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Occupational wellbeing and its effect on performance

At a glance:
The wellbeing of employees influences their organisations productivity and performance. Improving wellbeing increases employee performance and decreases uncertified sick leave, turnover and stress-related compensation claims.

Improving wellbeing doesn't just mean reducing workplace stressors and avoiding distressing situations. It is essential to foster positive experiences and overall positive emotions towards work as well. According to this study, a lack of positive experiences and morale is actually more likely to cause stress than specific negative experiences or 'stressors.'

The strongest influence on morale is the 'organisational climate': the overall conditions and culture of the workplace. Improving things like leadership, staff recognition processes and decision making procedures is likely to be the most effective way to increase morale and reduce distress. This approach can increase productivity and decrease compensation costs.

Wellbeing at work means more than just avoiding stressful experiences. We need to feel productive, supported and valued. Lacking confidence, interest or positive relationships at work can cause stress too.

Not having positive feelings towards work may make it hard to deal with small problems when they arise. In this situation, addressing the small problems might not relieve the stress. The way we cope with demands depends on our overall beliefs and feelings. Our personalities also play a role in how we respond to stress.

If you are feeling stressed by a situation at work, consider your workplace environment and your personal beliefs. Are there any positive suggestions to could make to your employer about how procedures or communication could be improved? Could learning new skills help you deal with the demands at work? Considering the bigger picture can help you to feel better at work.
Employee wellbeing is associated with lower withdrawal and greater voluntary performance. Withdrawal refers to uncertified sick leave, lateness, stress-related compensation claims and turnover. Voluntary performance includes effort and commitment, offering help and promoting the organisation.

The overall climate of the workplace is a stronger influence on workers wellbeing than individual 'stressors' like traumatic events or arguments. Stressful situations can't be avoided altogether; improving overall morale and support in the workplace is more likely to reduce sick leave and compensation costs. Effective strategies include improving leadership skills, reviewing standard practices and procedures and offering counselling services. (When a person is in distress, however, specific psychological
Refers to a person's perceptions, thought processes, emotions, personality and behaviour. Psychologists can treat mental health problems.
 treatments are more effective than general counselling.)
Promoting positive attitudes and emotions towards work, rather than merely avoiding demanding situations, appears to be the most effective strategy for combating occupational stress. Obviously, by the time a patient presents with stress-related symptoms it is too late to promote positive feelings. Nonetheless, a lack of confidence, interest and positive experiences might be significant when considering the underlying cause of stress.

This review found that individual psychological treatments are more effective for dealing with distress
Severe suffering, pain, anxiety or sorrow
 than generic counselling services or stress management training. There is still a place for these services in improving employee morale, however.
Workplace health can sometimes focus on avoiding the bad rather than promoting the good. Eliminating health hazards, however, is an incomplete strategy; a lack of positive experiences or emotions towards work can also be damaging to employee wellbeing.

Improving workplace morale reduces withdrawal behaviours such as stress-related compensation claims and uncertified sick leave. Apart from personality, the overall conditions and culture in the workplace are the most significant influence on wellbeing. Encourage employers to look at how they can improve leadership and training, and increase their employees' sense of confidence and support. This is likely to be the most effective strategy for reducing stress-related compensation costs.
Original Article, Authors & Publication Details:
P. Cotton1 and P. M. Hart1 (2003).

Occupational wellbeing and performance: a review of organisational health research. Australian Psychologist, 38(2): 118 – 127

1Insight SRC Pty Ltd and the University of Melbourne
Background, Study Objectives, How It Was Done:
The 'organisational health framework' is a theoretical model for thinking about employee wellbeing and business performance. This study explores factors that influence employee wellbeing, productivity, sick leave and performance. It also examines the relationship between employee wellbeing and the success of the organisation they work for.
Study Findings:
Factors that influence employee wellbeing

Employee wellbeing involves both emotional factors and job satisfaction. An employee's job satisfaction is like a judgement the employee makes, by weighing up the positive and negative experiences they have had at work. Positive emotions towards work can be called 'morale', and include energy, enthusiasm and pride. Negative emotions include guilt, anxiety and anger and are collectively called 'distress".

