The dichotomy between living to work and working to live is fast disappearing in Western societies. Today both verbs form a marriage of convenience that is starting to show signs of mutual love. This is not romanticism, but rather the pursuit of well-being. Experts discussed this new mindset at the Health and Work Conference organized by Fundación MAPFRE and the University of Valladolid.
TEXT ÁNGEL MARTOS PHOTO BY THINKSTOCK
“I’m speaking with my true voice now. Without bitterness or fear. I’m here to tell you that you can walk out of hell and into the light. You can wake up to your higher self. And when you do, the world is suddenly full of possibilities…”. The person reciting this, like a litany from a self help book, is Amy Jellicoe, a midlevel executive in a multinational. Those watching this series – Enlightened (the title is really twisted) – were introduced to this character for the first time when she appeared totally distraught, with mascara running down her cheeks and longing to read her boss the riot act after he had so unjustly demoted her. After a few months in a therapeutic treatment center in Hawaii, she returns to work in Los Angeles with the strange energy of a Martian set loose in Beverly Hills.
This HBO comedy-drama starring Laura Dern focuses on the transitional space that the workplace has turned into. An environment for professional development in which personal and social skills are becoming ever more important. Spaces where mental rather than physical skills prevail, thanks to the new technologies, which blur the frontiers of the wellknown Eight Hour Rule for sleep, work and leisure. Places where the extroversion/introversion duality has gone up in smoke: nowadays, it is not enough to have talent, you must know how to connect it via your network of relationships, cultivate its different levels and aspects, all at the speed of a click. Just writing this produces a little anxiety…
The goal is to achieve a society in which well being at work is perceived as a reality, and not as a dream
However, happiness has to be a business aspiration. Especially when studies such as that of the consultancy firm Apertia state that a substantial portion of productivity depends on the emotional wellbeing of the workforce. How much? “31 percent,” stresses one of its authors, Daniel Peña. This figure caused a murmur to echo around the López Prieto Amphitheater of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Valladolid, where the Health and Work Conference is organized every two years by Fundación MAPFRE and the University. “We began to delve deeper into the concept of emotional capital, as we were concerned about the oversimplification
that was becoming more prevalent when talking about happiness at work,” he recalls. “We were starting to hear things like one way to foster that feeling was to offer employees a tasty breakfast in the morning.”
Well-being in the company
The company has always been an inhospitable territory for the health experts to move into. A struggle that, in modern times, started out in the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution, when the labor conditions of the great working masses significantly worsened and the labor union movements forced governments to introduce protection regulations little by little. One example can be found in those governing child labor in manufacturing industries and in mining. A whole century had to go by, right up to the 1990s, before the countries of the so called first world developed a preventive regulatory system with the aim of avoiding injuries sustained by workers as a result of performing their duties.
With those concepts now well-established and accepted, the state of physical, psychological and emotional well-being is today’s new utopia, made possible within a holistic conception of the individual. In Spain, the 2015-2020 National Strategy on Health and Safety at Work already incorporates within its diagnosis the importance of developing public policies that foster healthy preventive lifestyle habits, both inside and outside the workplace.
Because life does not consist of isolated compartments, but rather a system of communicating vessels. The goal is to achieve a society in which wellbeing at work is perceived as a reality, and not as a dream. The aim is for professionals to work better – yes, indeed – but, above all, to be happy at work… because that intangible factor will be reflected in the income statement.
But, what is happiness?
In the opinion of Gonzalo Hervás, professor of Psychology at the Complutense University of Madrid and president of the SEPP (Spanish Positive Psychology Society), “happiness refers to one end of the continuum that is emotional well-being, which also includes such opposite extremes as depression or problems of stress and anxiety.” In this sense, absenteeism can be interpreted precisely as a symptom of unhappiness in the workplace. According to the Workers’ Health Barometer presented at the event by Antonio Cirujano, technical manager of FREMAP’s Prevention Area, there was an average of 1,116 workdays lost per 100 workers in 2015.
According to the study, in Spain that temporary inability to work cost the state and companies a total of almost nine billion euros in 2015. For Hervás, “well-being cannot be left up to the individual exclusively” and he detects several ingredients in the labor context which, when combined, can accurately indicate at what point along that continuum any particular worker is. Anyone who goes through these six key points like a test, giving a score of one to five for each concept and adding up the final result, can determine their degree of well-being.
1. Engagement: “Our job provides us with a feeling of belonging or, on the contrary, generates anxiety, loneliness.”
2. Autonomy: “Feeling you are able to lead the life you want and work where you feel you have something to offer.”
3. Competence: “Problems should not overwhelm the worker… If someone feels they cannot deal with everything asked of them, and it is not even clear what they have to do, this creates a sense of insecurity.”
4. Acceptance or recognition: “Organizations have to internalize the need to treat their workers as people, and not as cogs in a machine.”
5. Growth: “We need challenges; human beings are not designed for a placid life where everything runs along smoothly, although we may often long for that. If we spent too long on a beach without doing anything, our fantasy would soon become torture…”.
6. Meaning: “This is one of the invisible needs, being connected with valuable aspects and feeling that life is worthwhile.”
Once diagnosed, what strategies should be used to move forward? In the opinion of the clinical psychologist Amado Ramírez, author of books such as Self-Esteem for Beginners (Díaz de Santos ed.), we must prepare ourselves “to know how to deal with everything, with both happiness and unhappiness,which are very close to each other.” His recipe has just three ingredients: freedom, love, and vocation, “in that order.” And all guilt, fear and misunderstood pride must be done away with: “All this only leads to us striving to be important. And for what? Have you seen the amount of people who have been, who are and who will be on this Earth?”