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How do I measure psychological wellbeing?

A prerequisite for changing anything, in a systematic way, is being able to measure it. If you can’t measure, it’s impossible to know whether things have changed or not.

In fact, measuring psychological wellbeing is important, not just for understanding what might change after an intervention but, in the case of psychological wellbeing (PWB), accurate measurement is even more important in deciding what needs to happen to improve things.

As already explained elsewhere on our website, psychological wellbeing has two major components: “Hedonic” wellbeing, which refers to the subjective feelings of happiness and the less well-known term, “Eudaimonic” wellbeing, which refers to the purposeful aspects of PWB. By far the most widely used and successful method for measuring psychological wellbeing is to use self-report questionnaires.

Any comprehensive assessment of workplace wellbeing would need to assess the extent to which people experience a positive sense of purpose at work (eudaimonic PWB). This implies that effectively measuring psychological wellbeing at work should therefore tap: (i) the affective state that people experience at work (related to, but broader than satisfaction with the job itself) and (ii) the extent to which they experience the kinds of eudaimonic factors embodied in Ryff’s six dimensions of eudaimonic wellbeing in their work. This leads to the rather technical definition that we use for PWB as the effective and purposive psychological state that people experience while they are at work. In practice what this means is that PWB refers to whether people feel good or not at work (the effective psychological state), and whether they feel that their work is meaningful and has a purpose (the purposive psychological state).

From a measurement perspective, one final factor needs to be considered – that of the time horizon. The time horizon is important because of the stability of the feelings that people experience is important in distinguishing between different types of psychological constructs such as moods, and personality traits.

A good measure of psychological wellbeing at work needs to strike a middle ground between personality and mood. Asking questions that pick up how people normally feel most of the time would be more of a “personality” measure than a measure of PWB. It would be heavily influenced by people’s underlying personality characteristics, rather than their work experiences. On the other hand, asking about how people feel right now would merely tap their current mood, which could change several times, even within the same day. That’s why our ASSET questionnaire asks people how they have been feeling over the previous three months. As well as measuring psychological wellbeing at its current levels, an assessment of the factors that are influencing PWB – the “drivers” of wellbeing (the ‘6 Essentials’ of workplace wellbeing) is an essential measurement prerequisite.

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