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photo: Huppert Professor Felicia Huppert
Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of Cambridge; Director of the Well-Being Institute at the University of Cambridge; and Professor at the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, Australian Catholic University

Understanding the effect of policy on national wellbeing

March 2017
Despite dozens of years of research, we still know precious little about what policies increase national wellbeing.Response
Although there has been a long history of research on the factors associated with wellbeing, there has been very little research on the impact of policies specifically designed to enhance wellbeing. Agree

In order to find out what raises national wellbeing, we need to have thousands of randomised controlled trials in all major areas of national policy.Response
In order to find out what raises national wellbeing, we need to use sound, scientific methods, including both qualitative and quantitative assessment. These include good pilot testing of both potential programs arising from policy recommendations and the measures used to evaluate wellbeing outcomes, which recognise the multidimensionality of wellbeing. The next stage would be the adoption of large scale, randomised controlled trials of policies which aim to enhance wellbeing and their detailed evaluation, using state of the art psychometric analysis and examining outcomes across a wide range of sociodemographic variables. Adopting a high quality methodology of this kind would avoid the need to undertake thousands of separate trials. Disagree

Organisational structures on workers' wellbeing

January 2017
Employees in more hierarchical organisations have higher levels of wellbeing than those of flatter organisations.Response
There does not appear to be any research evidence that bears directly on this issue. However, there are two reasons to conjecture that well-being will be higher in organisations with flatter structures. It is known that opportunities for employee participation, choice, and engagement are associated with much higher levels of satisfaction, morale and retention, and such opportunities are likely to be greater in less hierarchical organisations. Second, compared to flatter organisations, hierarchical organisations are likely to have a steeper social gradient, and the work of Marmot and others has shown that the steeper the social gradient, the greater the inequalities in physical and mental health, including mental well-being. Having a substantial number of employees with low well-being is likely to have an adverse effect on others in the organisation, potentially reducing overall well-being. What we do know for certain from positive organisational psychology , notably the work of Kim Cameron and colleagues, is that subjective well-being is strongly influenced by organisational culture and leadership style. A workplace in which individuals feel valued, secure, supported, and respected will have higher levels of well-being, regardless of whether the structure is flat or hierarchical. Disagree

Tilting the tax and subsidy mix in favour of more hierarchical organisations (in a revenue neutral manner) would probably improve the wellbeing of employees.Response
If we really want to improve the well-being of employees, policies which encourage the implementation of research findings from positive organisational psychology on how to improve organisational culture and leadership, are likely to be far more effective than any changes to organisational structures, whether through taxes and subsidies or other means.Disagree strongly