Initial attempts to characterise “wellbeing” have been published by the ONS today (01.12.11). They have released some simple analysis of the answer to 4 questions, namely:1) ‘Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays? 2) Overall, to what extent do you think the things you do in your life are worthwhile? 3) ‘Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday? 4) Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?
On the face of it these questions seem quite nebulus, and bound not to evoke a particularly well considered response. How does one mark one’s life out of 10, anyway ? Not having seen the guidance, I can’t say whether the scores were given particular meaning, but I suspect not.
Some background information was also sought from the sample population in an Opinions Survey, such as financial situation, employment satisfaction.
Wellbeing, almost by definition, is hard to quantify. If you do satisfaction surveys within organisations or with customers, and your questions aren’t specific enough, at best most people don’t really have an opinion and plump for somewhere in the middle, or at worst, people get annoyed by the weakness of the survey and give extreme answers or none at all.
An opinion survey, like this, is just a starting point.
The key to getting anything meaningful from this particular survey are:
– the size of the sample, so that even nebulus answers can be given statistical characteristics and outlying can be appropriately dealt with, and,
– the cross-correlation with more pointed supplementary questions, which can develop a picture of patterns and groupings of behaviour, though one should be wary concluding causation at this stage.
The ONS have noted some seemingly obvious relationships at this point e.g. People who were unemployed reported lower levels [of wellbeing] on average compared with those who were employed. However, it is important to make sure the relationships make sense by testing self-evident statements, before looking for less-evident ones.
I must say here, that I think some understanding of the characteristics of wellbeing within an economy is important, as it can be argued that we undertake economic activity as a means to achieving our own sense of security, contentment, yes, maybe even happiness (which is really a transient emotion) – which we can call wellbeing. Desire for these components of wellbeing, in part, drive our economic behaviour, and importantly, our economic behaviour also drives our wellbeing. It is a CAUSAL LOOP.
I haven’t mentioned health. One could see health as a precursor for wellbeing and indeed economic activity. I would normally lump health and wellbeing together. Actually, they probably form a tripartite group of interacting, albeit very high-level, causal elements. From this core which we can expand the causal picture into some understanding of personal, let’s say micro-socio-economic, behaviour.
To have an understanding of wellbeing in an organisational context, as well as a whole economy, is useful. It supports the richer picture, maybe even systems view, of the organisation and it’s behaviours, enabling decsion-making. It also enables the longer-term “stickiness” (or sustainability) of the changes made to improve the organisation’s outcomes (financial, safety or otherwise) as this understanding can be used to communicate and engage with people on a personal level – it gives meaning.
I’ll think about this further and update, but lets start with a simple causal diagram. Annotations in italics are examples of linkage factors.
What other factors come into play ?