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Work and Well-being Research with Dr. Louis Tay

Emily Fields
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The work we do plays a large part in our well-being, both inside and outside the office. But what if your job was researching well-being at work?

Dr. Louis Tay is the William C. Byham Associate Professor in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at Purdue University and the Founder of ExpiWell. We sat down with him to discuss how his research impacts his own well-being at work and what he’s found in his research journey.

What was your motivation behind studying individual well-being?

I’ve always been attracted to personal growth. Even as a teenager, when I wandered the library I gravitated towards self-help literature. I was interested in questions around how to lead the best life and how to develop oneself to the fullest. 

Going into psychology, I was interested in helping people reach their best health. I liked the idea of helping people improve their sense of meaning and purpose at work. We spend a lot of time at work, so how can we help people maximize this time? Organizational psychology offered a neat way to help people improve their lives.

Additionally, I’m a methodologist; I have an engineering mindset. I’m interested in understanding the scientific process, how we know what we know, and the tools that we use for discovery. A lot of my work is on how we improve the tools we’re using to improve behavioral science as a whole. 

Much of my research is based on the experience sampling methodology, capturing people’s experiences with things like surveys to understand what people are experiencing through their daily lives. Traditional survey software was not ideal; not only was it very time-consuming, but it also didn’t capture a complete picture of participants’ experiences. That’s how ExpiWell was born.

Your research is on well-being as it relates to work. How do you apply your findings in your day-to-day life?

A lot of my well-being research focuses on all the possible different factors that enhance someone’s well-being and what can help them flourish in their daily lives. It all relates back to the classic concept of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; a person’s basic needs must be met before they can focus on their growth.

I’m learning that as somebody who is ambitious and work-centric, I need to prioritize my well-being because everything flows from that first. People will say, “I won’t sleep,” or, “I won’t work out,” or, “I’ll drink 5 cups of coffee a day, so I can get my work done.” I used to have that mentality, too; I prioritized work over my well-being. 

As I’ve studied the literature, I’ve tried to practice what I preach much more in my own life: daily exercise, getting enough sleep, not drinking too much caffeine, making time for social relationships. Good work flows out of taking care of our well-being, not the other way around. Strong well-being leads to better performance, less illness, and greater longevity. Once I recognized this, I enjoyed my work more and was able to work at a more sustainable pace.

If our identities are rooted in our work, our well-being fluctuates based on if we feel like we’re succeeding at work. This leads to fragile well-being instead of a foundation of a broader sense of who you are, what your purpose is in life, and your relationships.

You also like to collaborate with other researchers. Explain the value you’ve found in this approach.

It’s fun working with different personalities and seeing how they approach their work. We thrive in a social environment; humans are wired to be social. New perspectives bring new ideas and a certain energy that working alone doesn’t offer. 

Having a Ph.D. means you know a lot about a small slice of knowledge (and even then there’s still plenty more to learn). By working with others, you learn so much about their expertise, especially in interdisciplinary work. 

Solving big problems requires collaboration because the solution is never specific to just one field (e.g. ending poverty). It always requires more than one person or discipline, so collaboration is key.

What are you currently working on?

I recently co-authored a paper published in the Journal of Positive Psychology on ecological momentary interventions, led by Yerin Shim and one of my graduate students Victoria Scotney. We dug into lit to look at best practices for ecological momentary interventions in positive psychology. The paper brings together a lot of different pieces regarding the technology, the research designs, and the analytics on how we conduct ecological momentary interventions.

Interested in learning more about well being research or want to discuss how to improve your current research? Contact us for a consultative chat!

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