects of an individual’s life, workplace wellbeing zeroes in on the professional realm.

Personal Wellbeing: 

  • Encompasses all aspects of an individual’s life related to their wellbeing. 
  • Feeling well, healthy and happy across multiple areas of one’s life (i.e., physically, emotionally, socially, financially, etc.). This includes an element of wellness with one’s career. 
  • The application of resources and strategies to attend to our own wellbeing in order to experience a balance of satisfaction across areas that are of significance to us.

Workplace Wellbeing: 

  • Encompasses an individual’s experience of wellness/wellbeing solely in the workplace.  Feeling satisfied with and rewarded by the work we do. 
  • Making decisions about our work to improve our experience with our career. 
  • Feeling that our work positively influences our life and personal wellbeing.
  • When a workplace considers staff wellbeing and makes decisions to promote and/or improve staff’s experience of wellbeing at work. 

Personal Wellbeing: A Multifaceted Tapestry

Personal wellbeing, as outlined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.” 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) expands this definition, describing wellbeing as:

“A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.”

However, this all-encompassing definition underscores the multifaceted nature of wellbeing, divided into eight interdependent dimensions (Stoewen, 2017):

The 8 Dimensions of Wellbeing

  1. Physical Wellbeing
  2. Intellectual Wellbeing
  3. Emotional Wellbeing
  4. Social Wellbeing
  5. Spiritual Wellbeing
  6. Career Wellbeing
  7. Financial Wellbeing
  8. Environmental Wellbeing

These dimensions are not isolated; they intertwine and rely on each other. The challenge lies in finding harmony based on your own personal values, goals, and satisfaction, not in your comparison with others and their lives. For example, as an introvert, having only one or two close friends might mean that you are satisfied with the social dimension of your life, while another person might be looking to expand the number of people in their social network in order to increase their satisfaction with their social life.

Learn more about the 8 dimensions of wellbeing in detail here

The Balance of Personal Wellbeing: A Symphony of 8 Dimensions

Understanding the multiple dimensions is foundational, but achieving balance involves recognising challenges or areas we could be more satisfied with and applying resources effectively.

Dodge et al. (2012) explain the ‘Challenge of defining wellbeing,’ exploring the many iterations of wellbeing and defining it as:

 “The balance point between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced.” 

A focus on finding this balance requires an individual to first identify areas of challenge and then actively apply resources to address them, translating awareness into actionable change.

This definition emphasises that it is one thing to know and recognise a challenge or area of our lives requiring attention. Still, it is another to apply the relevant tools and resources to address this and change our experience for the better.

Applying Resources for Growth

Resources, split into strategies and coping mechanisms, address dissatisfaction and help us navigate life’s challenges.

Strategies to address the various dimensions of our wellbeing can be applied to intervene when we are dissatisfied or challenged with an area. 

Example strategies to address dimensions of our wellbeing that may be lacking:

  • Career Wellbeing: Speaking with our direct leader about the adaption of our role to suit our strengths and interests
  • Physical Wellbeing: Adjusting our nutrition to manage our feelings of physical health 
  • Financial Wellbeing: Seeking the support of a financial advisor to manage our money 

Additionally, preventative strategies can be adopted to maintain balance amongst multiple dimensions of our wellbeing. For example, to remain satisfied with one’s financial wellbeing and prepare themselves for retirement, one might adopt prevention strategies, track their budget, and/or seek advice from a financial planner to maximise their superannuation to avoid potential financial stress in the future. 

The Application of Coping Strategies For Wellness

Equally as important as attending to the various dimensions of our wellbeing, is our ability to focus on remaining well or supporting ourselves when we are struggling or suffering by actively coping with challenging experiences or events through applying helpful coping strategies. 

A coping strategy refers to “how people respond to stress as they contend with real-life problems” (Skinner & Zimmer-Gembeck, 2007). Applying effective coping strategies can help us maintain a sense of wellbeing, even during or after a stressful event or time.

According to Skinner & Zimmer-Gembeck (2007), the strategies we apply to cope with stressors can be broken down into four main coping focus areas and are either adaptive (i.e. helpful or effective) or non adaptive (less helpful).

