Online positive interventions programs

to promote employee well-being:

Are they effective?

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Expert adviser:

Marie-Hélène GILBERT, assistant professor, Management, Université Laval

Authors

France ST-HILAIRE, associate professor, Human Resource Management, Université de Sherbrooke
Maude VILLENEUVE,
research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Stéphanie BÉRUBÉ,
research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Rébecca LEFEBVRE,
research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Michel PÉRUSSE,
adjunct professor, Université de Sherbrooke

Scientific interpretation

Growing out of positive psychology, so-called positive interventions are trendy, although they are still peripheral in an organizational context. This kind of intervention refers to strategies that organizations use to promote their employees’ health. At the same time, there are more and more organizational interventions through online programs, as these have the advantage of offering a brief, innovative, cost-effective and widely accessible approach. True or false: are online positive interventions programs effective to promote employees’ subjective well-being?

To determine the effectiveness of an online positive interventions program, Neumeier and colleagues, in a study published in 2017, examined the effects of using two programs related to the subjective well-being of employees. They wondered whether a brief, cost-effective, flexible and widely accessible online positive interventions program improves employees’ general subjective well-being and their specific subjective well-being at work.

Clarification from our expert:
General subjective well-being refers to the emotions felt and the level of satisfaction in relation to a person’s life in general.

Specific subjective well-being at work refers to emotions felt and level of satisfaction in relation to their work.

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY: Subjective well-being?

Subjective well-being[1] refers to employees’ perception of their own level of

  • emotional well-being: when their positive emotions (being relaxed, calm or exhilarated) outweigh their negative emotions (being nervous, angry or depressed);
  • cognitive well-being: when their assessment of their satisfaction in relation to their life is positive.

 

Banking on positive interventions to increase subjective well-being

Subjective well-being and the absence of distress are at the heart of psychological health. Intervening with an employee when they show signs of distress, for example by directing them to a support program, does not aim to improve subjective well-being. To increase subjective well-being, we must bank on positive interventions.

 

Examples of positive interventions

Positive interventions are cognitive (focused on thoughts) and behavioural (focused on behaviours) strategies put forward to act on positive aspects of employees’ health. These daily actions can have positive effects on both the subjective well-being of the employees who do them, and on the well-being of their colleagues, thus promoting a positive work environment.

These strategies can take various forms for employees, such as:

  • sending an email to a colleague to thank them for their help with a project
    (behavioural strategy);
  • bringing coffee to colleagues for a meeting (behavioural strategy);
  • suggesting using a colleague’s talents for a particular task
    (cognitive strategy).

 

Clarification from our expert:
Psychological health is a broad concept, made up of two different aspects:

  • the presence of psychological well-being;
  • the absence of psychological distress.

Psychological health can be general, but can also be specific in some contexts, such as work.

Full reference

Neumeier, L. M., Brook, L., Ditchburn, G., & Sckopke, P. (2017). Delivering your daily dose of well-being to the workplace: a randomized controlled trial of an online well-being program for employees. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 26(4), 555-573.

Method

Employees were recruited via social media, newspapers and radio.

Profile of participants

  • 303 employees
  • 67% were women
  • 32 countries, mainly Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States
  • 15.4% used a smart phone and 7.4% used a tablet

Researchers evaluated two different online positive intervention programs (related to gratitude and aspects of well-being) as part of a longitudinal experimental study.

Researchers randomly formed three groups among the employees. Before starting the programs, they surveyed employees as to their level of initial subjective well-being. They repeated this step two weeks after the programs ended. The employees in group 1 and group 2 each had seven daily exercises to do. Group 3 was a control group and did no exercises.

What is a longitudinal experimental study?
A study is described as longitudinal when the same measures are taken at different moments in time, with the same participants. A study is described as experimental when the researchers contact some participants to change something and compare them to other participants who did not receive this intervention (control group).

WHAT DO THE RESULTS OF THIS STUDY SHOW?

TRUE! Online positive interventions were effective in promoting the subjective well-being of employees.

  • Online positive interventions improved the two aspects of employees’ subjective well-being.

An improvement in the two aspects of subjective well-being was observed among employees who participated in one of the two programs compared to employees in the control group, who reported no improvement.

  • The impacts of online positive interventions programs were influenced by the employees’ initial subjective well-being.

The results show that the weaker the employees’ initial subjective well-being, the more effective the online positive interventions.
This result can be explained by threshold effect whereby as of a certain level of subjective well-being, the exercises have less impact.

  • Brief, innovative, cost-effective and widely accessible online programs are an effective way to take action in an organizational context.

The results of the study demonstrate the effectiveness of self-administered online interventions by employees to improve their subjective well-being.

Because studies must always be interpreted with caution
Only employees’ perception of their level of subjective well-being was measured. For future studies, the researchers suggest incorporating more objective measures, especially on the benefits for the organization (e.g., absenteeism rates, performance, turnover rates). Also, it seemed necessary to repeat the study with participants of diverse education levels, ages, cultures and reasons for participating in such a program.

ACTIONS FOR EMPLOYERS

What can organizations take from the results of the study?

  1. Positive interventions are a promising avenue to promote your employees’ general subjective well-being and their specific subjective well-being at work;
  2. You can offer positive intervention programs using a brief, innovative, cost-effective and widely accessible online approach;
  3. Mobile devices are effective tools to deliver this kind of intervention to your employees. They are even more attractive if your organization requires a large degree of mobility on the part of employees or if they do not have access to a computer.

How to choose an online positive intervention program?

If you are interested in an online positive intervention program, be sure to consider the following aspects and ask questions about the scientific principles of this program so that the effort and resources you invest will bear fruit.

Aspects to consider

  • Identify your employees’ needs;
  • Identify what you would specifically like to develop in your employees as well as your objective;
  • Identify proven programs in the scientific literature and choose one based on established criteria;
  • Identify the best way to offer this program;
  • Identify the indicators that will allow you to assess the benefits of this program;
  • Involve your employees throughout the process;
  • Do not hesitate to seek support from recognized experts in the field.

GLOBAL-WATCH SUPPLEMENT

Comments
This kind of online positive intervention allows employers to reach a large group of employees using an innovative, low-cost approach. This tool can be relevant for organizations that wish to work on the work environment and recognition. Using a structured process will allow you to identify whether such an initiative will be appropriate for your context.

Référence complète

Neumeier, L. M., Brook, L., Ditchburn, G., & Sckopke, P. (2017). Delivering your daily dose of well-being to the workplace: a randomized controlled trial of an online well-being program for employees. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 26(4), 555-573.

References

1. Definition adapted from 1) Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 542–575.doi:10.1037/0033-2909.95.3.542 and Diener, E. (2012). New findings and future directions for subjective wellbeing research. American Psychologist, 67(8), 590-597. doi: 10.1037/a0029541