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Workplace Productivity and Mental Health

Understanding the relationship between productivity and mental health in workplace environments

By Andrew-StuartPublished 2 months ago 18 min read
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The promotion of both an employee’s work productivity and their mental well-being in the workplace is of extreme importance in a variety of private-organizational and public-service sectors providing individuals with opportunities for employment. Efforts to improve productivity can amass numerous benefits for both employees and employers at large, with productive employees achieving a strong sense of happiness and mental wellbeing derived from increased flexibility of time and employers accumulating large expansions in their profit margins or reducing expenditures associated with low productivity and performance.

Facilitating strong levels of mental and subjective well-being in the workplace exists as one of many intervention types to improve productivity in the workplace and contribute to subsequent increases in the number of opportunities for employers to exercise their financial operations according to their aims and objectives as is typically reflected in their values and visions for their institutions and those their missions serve.

Conversely, improving employees' productivity also has the potential to simultaneously improve their mental-wellbeing and increase their satisfaction in the workplace, along with lowering organizational expenditures associated with the provision of mental health treatment services.

In this story, definitions of both productivity and mental health will be analyzed in addition to examining the key mechanisms underlying the bi-directional relationship between mental health and productivity in workplace settings and how improvements in either one of these features can facilitate improvements in the other.

Suggestions of intervention types to improve both of these elements will be discussed and evaluated with reference to a demonstration of relevant research practices.

Definition of productivity

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In the workforce, productivity often refers to the quality and economic output of the work conducted by an employee within a private or public organizational setting. In private organizational firms, corporations and their recruiters are tasked with the responsibility of determining the degree to which a potential work candidate is likely to fulfill a required set of skills and performance-based criteria that will generate maximum revenue of profit in their respective business industry.

This is an especially important consideration for employers when calculating the prospective costs that will be associated with recruiting new workers to fulfill available roles within a company or organization. Therefore, in assessing the suitability of a potential work candidate to occupy a vacant role within a company, recruiters must calculate the likely differences that will occur between the costs of hiring an employee and the number of profits and economic output for which their work will generate within the organization.

If it is determined by a recruiter that the costs associated with hiring a potential employee are likely to outweigh the economic output of their productivity, then the prospective candidate is unlikely to be recruited by the company.

Conversely, if the economic output of a potential work candidate is considered to likely outweigh the costs entailing their prospective recruitment, particularly to a greater extent than determined for competing candidates, then the candidate will likely be selected for the occupation of the available role by the company’s recruitment staff.

In public sector industries, in which the goal is to provide public services to local areas and communities through taxation, prospective employees identified as being competently productive are recruited in the confidence of their likely ability to provide a quality deliverance of relevant services and retain confidence from members of the public in a government or local authority’s ability to serve their varying and diversified range of needs and interests.

In the aftermath of recruitment, employees with a high level of productivity are less likely to be dismissed from organizations and public bodies and more likely to be promoted to higher roles within a company or public service industry than unproductive employees.

In occupational literature, productivity is often reviewed alongside other key features and characteristics within the workplace, such as absenteeism and presenteeism, most notably. Absenteeism refers to the frequency and amount of time that an employee is absent from their line of work due to illness or disability, while presenteeism describes the characteristic of employees being present at work despite being unable to work to a productive and efficient standard as hindered by a contraction or experience of illness.

It is widely understood that both absenteeism and presenteeism are associated with decreased levels of productivity and motivation among employees within an organization and, thus, can have major implications for the profitability of private-sector industries.

Additionally, the prevalence of absenteeism in the work industry often incurs excess medical costs for the coverage of employees identified as being at high risk for absenteeism. One study among a group of 46,976 industrial employees estimated that rates of absenteeism cost their respective work industries an annual total of $70.8 million between 1984 and 1988.

Employees with regular smoking habits comprised the highest proportion of these costs, with corporate losses accounting for $930 per annum for these workers. Lack of physical exercise only had a moderate effect on the totaling of these healthcare costs, especially after controlling for age, education, and pay category.

Perceived work ability is another common factor studied alongside productivity and can have huge implications for the quality output of work by employees. Research literature has demonstrated that employees who possess a low standard of perceived work ability are typically less productive than employees whose perceived level of workability is high.

By matter of general consensus, perceived work ability can be defined as an employer’s subjective assessment of an employee’s potential to work to a productive and efficient standard as required by their industry. However, associated meanings of perceived work ability often differ according to the context of various workplace environments under which employees labor under.