An individual's emotions will be influenced by the overall mood within their workgroup, and vice-versa. Other factors that can influence wellbeing are coping strategies, personality traits and conditions and culture in the workplace.

Although it sounds illogical, negative emotions about work and positive emotions about work need to be considered separately. Take for example the issue of stress. Stress is often thought to be caused by negative situations or experiences at work and positive work experiences and emotions are often not considered.

However when a person feels stressed, this can be due to a lack of positive experiences at work rather than a series of specific negative problems. A worker, for example, might feel that their work is pointless, they might lack social support and recognition and therefore they do not feel enthusiastic or confident at work, leading to feelings of stress and difficulty coping with small problems. In this case, targeting specific negative experiences, or trying to solve the little problems, might not be any help. Instead, a broader approach would be needed to address the underlying issue of why the person is not happy at work and how the workplace could foster a more supportive environment.

Furthermore, when distressing problems do occur, the way employees cope will also depend on their previous positive experiences and their positive emotions. A person who feels that their heavy workload is causing stress might be influenced by an underlying negative sense of their work and workplace. On the other hand, a person who feels capable, valued and interested might see a heavy workload as a challenge or feel more confident that they can manage it.

According to this study, the most important factors that influence employee well-being are:

The 'organisational climate' in the workplace

Personality factors

Positive or negative experiences at work

'Organisational climate' was the most important influence. This term refers to the employees overall impression of how the organisation is run, the leadership practices, standard procedures, workplace culture etc. The organisational climate has been shown to be more important than individual difficulties or stressors in determining an employee's wellbeing. The study also found that improving management styles and overall workplace practices reduces stress more effectively than teaching employees individual coping skills.

Individual characteristics are also an important influence on wellbeing. This study found that an emotional personality is the strongest influence on how much distress a person will experience. In these cases, individual psychological treatments are believed to be more effective than generic stress-management or supportive counselling services. Counsellors can vary in their level of training and experience, and the authors of this study suggested that clinical treatment should be available where necessary. However, employees who see workplace counsellors tend to be highly satisfied with the service provided. These services may be good for improving the support and increasing morale, but may be inadequate for dealing with severe distress.

The effect of wellbeing on organisational performance

Increasing employee wellbeing reduces their rate of withdrawal. 'Withdrawal' refers to missed work, turnover, uncertified sick leave and stress-related compensation claims, all of which are costly for organisations. The researchers found that the strongest influences on withdrawal were personality, organisational climate, work experiences and emotions.

Wellbeing also influences employees voluntary performance – that is, the work they do that supports the organisation, but isn't part of their main responsibilities. Some examples are: dedication and making an effort, volunteering to do tasks, helping others in the workplace and promoting the organisation to other people. Voluntary performance is increased by improving wellbeing.
Improved wellbeing means higher morale (more positive emotions), less distress and higher job satisfaction. Job satisfaction is a judgment the employee makes about their work by weighing up their positive and negative experiences. Improved employee wellbeing improves the productivity of the organisation they work for by increasing performance and reducing withdrawal behaviours such as unexplained absence, stress leave and turnover.

There are several ways to improve employee wellbeing in the workplace. The authors of this paper summarised their suggestions as follows:

Employees' positive and negative experiences need to be considered separately.

To improve wellbeing in the workplace it is necessary to reduce distressing situations, but it is more important to increase positive experiences and foster overall positive feelings towards work.

Individual cases of low wellbeing might be caused by high distress or by low morale. These two problems need to be managed in different ways.

Withdrawal behaviours, including stress-related compensation claims, are often caused by low morale.

The 'organisational climate' - the overall conditions and culture in the workplace - has the strongest influence on positive emotions.

Organisational climate is also the strongest influence, apart from an emotional personality, on an employee's level of distress.

Stress is more likely to be caused by overall organisational problems than by individual negative experiences.

When it comes to preventing withdrawal from work (including absence and stress-related compensation claims), increasing morale in the workplace is more effective than decreasing distress.

The most effective way to increase morale and decrease distress in the workplace is to improve leadership styles and employee recognition, and make employees responsibilities clear. This is likely to increase productivity and reduce compensation premiums.

Workplace counselling services may increase support and morale in the workplace. However in cases of severe distress, clinical treatment might be necessary.
No PubMed Abstract Available

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