The Good Life

Positive psychology and what makes life worth living.

Psychologically Healthy Workplaces

We must increase well-being in the workplace.

Take this job and love it.

 

Consider these recent survey results:
• 69% of US employees report that work is a significant source of stress.
• 41% say they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday.
• 51% say they are less productive at work as a result of stress.
• 52% report that they have considered or made a decision about their career such as looking for a new job, declining a promotion, or leaving a job because of workplace stress.
• Healthcare expenditures for employees with high levels of stress are 46% higher than those with low levels of stress.
• Job stress is estimated to cost U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity and medical, legal, and insurance costs.
• For the average company, turnover costs more than 12% of pre-tax income and for those at the high end of stress, these costs can reach almost 40% of earnings.
• 52% percent of employees say that job demands interfere with family or home responsibilities.

These are all terrible statistics, and we of course want to reduce workplace stress and its determinants. However consider another recent survey - asking why people stay at a given job - and note that workers do not cite low stress. Rather, they point to positive features of work, precisely those of concern to positive psychology:
• Exciting and challenging work.
• Opportunities for career growth, learning, and development.
• High-quality co-workers.
• Fair pay.
• Supportive management.

Which leads me to mention an American Psychological Association program that identifies - locally and nationally - and honors workplaces with these sorts of features, dubbed psychologically healthy workplaces:
• Employee involvement.
• Work-life balance.
• Employee growth and development.
Health and safety.
• Employee recognition.

Psychologically healthy workplaces are demonstrably good ones, from the perspective of management and workers. Compared to typical workplaces, they are less stressful, have lower turnover, and higher worker satisfaction (and everything that follows from that). These results are unsurprising but important.

Such workplaces often have innovative practices and features, from cafeterias to on-site daycare to paid sabbaticals to compressed work weeks. Appreciate that it is not the practices per se that matter but what they mean within the corporate cultures.

There is a story I remember from decades ago, when the Japanese automakers first began to eclipse the Big Three automakers of Detroit. Detroit automakers sent folks to Japan to learn what was going on there. It was discovered that Japanese autoworkers did group calisthenics before their shifts. So, went the logic, Detroit autoworkers should be asked to do the same thing.

That did not work well, obviously, because group calisthenics have a hugely different meaning in Japan than in the US.

Here is the positive psychology point - actually two of them. First, it is not enough to decrease stress in the workplace; we must also increase well-being. Second, practices to do so must make sense within a workplace. It's not rocket science, dear readers, just a matter of talking to workers and heeding what they might suggest.

 

Christopher Peterson was professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.

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