The department for public health at Malmo University in Sweden proposes two definitions in the conceptualization of perceived work ability. The first type of recommended definition should be defined with the goal of explaining workplace environments that are highly skilled and require participation in comprehensive training programs along with the attainment of previous and relevant work experience or qualifications.

For example, doctoral and legal professions can be accounted for in this definition, as doctors and lawyers are required to undergo many years of education and training before they can be considered eligible to practice in their occupational fields.

The second type of definition proposes a meaning that explains those types of work environments for which a short-term period of practice among its employees can facilitate the development and acquisition of mastery and proficiency in their relevant profession.

For example, a prospective McDonald’s employee with no relevant experience of working in a kitchen environment has the potential to quickly acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to perform their line of work according to a productive and efficient standard as required by the fast-food chain.

Accurate definitions of work ability that are adjusted according to the nature and types of work environments along with carefully considered assessments of perceived work ability at the level of individual employees is a critical component for generating satisfactory levels of work productivity among workers and, thus, should be integrated into organizational intervention schemes that seek to promote high amounts of working output among its laborers.

Definitions of Mental Health

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According to the World Health Organization, mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Noticeably, the notion of productivity is accounted for in this definition and highlights an inseparable relationship between these two factors. Therefore, the attainment of a positive state of mental and subjective well-being can enable individuals, and society at large, to achieve a high standard of productivity and proficiency in relevant work domains, along with producing other favorable outcomes that can enhance this desired effect.

Another notable analysis of this definition spotlights its expansion beyond previous definitions that have defined mental health as merely the absence of mental health problems. As such, modern definitions of mental health are acknowledgeable to a truth that emphasizes both a universal and occasional experience of some or all forms of negative emotions among individuals without a medical diagnosis of common mental health problems.

However, the notion of mental health problems is also an abstract concept as there is no existence of universally agreed definition of mental illness and how to treat and prevent mental health issues within a population. As such, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was created with the goal of providing mental health professionals and clinicians with a consensus on the behavioral and symptomatic constitutions for diagnostic criteria of various mental health conditions and their relevant classifications.

However, social and cultural transitions in contextualizing mental problems and alterations of structure in policy frameworks for curing and preventing mental illness have led to the continual publishing of new and updated versions of this publication and how mental illness should be defined.

For instance, homosexuality was historically regarded as a mental illness and was classified as a mental health condition in the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but this view is no longer upheld in modern western societies, thus, leading to a consequent removal of homosexuality as a classified mental illness in the current fifth edition of the text.

In historical terms, definitions of mental illness focused solely on a diagnostic perspective, one that typically defined mental illness in relation to the frequency or degree to which an individual exhibited all or some symptoms of a classified mental illness.

However, mental health problems comprise elements of subjective experiences for which a diagnostic approach is inadequate for definition.

In such terms, modern definitions of mental illness emphasize the importance of adopting person-centered approaches to managing mental health problems at the level upon which they are experienced by people on an individual basis.

Defining mental illness in this manner has enabled mental health professionals to focus on designing and delivering intervention schemes that treat and prevent mental illness through supporting the varying and multi-complex needs of individual patients and strengthening their potential for fast-tracked recoveries.

The varying degree to which mental health and mental illness are defined has many important implications for utilizing a range of intervention designs to promote mental health and, subsequently, productivity in the workplace.

Firstly, defining workplace mental health as merely the absence of mental illness among employees can mislead employers to believe that an employee has achieved a full state of positive mental well-being and is, thus, exempt from experiences of stress and other negative emotions associated with work conditions and interpersonal life circumstances.

In such terms, defining mental health according to the definition provided by the World Health Organization, one that emphasizes the attainment of a positive state of mental well-being, can increase an employer’s awareness of the many stresses and other negative emotions experienced by employees and motivate employers to alter the nature and structure of work conditions to facilitate the mitigation of an employee’s experience of stress and increase their potential to achieve a state of happiness and positive emotion in their work domains.

Secondly, defining mental illness in the workplace solely in terms of a diagnostic approach can lead employers to overlook the personal elements associated with mental illness.

It is undoubtedly useful for an organizational mental health professional to utilize a set of diagnostic criteria to assess the mental health of an employee, but employers must recognize the unique extent to which mental illness can be experienced by employees on an individual level.

Therefore, recommendations for intervention design should include an integration of both a diagnostic and person-centered approach to accurately assess the conditions of an employee’s mental health.

