Australian workers are resilient and 'living well, despite struggles'
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Australian workers are resilient and ‘living well, despite struggles’

by Freya Lucas

November 14, 2018

Over 1,000 Australian workers, including those from the education sector, were surveyed recently about their wellbeing at work. The results, released today, show that Australians are resilient workers, and that the things which support their resilience and wellbeing at work may not be those traditionally thought of by employers.


The Wellbeing Lab Workplace Survey, which was conducted in partnership with Dr Peggy Kern from the University of Melbourne, and supported by the Australian HR institute, sought to learn more about what enables Australian workers to thrive in the workplace, and how they best feel supported.


The findings, perhaps unsurprisingly, found that 40 per cent of those working at an executive level of CEO or higher report their level of wellbeing at work as ‘consistently thriving’, in contrast to the 11 per cent of administrative personnel who described themselves the same way.


Those working in more senior roles, with high levels of autonomy and control – such as the executive level respondents – were the most likely to be consistently thriving, reporting numbers almost double those of any other role. Those workers who had high responsibility and low levels of power were the least satisfied, describing themselves as ‘really struggling’ or ‘just getting by’.


Men were more likely than women to describe themselves as consistently thriving at work, with 23 per cent of male respondents using the term, compared with just over 14 per cent of female workers, and South Australia was found to be home to the happiest workers overall, with more South Australians describing themselves as ‘consistently thriving’ than in any other state.


The key points which separated those who were thriving from those who were struggling were higher levels of positive emotions, a higher sense of engagement, and higher levels of autonomy, the report found. Thriving workers were more likely to be part of a team that provides a sense of psychological safety and support, and who, as a team, were more available to support them with their wellbeing at work.


Organisations who dove deeply into what created wellbeing for their employees were able to move beyond employee assistance programs, and the traditional forms of supporting wellbeing, colloquially known as the ‘3 Fs – fruit, fitness and flu shots’, and into the ‘3 Ms – meaning, motivation and mentoring’.


Dr Kern said it was important to understand the components of what helps workers to consistently thrive, so that organisations can leverage those insights.


The big surprise for Dr Kern and others compiling the report was the high percentage (37 per cent) of Australian workers who described themselves as ‘living well, despite struggles’.


“Typically wellbeing is measured on a single continuum from struggling to thriving,” explained Dr. Kern. “But we have found – and other researchers have previously suggested – that struggling and thriving are related, but separate continuums of wellbeing. For example, there were no statistically significant differences on a number of outcomes, like job satisfaction and performance, between workers who were ‘consistently thriving’ and those who were ‘living well, despite struggles’.”


“This suggests that there is an incredibly resilient portion of the Australian workforce who, due to mental or physical illness or other struggles may never describe themselves as ‘thriving’ or be rated as having high levels of wellbeing,” cautioned Dr. Kern.


The following tips were suggested by the survey authors as practical ways for workplaces to improve and sustain the wellbeing of all of their workers:


  • Incorporating multidimensional measures of wellbeing when designing solutions that accommodate the different needs of workers who are capable of thriving and those who may always struggle but are also capable of living well.


  • Building a common language about the diversity of wellbeing, thereby making it safer to talk about struggles and to ask for support.


  • Considering ways to support the ‘3 Ms of wellbeing – meaning, motivation, mentoring’ – in addition to employee assistance programs and the ‘3 Fs – fruit, fitness, flu shots’.


  • Creating shared, evidence-based toolboxes for workers, teams, and organisations that provide easy-to-apply wellbeing approaches that can be incorporated into busy workdays.


  • Supporting leaders and HR teams to step up as sources of wellbeing support by making the wellbeing of worker’s one of their explicit responsibilities.

The report is available to download here

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