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Building a Psychologically Healthy Workplace

Job Stress Threatens Workplace Productivity

I have been part of several workplace environments during my working years. The best were ethically-based, supportive of employees, encouraged new ideas, and promoted open communication. The worst were led by people who did not follow the rules they set out for others, treated employees as second class citizens, were closed-minded, and stood idly by while a toxic environment developed in the workplace. In this blog I deal with the increasingly important issue of how to develop a psychologically healthy workplace.

The following survey results reported by “A Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program (PHWP)” point out how job stress lowers productivity and costs businesses billions each year.

• 69% of US employees report that work is a significant source of stress. 
• 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.

So, what is the anti-dote for these results? It is for employers to create challenging and meaningful work experiences, provide opportunities for career growth, nurture employee learning and development, create a fair system of compensation, and create an ethical organization environment.

As noted by the APA, in today’s 24/7 society, workplace pressures continue to mount. Productivity demands, information overload and increasing pressure to balance work and home lives can take a toll on employees’ health, well-being and job satisfaction. Here are some questions to ask, first raised by the PHWP, to build a psychologically healthy workplace.

  • Is there a sense of zest, a ”buzz,” and opportunity in the workplace?
  • Do employees feel they are valued and treated with respect and dignity?
  • Is the organizational culture friendly, inclusive, and supportive?
  • Is organizational decision making fair, transparent, and evenhanded?
  • Are diversities of all types accepted or merely tolerated?
  • Does the organization face or dodge tough questions concerning employee relations?
  • Are allegations of mistreatment of employees handled fairly and honestly, even when the alleged wrongdoers are in positions of power?
  • Are compensation and reward systems fair and transparent?

It is important to note that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to creating a psychologically healthy workplace. Success is based, in part, on addressing the challenges unique to your particular organization and tailoring programs and policies to meet your needs.

Workers want to feel their work is valued; they are a part of building something important; they are respected in the workplace; and they work for an organization that does the right thing not because it might improve the bottom line but, instead, because it is the right way to behave towards others. 

For me, it all gets back to the Golden Rule – treat others the way you want to be treated. I believe we could make a positive change in the psychological environment in the workplace if employers, especially those in supervisory and top management positions, reflected on this fundamental tenet of ethical behavior before engaging with employees, customers, and the public at large.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 28, 2011