Interventions for Improving Productivity

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Research analysis has predominantly studied the role of health promotion initiatives to improve workplace productivity. One strategy to improve workplace productivity in this domain focuses on the promotion of healthy eating and drinking diets.

Research at the University of Copenhagen’s Institute of Food and Resource Economics found that increases in productivity of 1–2% can be attributed to regular intakes of healthy food and drink items. Other research has also looked at the role of exercise on productivity levels.

Another study in Denmark, which studied 3,500 Danish Workers on a 1-hour weekly exercise program for 52 weeks, revealed that participation in these programs contributed to improved levels of work productivity across a diverse range of professions (e.g., doctors, lawyers, office workers, technicians), largely as a consequence of increased muscle strength and balance control. This study also documented the likely cost-effectiveness of implementing these programs due to significant losses of corporate revenue associated with adverse physical health issues and reduced productivity among employees.

Findings like these also have implications for encouraging active modes of transportation to and from workplaces. Research examining employees’ use of cycling workspace stations has documented significant improvements in workforce productivity compared to employees using seated-only workstations.

Therefore, health promotion directives serve a strong potential to substantially enhance overall workplace productivity and maximize revenue intake for small and large-scale work industries.

Work Ethic and Commitment is another important consideration for implementing intervention programs to increase workplace productivity. General consensus among employers cites strong work ethic and commitment as vital to increasing employee productivity and performance in their lines of work.

Research in the UK shows that lost productivity can occur as a direct consequence of lateness and incur significant financial costs of £2.5 billion on average. It has also been established that lateness can negatively affect the productivity and commitment of other employees, a phenomenon that only serves to exacerbate the financial costs connected to lateness.

However, factors underpinning lateness and other employee behaviors that reflect a lack of commitment to the workplace have been debated extensively among psychologists and economists alike. Typically, lateness can be explained in relation to an interaction of both interpersonal and organizational factors and evaluating the degree to which these factors influence lateness has many important implications for improving employee work ethic.

Unlike dismissal or absence due to health problems and bereavement, lateness is a type of behavior for which an exercise of control at the will of an employee is entirely possible. In such terms, the use and development of effective time management skills among employees can reduce incidences of lateness behaviors and facilitate strong levels of employee work productivity, and thus, operate as a critical component for preventing unnecessary expenditures associated with lowered performances.

However, while lateness has been categorized as a voluntary behavior, it would be scientifically misleading for employers to overlook the influence of factors that are organizational or otherwise external to the individual employee and the role these factors play in motivating lateness behaviors.

Research in Israel, which explains lateness behavior in terms of personality traits, acknowledges the influence of childcare commitments on an employee’s punctuality, as measured by the age of an employee’s youngest child. Taking childcare commitments into consideration, employers should focus on setting reasonable start times that accommodate an employee's need to attend to these commitment types without shortening the number of work hours each working day.

Job satisfaction is another central factor of analysis on employee punctuality. Research in the US among public and privately employed teachers found that teachers with low job satisfaction were less likely to achieve expected standards of punctuality as compared to teachers with higher job satisfaction.

Similar to job satisfaction, mental health is another factor to consider in the punctuality of organizational employees. The presence of mental health issues among employees, such as depression and anxiety, have been noted to adversely affect both the punctuality and organizational commitment of suffering employees.

As such, intervention programs to improve punctuality should prioritize the promotion of employee satisfaction and facilitate growth and improvements in their mental well-being. All of the above evidence emphasizes the importance of improving employee work ethic and commitment as an intervention technique to maximize productivity and performance.

Intervention designs that support employees in their needs to manage their work-life balance and strengthen their interpersonal well-being will likely make these improvements achievable in all domains.

Interventions for Improving Mental Health in the Workplace

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The importance of mental health in the workplace is receiving more attention and recognition as the prevalence of mental health issues continues to grow and emerge in a variety of work domains. In response, employers and researchers in the field of Occupational studies have devoted considerable efforts to developing and implementing a range of intervention programs to improve the overall mental well-being of employees in their work environments.

In the UK, mental health problems are estimated to cost the workforce between £33–42 billion each year as influenced by a multi-causal dimension that includes the effects of higher rates of turnovers, absenteeism, and presenteeism among mentally ill employees.

