Categories: Employment

Improving Profitability and Productivity Through Psychologically Healthy Workplace Practices

TASA ID: 1410

$300 Billion per year.  That is the estimated annual aggregate cost to US businesses due to worker stress (stress leads to absenteeism, lost productivity, accidents, increased healthcare costs, turnover, conflict in the workplace, and presenteeism - being physically present but having your mind on something else).  On any given day, nearly one million employees in the US miss work due to stress.  These and other compelling data are available from the American Stress Institute (www.stress.org/job.htm).  How can management respond proactively to these challenges?

A set of strategies and self-assessment tools are available to you and your management team free of charge at www.phwa.org, where you can read about unique programs and best practices that have been selected for the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award (PHWA).  This is a public service program of the American Psychological Association and the individual US state and Canadian provincial psychological associations.  Based on empirical studies focusing on employee satisfaction and productivity, the award program entails five main criteria (practices):

  • Employee Involvement
  • Employee Growth and Development
  • Health and Safety
  • Work/Life Balance
  • Employee Recognition 

Communication is Key:

To achieve a workplace demonstrating these healthy practices, excellent communication is required.  This involves both bottom-up (employee to management) and top-down (management to employees) channels.  This makes it possible for the organization to be aware of worker needs, opinions, concerns, and values, and for workers to become aware of services and opportunities available to them, as well as the direction the company is going, which reduces uncertainty and increases trust.

Consider instituting a genuine open door policy for employees to provide feedback to management. Communication vehicles may include employee surveys, suggestion boxes, town hall meetings, individual or small group meeting with managers, and an organizational culture that supports open, two-way communication.  Your employees are more likely to have creative cost-saving ideas, as they are closer to the action than you are, so get their input on how they can contribute to achieving your organization's objectives.

Get Employees Involved:

Develop employee committees and task forces to increase worker involvement, input, and commitment.  Look for opportunities for participative decision making, such as making choices about the work environment or equipment that staff will use.

Develop Your People:

Hire from within when possible and then provide the training and mentoring needed for line staff to become effective at higher levels of responsibility.  Consider tuition reimbursement and outside programs for developing worker skills and greater satisfaction from and contribution to their work.

Promote Health and Safety:

Have a stress management in-service.  Offer classes on weight and smoking reduction.  Does your company have a mental health benefit as part of the medical coverage?  Stress is frequently associated with hypertension, depression, and obesity.  Employees who feel better perform at a higher level.

Help Maintain Work/Life Balance:

Examine the possibility of flextime and job-sharing.  Workers carry childcare, eldercare, and other responsibilities that can affect their focus and effectiveness.  Is telecommuting feasible?  Can you offer assistance with family demands?  Ask your workers where they need support most.

Acknowledge Accomplishments:

Recognize the contributions of your people.  Post notices of staff achievements, publish an in-house newsletter, and give out awards.  We all need to be noticed and to feel appreciated for what we do, not just compensated.  Think motivation and loyalty - would you stay at a firm that took the credit for what you do or ignored your efforts?

Is Your Organization Ready?

All organizations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, government or private sector are eligible to apply for the PHWA program.  In Illinois, winners have ranged from a small dedicated social service agency, Omni Youth Services, to a medium industrial firm, Maine Plastics, Inc., to mega corporation Caterpillar, Inc. What distinguishes these firms from others is their commitment to healthy workplace practices and recognition that taking care of their employees makes good business sense (see "Inner Work Life: Understanding the Subtext of Business Performance" by Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer in the May 2007 Harvard Business Review for support for this relationship).

Next Steps:

Read It's Your Ship by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff and The 8th Habit by Stephen Covey for ways to empower your staff and demonstrate your commitment to them.  Look at the innovative programs that prior winners have instituted on the PHWA website.  Get the input of a consulting business psychologist.  These professionals specialize in helping organizations become psychologically healthier by performing stress audits, promoting employee resilience to stress and change, providing management development and executive coaching, and facilitating an organizational climate that fosters job satisfaction and worker loyalty (more information is available at www.div13.org).

The Bottom Line:

Save $10,000 per employee in stress costs (US average) by making your organization psychologically healthy. 

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal, medical, or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of the author, who will be contacted by TASA.

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