How Psychology is Changing the Workplace for the Better
By Alexa Thompson
Since the economic collapse of 2008, the plight of out-of-work Americans has been discussed and debated in all forms of media, but what has largely been overlooked is the increasing stress and anxiety of those who do have jobs. A survey of North American companies found that companies are expecting employees to work longer hours for less compensation, including stagnant or decreased pay and benefits. While squeezing more time out of employees may show short term gains for employers, the psychological effect of long hours and increased stress can severely increase worker anxiety and limit productivity. In fact, through these stressful economic times, companies that focus on positive psychology for workers are finding increased productivity and reaping long-term rewards.
In a 2011 American Psychological Association survey it was found that 36% of workers experience work stress regularly. The lack of advancement opportunities, heavy workload and unrealistic job expectations were cited as some of the main reasons for worker stress. In an earlier APA study, 51% of employees said they were less productive at work as a result of stress, providing evidence that increasing worker expectations while undervaluing employee effort can create an unpleasant work environment and severely impact productivity.
While all businesses have focused on the bottom line since the economic collapse, those that also attempt to create a healthy workplace culture for employees have reported an average turnover rate of only 11% in 2010, which is significantly less than the national average of 38%. “Creating a psychologically healthy workplace is good for employees and business results,” says Norman B. Anderson, PhD, and CEO of the American Psychological Association. Not only does high employee turnover necessitate costly hiring and training expenses, but without loyal, satisfied workers, building a long term company culture becomes increasingly difficult.
Employers looking to enhance the positivity of their workplace culture can do so in a number of ways, often with little investment or major changes to methodology. Over thirty years of research has resulted in findings that employees who believe they get to utilize their skills every day are the most productive. Praising employees for their achievements, including their minor, day-to-day successes, can help to develop a collegial atmosphere where workers feel comfortable taking chances and innovating. Employers are also encouraged to communicate the mission of the company and the role that each employee serves in fulfilling the organization’s ideals. When an individual feels they are working with others towards a greater goal, feelings of altruism and goodwill grow and positive relationships are forged. In Bloomberg Businessweek, Jill Hamburg Coplan, states that managers who focus on employee strengths, linking rewards to performance results and maintaining a positive attitude can weather difficult situations and inspire problem-solving and engagement among employees.
While there are few signs that economic conditions will improve soon, the ability to work more effectively always exists at an individual level. Employers should remember that business success does not require harsh, grueling conditions, and that a psychologically positive workplace culture can only increase the value of an organization. By acknowledging the efforts of individuals and praising quality work, especially when the overall outlook is less than positive, managers and can enhance the engagement and pride of their workforce and the quality of their work environment.