Boosting Workplace Morale

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The antics and dangerous deployment of an emergency jet chute by former Jet Blue Airlines employee Steven Slater captivated media attention a few months ago. The case his since been pleaded in court. Slater has come to represent to Americans disgruntled and disturbed employees of all kinds.

Recently the American Psychological Association has showcased the new book Well-being: Five Essential Elements. This volume examines research and looks at the huge toll that discontent is taking, both on the workforce as well as companies and corporations large and small.

“Employees who said they like their jobs are twice as likely to be thriving in their lives overall — reporting strong relationships, effective money management, good health and engagement in their communities — as those who are disengaged and unhappy at work. Unhappy employees in the study not only dreaded the work day, but they were also twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression. These disengaged workers also reported higher stress levels than happy workers and were at greater risk for heart disease and other health problems due to spikes in the stress hormone cortisol, which boosts blood pressure and blood sugar levels and suppresses the immune system.

“[For many of us,] our careers are such a foundational part of our identities and how we think about ourselves,” says psychologist Jim Harter, PhD, one of the book’s co-authors and a chief scientist for workplace management and well-being at Gallup. Of course, work is also where most of us spend much of the day and is an important source of socialization, he says.

“Psychological, sociological and economic research has also shown that having happy, healthy and engaged workers is also good for a company’s bottom line. (Visit the APA Practice Organization’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program website for a database of research on the topic.) The Gallup study reports that among the least happy and least engaged employees — those with the lowest well-being scores — the annual per-person cost of lost productivity due to sick days is upward of $28,000. The sick-day lost-productivity cost among the happiest and most engaged workers: $840 a year.

“People who are more psychologically well and happier tend to be better producers,” says Tom Wright, PhD, an industrial-organizational psychologist and management professor at Kansas State University who studies the role of psychological well-being in job performance, employee retention and cardiovascular health. Not only can also psychological well-being benefit organizations by reducing lost productivity due to sick days, but organizations can also benefit from the fact that healthy employees tend to work both harder and “smarter” on the job. According to Wright, “psychologically well employees tend to be more focused on work activities and not waste as much time on daydreaming and other non-productive activities.”

The American Mental Health Foundation, in partnership with Marist College, is planning a Spring conference on the theme of helping small businesses meet the mental health needs and moral of employees. Dr. Joanne Gavin, Associate Professor of Management, is planning and producing the conference. We will have more information, including who will be speaking and how to register for this free, day-long Saturday workshop, as the event nears its April 2011 date.

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