Thriving Together Series: The State of Well-Being in American Workplaces


This edition of the Thriving Together Series is part 2 of an 8-week series adapted from The Well-Being Lab 2020 Workplace Report, a collaboration between our center and The Well-Being Lab (a Michelle McQuaid program). The report is based on two surveys of more than 1,000 workers each, throughout the United States.

Notably, both workers who reported that they were consistently thriving, and workers who reported that they were living well, despite struggle, were statistically more likely to have higher levels of job satisfaction, better performance, and greater commitment to their organization. They were also likely to report higher levels of performance for their team and their organization.

It appears that it is possible to thrive despite struggle, and it is possible to not experience well-being even in the absence of struggle.

Context Matters

There were no significant gender differences in the reported states of well-being.

Workers aged 18-24 years were the most likely to be consistently thriving, but also the most likely to be really struggling. Workers aged 45+ years were the most likely to be living well, despite struggles.

Education levels also shaped workers’ well-being. Workers with a bachelor’s or graduate degree were more likely to be consistently thriving, while those with a high school degree were more likely to be not feeling bad, but just getting by or really struggling.

Workers in job roles with more autonomy (e.g., owners, directors, c-level/managers, and contractors) were more likely to report they were consistently thriving. However, those who were self-employed were the most likely to be really struggling.

Workers in banking, finance, and insurance were the most likely to be consistently thriving, while workers in IT and telecommunications were the most likely to be not feeling bad, just getting by, and workers in transportation and warehousing were the most likely to be really struggling.

Work Locations Matter

To help minimize the spread of COVID-19, many workers were required to relocate from their work premises to their homes. We examined how well-being varied among those who changed, or remained in, their work situation.

Workers who had always worked from home were most likely to report that they were really struggling. Like in other studies, it appears that permanently remote workers are more likely to report significantly higher levels of stress than those located at work premises, possibly due to a lack of face-to-face social interactions and informal forms of social support.

Workers who started working from home due to COVID-19 were most likely to be not feeling bad, but just getting by. This is not surprising, given considerable changes in social structures, the need to navigate new technologies, managing families, the need to turn homes into functional offices, and the blurring of lines between work and non-work.

Interestingly, workers who had children at home reported being able to better manage their well-being, and had higher levels of job satisfaction, performance, and commitment to their organization.


Our findings make it clear that feelings of struggle and stress don’t have to undermine workers’ well-being or performance. In fact, they can enhance them, provided they know how to respond to these signs as opportunities for learning and growth.

As many workers may be required to continue working from home for the forseeable future, or to return to their workplaces in phases, workplaces need to consider how they can help workers in all locations have opportunities for more informal connections, consider what supports workers might need depending on their context, and how to adapt to ongoing changes.

Does your definition of workplace well-being give workers permission to struggle? Do you have formal and informal strategies in place to help workers through struggle?

Additional Resources

Learn how to apply the science of well-being to your leadership, in our Leading to Well-Being certificate programs.

Measure your well-being through the free PERMAH Well-Being Survey. See how you’re doing when it comes to your levels of thriving and struggle, and your abilities and motivation to care for your well-being. You can even create a free personal well-being plan, drawing on more than 200 evidence-based well-being actions. You can also use this tool for teams or entire workplaces.

Write one of these Thriving Together Series features! We’re looking for contributions on all topics related to well-being. Read other Thriving Together Series articles here and contact us at for guidelines. Thank you for helping our Mason community thrive together online!