Person-Factors inLow, Moderate and High Wellbeing:A PositioningPaperPeter WarrInstitute of Work Psychology, University of SheffieldIWP International Conference, 22 June 2016
“Happiness depends, as Nature shows,Less on exterior things than most suppose”William Cowper, 1782
To demonstrate the need to go beyond current models of wellbeingTo identify within-person themes in need of investigationTo examine practical issues and ways forward in this field
Recent Models of Worker Wellbeing(Indicators: satisfaction, enjoyment, strain, burnout, etc.)
In recent decades, models of worker wellbeing have been almost exclusivelyenvironment-focused– in terms of features in a job (demands, available discretion, social support, etc.) and the associations of job features with wellbeingSome of these models are valuable, but associated research has now reached a plateau, and empirical studies are often repetitive
Correlations between job features and wellbeing are only modestMuch evidence for variation between and within people:people can respond differentlytothe same job conditionssome personalitytraitsare linked to wellbeing3. people have a continuing baseline for their typical wellbeing4. training can modify a person’s reactions to stressSo the impact of a job:isnotalways the same for everyone in that joband is not fixed for a particular individual
Within-person sources of wellbeing are usually ignoredAlmost all models deal only withnegative job featuresand reactionsA few person-focused perspectives are available. These are in terms of appraising and coping with stressors, and can be valuable within their narrow domain – dealing only with environmental threats and responses to those threatsYet daily life is not continuously stressful. Feelings have been shown to be moreoften neutralor positive than negative(a ‘positive manifold’)
To improve theoriesin this field, we must expand thinking beyond merely impacts of the environmentIn doing that, we require different explanatory conceptsAnd a shift in researchers’ reliance on established fashionEssential to include influences from within the person:(1)longer-termcharacteristics (e.g., gender, age, personality, ability)(2)shorter-term/situation-specificprocesses (e.g., thoughts about a current situation)
e.g., BIG FIVE FACTORSNeuroticismExtraversionOpenness toexperienceAgreeablenessConscientiousness
Evidence of this and other kindspointsto somebaseline stability of a person’s happinessover and above an input from the environment
Moderatecorrelations (c.25) withjob satisfaction:1.Neuroticism(negative)2.Extraversion(especiallysurgency)3.ConscientiousnessAlso c.30 correlations withcontext-freewellbeing
(2)Shorter-TermFactors and Wellbeing:A Very General Summary
Roughly speaking in this respect:Aswell as events/conditions in yourenvironment, happiness and unhappiness depend on what you want, what you are used to, what else is possible, and what you think may happenWe need to conceptualise and study mental processes of these kinds
(2)Shorter-termFactors andWellbeing:Ten Key Mental Processes(“T” = “thought”)
T1. Assessments of personal salience/valueT1a.Personal importance /attractivenessofrolemembershipT1b. Personalimportance /attractivenessof arolecharacteristicT1c.Attractivenessofcore activitiesT2. Comparisons with other peopleT3. Comparisons withother situationsT4. Comparisons withother timesT4a. Perceivedpast and future trendsT4b. Degree of adaptation/familiarity
T5. Comparisons with expectationT6. Sense of purposeT7. Assessment ofself-efficacyThese processes may beconsciousorsubconscious.Theyneed research attention
T1. Assessments of Personal Salience/Value(how much do you want it?)
Moderation by personal value often found:T1a.Personal importance/attractivenessofrole membership(e.g., unemployed workers’ employment commitment; family women and paid work)T1b. Personal importance/attractivenessof arole characteristic(e.g., moderationby growth-need strength of associationsbetween particular job features and wellbeing)T1c.Attractivenessofcoreactivities(e.g., working with animals, teeth, dead bodies, numbers)Logical necessity – wants/likes and wellbeing?
T2. Comparisons with otherpeople“Upward” (with people better off than you) or “downward” (with people in a worse-than-you situation) (e.g., equity theory and pay satisfaction; person-specific standard pay)Local conditions and norms: “unemploymenthurts less themoreof it there is around”(Andrew Clarke)T3. Comparisons withother situationsCounterfactual comparators identified as better or worse than your own situation (‘the situation could have been . . . .’)
Has the situation been getting better or worse?And is it likely to get better or worse?Expected to influence wellbeing. Research evidence? Has the impact of trends on wellbeing been investigated?
Habituation/adaptation widelyfound in biological andpsychological processesOccupational examples: extended studies of job redesign, job transitionsContinuedexposure to a situationreducesits affective potential, either negative or positive– you evaluateyour position in terms of what you are usedtoOne implication: wellbeing differences can occurbetween individuals in the samejob butat different stages offamiliarity and adaptation
T5.Comparisons with expectationUnexpected events have been shown to generate particularly high or low wellbeingT6. Sense ofpurposeAm I involved in something I value? Similar to the benefit of experienced ‘traction’.(A possible happiness definition: ‘pleasure and purpose’)T7. Assessment ofself-efficacyHave I contributed towards the situation’s effect on me?
Given that conventional environment-only models are incomplete, we need:to shift conceptual attention onto how people shape their own wellbeing, through processes in the long-termandin the short-termtodevelopand test theories about personalcontributions. For instance:Devise and apply procedures to study mental processes (e.g., develop self-report indicators of potentially influential wants/values, comparisons made with other people/situations)Incorporate person-variables in research to examine job characteristics –perhaps focussinga study on only some of the key variables. Joint impact? Mediation? Moderation?
It’s difficult. Problems are conceptual, methodological, and practicalExample 1 (methodological):straightforward and valid self-report measures of relevant thought processes need developmentExample 2 (practical):organizations are interested in job content, not in workers’ mental processes(So researchers need to include [hide?] person-variables within projects which are job-focused)Example 3 (conceptual):the relative importance of job factors and person factors varies between situations; we need models and investigations of (e.g.) “situational strength” (Mischel)
Academic career progress is based on journal publicationsSubmissions for journal publication are currently evaluated in terms of explicit derivation from an established modelEstablished models of worker wellbeing(which must be cited in order to achieve publication)are dominated by environment-focused thinkingSo career-boosting journals promote environment-focused modelsJournal editors, reviewers and researchers(colluding with each other?)have to be persuaded to expand notions of a paper’s acceptabilityCan you play a part?
Thank you.More detailed treatment of some of these issues can be accessed directlythrough linksfrom thePublications section ofhttp://shef.ac.uk/management/staff/warr/index