The need to measure wellbeing grew out of the recognition that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) alone is not a comprehensive measure of prosperity. In the words of the Office of National Statistics (ONS), to really understand our economic performance we need a “fuller picture of how society is doing by supplementing existing economic, social and environmental measures.” Many organisations have attempted to define and measure wellbeing, ranging from subjective aspects such as happiness to more tangible elements including living conditions and economic wellbeing. The graph below, developed by Deutsche Bank, captures these multiple dimensions.

In the UK, the ONS Measures of National Wellbeing identified 41 wellbeing indicators grouped into 10 categories following a large-scale public consultation:

– Health – Education and skills
– Our relationships – The economy
– What we do – Governance
– Where we live – Natural environment
– Personal finance – Individual wellbeing

These categories reflect a number of issues we explore in this report and combine a subjective assessment of wellbeing with an assessment of objective factors that directly influence individual happiness.


A successful approach to wellbeing would see it treated as a central policy objective, reported on by government and the media and influencing key decisions in other areas.



A more productive, healthy and effective workforce: the UK’s annual 130 mn days of sickness absence cost the economy £100 bn. Focusing on wellbeing could significantly reduce this figure

An economy with wellbeing as one of its goals would make the UK a more attractive place to live, work and do business

Greater wellbeing is likely to reduce public spending in healthcare and crime prevention

A greater focus on wellbeing would create opportunities through services required to promote wellbeing


A greater sense of wellbeing will benefit business through:

Increased productivity: According to research by Towers Watson, individuals with high wellbeing make more productive and innovative employees, helping create operating margins for their employers that are almost three times higher than those reported by equivalent companies with low engagement and wellbeing amongst staff

Revenue growth: A focus on wellbeing provides growth opportunities for companies in the health, wellness, education and personal development sectors

Employee attraction and retention: If the UK is perceived as having high wellbeing, it will become easier for UK-based companies to attract and retain the most talented employees

Analysis by the New Economics Foundation highlights work-related aspects of wellbeing which business can influence. These include pay, job security, safety, relationships and work-life balance. Building on this research, businesses can support societal wellbeing by:

  • Measuring and managing performance around the issues mentioned above
  • Promoting a work environment that raises mental wellbeing – such as training and stress management – as well as physical wellbeing
  • Adopting business practices that do not negatively impact important contributors to wellbeing such as the environment
  • Strengthening job and income security
  • Identifying revenue generation opportunities that result in greater wellbeing
  • Extending ‘sustainability reporting’ to include wellbeing indicators


Through the development of the ONS’s Wellbeing measures an important first step has been taken. Going forward, key policy objectives should focus on:

  • Making wellbeing a core policy objective by acknowledging the role of government to increase the wellbeing of its citizens and integrating wellbeing considerations into all aspects of policy making
  • Measuring wellbeing in a consistent way in order to know what is important and how to influence it

  • Developing an integrated wellbeing indicator to provide a regular snapshot of how the UK is performing
  • Strengthening civil society and active citizenship, participation and engagement
  • Focusing the health sector on complete health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. This includes a stronger focus on mental illness and longevity

The many elements of happiness and wellbeing

Words in parentheses point to negative impacts

Source: Please download or view our Report online for a full list




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