Adaptive or helpful strategies used to cope when we are struggling or suffering with a life challenge include:

  • Our own personal abilities: Self-comforting (i.e., regulating our emotions and behaviour and  expressing ourselves emotionally)
  • Our social resources: Support seeking (i.e., seeking contact and comfort from others, seeking the support of a professional or spiritual guide)
  • Our actions: Problem-solving and information-seeking (i.e., planning, strategising and learning)
  • Accessing our available options: Finding new ways to engage with the stressor/s and accommodating them, if unavoidable (i.e., reframing a situation and acceptance)

Resilience: A Curation of Resources For Enhanced Wellbeing

From these examples, the concept of ‘resilience’ begins to emerge. Resilience, which is directly related to wellbeing, refers to the ability to manage everyday stressors and challenges. Resilience is commonly seen as our ability to bounce back and recover quickly and perhaps even grow in the face of difficult life experiences (Marczuk, 2015, The American Psychological Association, 2014)

Determinants of resilience include a host of biological, psychological, social and cultural factors that interact with one another to determine how one responds to stressful experiences across multiple life domains and stages of life (Pietrzak & Southwick, 2011). 

With this in mind, we can ascertain that at a fundamental level, resilience is a dynamic interplay of an individual’s capacity to swiftly recover from challenges or adversity, which, to a degree, may involve one’s ability to employ helpful coping strategies at any given time.

Workplace Wellbeing: Beyond the Individual

Workplace wellbeing extends beyond personal satisfaction with the career dimension of their wellbeing.

At a personal level, tending to our sense of career wellbeing involves:

  • Feeling satisfied with and rewarded by the work we do (i.e. choosing a career that is aligned with our strengths, interests and values)
  • Making decisions about our work to improve our experience with our career (i.e. setting goals, applying for jobs and roles that interest us)
  • Feeling that our work positively influences our life and personal wellbeing (i.e. setting boundaries and/or making decisions so that our work does not impact other areas of our lives, where possible)

A good sense of workplace wellbeing also encompasses an organisational responsibility to foster a supportive environment. Definitions from reputable sources emphasise an organisation’s duty to consider and address workplace health and wellbeing risk factors.

Workplace wellbeing is commonly defined as:

When a “workplace considers staff wellbeing and makes decisions to promote and/or improve staff’s experience of wellbeing at work.”

Where a workplace works to acknowledge and address workplace health and wellbeing risk factors and also maximise and foster protective factors for staff.

Black Dog Institute

Research shows that school’s can improve staff’s sense of workplace wellbeing by making decisions and considerations to promote and protect their wellbeing at work.

This is achieved through a focus on progress, improvement and/or maintenance across the following key areas:

This begs the question, what are the workplace health and wellbeing risk factors most likely to impact staff in an organisation and school, and how can we prevent our people from experiencing them? 

The Learning Dimensions Network – an organisation responsible for workplace training in Work Health and Safety Practices, expands on the definition of wellbeing at work and explains: 

Workplace wellness involves “creating a workplace culture focused on employees’ holistic experiences within the workplace around the work environment, staff physical and mental health, social opportunities and workplace culture and diversity.”

These factors, if poorly managed or overlooked, can lead to staff’s experiences of stress or dissatisfaction in the workplace, which can negatively impact their experience of wellbeing both at work and across other dimensions of their wellbeing.

Well-Led Schools recognise their influence on the workplace wellbeing of their people in reference to these various elements. Encouraging schools to consider preventative actions, strategies, and professional development opportunities across these domains, alongside intervening where required and addressing any current or potential challenge areas or stressors, is at the heart of our “well-led” approach.

In essence, the overall experience of workplace wellbeing is a combination of one’s personal actions and experiences regarding their satisfaction with the career dimension and their perceptions of the broader experience of wellbeing across multiple interdependent dimensions in addition to and in conjunction with a school’s actions aimed at ensuring the wellbeing of their staff and a positive workplace culture.

Finding The “Sweet Spot”

Summing up, this article unveils the intricate relationship between personal and workplace wellbeing, asserting that educator wellbeing is a shared responsibility. It involves individual efforts across various life dimensions and in the face of inevitable challenges, alongside a school’s commitment to creating a supportive workplace culture. 

The symbiosis of personal and workplace wellbeing paves the way for overall educator wellbeing—a holistic concept depicted in the image below.

Recognising the interconnectedness and fostering a harmonious relationship empowers individuals, transforms school cultures, and significantly influences the life and learning outcomes of our students.

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