UST Work and Well-being Study: Examining the Link Between Life Issues and Work Engagement

Have you ever been at work and had trouble engaging with your job because of what’s happening in the rest of your life? Financial stress, a rocky relationship with a family member or a particularly nasty cold – this sort of thing can keep you from performing to the best of your ability on the job.

Teresa Rothausen-Vange, Ph.D., Annelise Larson and Sara Christenson are working to quantify this in the UST Work and Well-being Study (UST-WWS). Rothausen-Vange, a professor of management , connected with Larson and Christenson while the latter two were students in the Full-time UST MBA program. Common professional interests led the women to ideating and carrying out the study.

The central concept to the study’s links between well-being, performance and retention is a word coined by the project team: presenteeism.  They describe presenteeism and its connection to well-being:

We believe, and our initial evidence suggests, that your employees’ well-being, satisfaction with elements of jobs and satisfaction that their reasons for working are being met lead to higher performance through reduced presenteeism, heightened engagement and increased feelings of inclusion.
Presenteeism comes from the term “absenteeism” and refers to being at work physically, but unable to concentrate fully. This notion comes from the health and wellness literature, where it originally meant coming to work sick and therefore not performing well. We expanded the concept to consider lack of concentration due to a series of work-related and personal factors. Low well-being in any area of one’s life may cause presenteeism, which impacts performance.

In addition to presenteeism and engagement, the study also comprehensively measures well-being, satisfaction, performance and intention to quit. The researchers plan to follow up in six months to see whether those who intended to quit actually do.

The team has posted some of their initial findings. Their early results show that workers have a much lower desire to quit their jobs when all aspects of their lives are going well. This makes intuitive sense, of course, but the goal of the study is to back this common-sense notion with hard data.

To that end, the team asks employers to consider becoming members of the UST-WWS corporate roundtable and allow the research team to survey employees. Participating companies will receive reports customized to suit their circumstances; the graph below is an example of summary data a company might receive. Paired with the information that explains which elements of well-being relate most to performance or retention, the results of the study can assist companies in concentrating organization efforts to improve these elements of well-being for employees.

On the website, the researchers explain the benefits of participation in this study for businesses:

In order to spend these resources wisely, organizations need to know which elements of well-being and satisfaction with jobs are most related to the recruiting success, retention, “present-ness,” engagement and performance for their particular employees. This is evidence-based management at its best. Knowing where to spend company resources to make the most impact can be a competitive advantage when it comes to talent management.

The survey results can give you direction and insight into your employee population as well as insight into possible initiatives that will encourage top performance.

Those wanting to learn more about the project can check out the full website or contact the researchers directly.

Rita Kovtun is a senior at the University of St. Thomas studying communication and journalism.