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Getting to the Heart of Employee Well-being

written by Amanda Horne 6 July 2011

Amanda Horne is an executive coach and facilitator whose business theme is "Thriving People and Workplaces." She is an Authentic Happiness Coaching graduate and a founding member of Positive Workplace International. Full bio.

Amanda's articles are here.

Continuing with the theme of covering some of the chapters in the Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work, this month’s article covers key points from Chapter 12: “More than Meets the Eye: The Role of Employee Well-Being in Organizational Research” by Thomas A. Wright, Professor of Management at Kansas State University.

Psychologically Well

Wright begins with a historical review of how organizational theorists once focused their research on the role of job satisfaction in predicting job performance and staff retention. He noted these theorists experienced inconsistent results, but that there were some rare early researchers in the 1920s and 1930s who were also interested in employee well-being as a predictor.

For example, Fisher and Hanna noted that employee well-being was “responsible to a much greater extent for labor turnover than is commonly realized.” From here, Wright emphasizes the importance of the more recent and expanded research which shows that there is a significant relationship between employee well-being and psychological well-being on the one hand and job performance and staff retention on the other.

Broaden and Build

Wright brings Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build theory into the discussion to point out that positive states help people to “thrive, to mentally flourish and psychologically grow.” He suggests that employees with high levels of psychological well-being and who are satisfied with their job are “more easily able to ‘broaden and build’ themselves … and as a result these satisfied and psychologically well individuals will reap such additional benefits as being more creative, resilient, socially connected, physically healthy and derive more meaning from their work.” Such people also have the resources to “initiate, foster, facilitate and sustain high levels of job performance.” In summary:

  • Job performance is highest when employees have high levels of psychological well-being and job satisfaction.
  • Job satisfaction predicts job performance but only if the employee also has high psychological well-being.
  • The relationship between job satisfaction and retention is also stronger when employees have high levels of psychological well-being.

Taking Our Pulse

Good for the pulse rate?

Noting that physiological functioning cannot be ignored when considering psychological well-being, Wright offers an interesting insight into cardiovascular measurement. He emphasizes the importance of pulse product (also known as composite cardiovascular measurement), which is calculated by using the combined readings of pulse rate, systolic blood pressure, and diastolic blood pressure. Wright found that high levels of psychological well-being predicted low (more efficient) pulse product readings. He noted that this was also supported in anecdotal evidence gained through in-depth interviews in which subjects noted the how their psychological well-being (or distress) had a corresponding impact on their cardiovascular health.  In turn, this has impacts on job performance, job satisfaction, and staff retention.


Wright makes a number of recommendations which can help enhance psychological well-being:

  • Put people into appropriate work situations which maximize psychological well-being.
  • Train people to help improve job fit.
  • Adapt the work conditions as best as possible to help employees maximize psychological well-being.
  • Put people who are psychologically well, socially responsible, and ethically strong into leadership positions; in turn they contribute to creating healthy organizations.
  • Provide stress management training.
  • Emphasize social support at work.
  • Implement family-friendly policies.
  • Provide training and implement policies which emphasize the Broaden and Build theory

“The promotion of employee psychological wel-being is an intrinsic good for both individuals and organizations; on toward which we should all work”


Wright, T.A. (2010). More than Meets the Eye: The Role of Employee Well-Being in Organizational Research, In P. A. Linley, S. Harrington & N. Garcea (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work, (pp. 143-154). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.


Photos by Amanda Horne and used with permission.

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wayne 6 July 2011 - 3:45 pm

Amanda – Dr Wright might have expanded his horizons and considered heart rate variability – his measures are a little crude.

Also wonder if its a chicken or egg argument re performance and wellbeing. Do they perform well and therefore have high levels of wellbeing as a consequence or is it because they have high levels of wellbeing that they perform well.

From my experience mindfulness is probably a key skill for work – it gives people the resilience skills to cope with the inevitable crap that is part of most workplaces

Dan Bowling 6 July 2011 - 5:19 pm

Thanks for this article. Interesting how he parsed out the differences – and relationships – between job satisfaction and psych well-being. Which too often are confused as the same thing (at least in my experience as head of HR for a big public company). “Hey, look at our job satisfaction numbers, we have happy employees!” Not the same thing; an important point (Gallup sometimes misses this one too when they present their engagement studies). Amanda, did he have much research from applications, or was the article more theoretical in nature?

Jeremy McCarthy 6 July 2011 - 9:06 pm

I like Dan’s question. I appreciated the “implications” points at the bottom that actually give some application ideas but I assume these are more based on musings of the author than on actual research. There is an abundance of literature on the benefits of promoting wellbeing in the workplace. There is a dearth of knowledge on HOW to create it.

I like this point the best: “Put people who are psychologically well, socially responsible, and ethically strong into leadership positions; in turn they contribute to creating healthy organizations.” An organization only changes if the people change.

Amanda Horne 7 July 2011 - 6:14 am

Hi Wayne

How well know are HRV and pulse product amongst the general population? I hadn’t heard about pulse product, nor about HRV (until a couple of year ago – thank you!). I talked with a friend about Wright’s article, and asked if they had heard about pulse product (no) or HRV (no) yet their doctor takes the usual blood pressure measures.

Wright suggests that psychological wellbeing (PWB) “does moderate the relationships between both job satisfaction and job performance, and between job satisfaction and employee retention”.(He refers to previous research he and a colleague undertook in 2007).) He goes on to say that “job satisfaction did predict performance, but only if the employee also had a high level of PWB. In other words, job satisfaction was not a good predictor of job performance among employees with low levels of PWB. This moderating effect of PWB may account for some of the inconsistent findings of previous research examining the job satisfaction – job performance relationship.”

Yes, I absolutely agree 😉 mindfulness has a marked effect on PWB. I don’t think Wright meant to or could have attempted to create an exhaustive list of interventions.


Amanda Horne 7 July 2011 - 6:29 am

Hi Jeremy and Dan

I too wondered how many organisations would be realise that measuring job satisfaction alone will not give them the data they need if they want to create higher job performance and retention.

Much of Wright’s article was bringing together references to previous research (including his own previous research on this article). I expect that reading his earlier articles will paint a richer research picture.

Jeremy, what I titled implications, he titled ‘strategies’. In fact, he suggests (based on his and others’ research) that the strategies can be categorised as Composition (putting employees in the right work situation), Training, and Situational Engineering (changing the work environment). The interventions he suggests are drawn from a number of others’ research.


wayne 9 July 2011 - 4:16 pm

Amanda – I went back and had a look at the study – here is a quote from the abstract “In addition, regression analysis found PWB to be predictive of the composite cardiovascular health measure of pulse product (?R2 = 0.04, p < .05), but not pulse pressure, after controlling for age. gender, employee smoking behavior, education level, ethnicity, weight, job satisfaction, and anxiety. Research implications and further suggestions for organizational scholars interested in employee health and betterment are introduced."

Translated – PWB isn't a great standalone predictor of cardiovascular health.

This extrapolation of research is so typical of PP

wayne 9 July 2011 - 6:54 pm

Sorry Amanda – I should have explained that the R2 statistic being so small essentially means that PWB predicted little when added to the overall mix


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