Furthermore, individuals with mental health problems are less likely to be employed and are more likely to be dismissed from their work, with 30,000 mentally ill employees losing their job every year. Considering the scope of this issue in workplace environments, it is concretely evident that employers should be advised on best intervention practices to improve mental well-being in their workforce through research and consultation with occupational and mental health experts.

According to research in the US, a group of occupational experts convened as an Advisory Council at a Public Health Summit to advise employers and relevant policymakers on the most effective intervention protocols to improve mental health in the workplace. This study detailed four key projects for improving mental well-being in the workforce that were proposed by the panel of experts during the summit.

These areas included providing employers with a guide on how to design, implement and evaluate mental health programs in the workplace, creating scorecards to assess and compare the effectiveness of all available intervention schemes, developing a recognition program that shares information with other employers regarding the most successful mental health programs and provide organizational employees with executive training on how to effectively manage mental health issues in workplace environments.

Other research in Australia has noted three action-orientated steps that are required to ensure the effective implementation of workplace mental health interventions. These include a moderation of work-related risk factors for developing mental illness, developing the positive aspects of work that contribute to positive mental well-being in the workplace, and addressing all identified mental health issues among workers, irrespective of causation.

The first proposed recommendation comes in response to the high prevalence of mental health issues in the Australian workforce, with 15% of Australia’s working population reporting a diagnosis of a major depressive disorder, of which only 63% recovered and only 32% received treatment, thus highlighting a need for greater access to mental health treatment services to facilitate more and faster recoveries from mental illness for organizational employees.

The second proposed recommendation is derived from the work of Karasek and Theorell’s model of demand-control. This model proposes that the development of mental health issues in the workplace is a byproduct of a multi-causal dimension that accounts for the role of high workplace demands and the lack of control that one has over their working conditions in contributing to workplace stress.

The concepts entailing this model have been empirically substantiated by research literature that has offered strong support for the influence these elements of working conditions have on mental health levels in the workplace and thus provide major clinical implications for reducing excess workplace demands and increasing an employee’s level of control over their own working conditions to facilitate their development of positive mental wellbeing in the workplace.

Finally, the last recommendation is based on the documented effectiveness of workplace mental health programs that promote knowledge and awareness of mental health problems, along with developing employees’ confidence to seek workplace support for mental health issues and early detection of these problems among other organizational employees.

One program, in particular, Mental Health First Aid Training, is being utilized in many economically well-developed countries and has been shown to be effective in many workplace settings in which they have been introduced. Moreover, their effectiveness has also been noted in workplace environments in which the risks for developing mental health problems are relatively high, such as in the U.S. Airforce.

Their success has been largely attributed to the role these programs play in reducing organizational stigma around mental illness, which has been considered a significant barrier to seeking mental health support in the workplace by employees.

One study in the US found that while 62% of organizational employees know how to access mental health treatment in the workplace, still a relatively low figure, only 29% reported feeling comfortable in seeking the level of mental health support made available by their organizations.

In such terms, implementing Mental Health First Aid Training programs or any other relevant mental health intervention schemes possess a strong potential to improve employee mental health outcomes by removing the barriers of stigmatization around mental illness and increasing organizational literacy of mental health issues and their causes and impacts with a particular emphasis on outlining the advantages of positive mental wellbeing in the workplace.

Final thoughts

Based on the evidence presented in this story, improving workplace mental health and productivity levels can harness many advantages for both organizational employees and those responsible for managing the operations of the workforce.

Improving an employee’s mental well-being can enable them to feel satisfied in their line of work and increase their intrinsic motivation, which then becomes reinforced when increased productivity leads to higher levels of performance among employees.

On the other end of the spectrum, improving the mental well-being and productivity of employees can benefit those managing an organization by increasing organizational profitability and allowing these organizations to achieve their aims and objectives in a manner that seeks to benefit those their organization’s mission or purpose serves.

If an organization’s principal values concern the benefitting of all connected or associated to their organization, whether it be through consumer or work-related activities, then implementing intervention programs that are targeted to improve organizational mental well-being and productivity should be of priory concern for these organizations.

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About the Creator


My passion is to write stories related to the topics of psychology and mental health | (Bsc) Hons Applied Psychology Student at Glasgow Caledonian University 😁

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  • Mike Singleton - Mikeydredabout a month ago

    Excellent in-depth article and you have me as a subscriber

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarranabout a month ago

    Omg, this should be read by everyone in the workplace, especially those holding the higher ranks! Truly very good job on this!

  • Gina C.about a month ago

    This is so well-written and so informative! I definitely learned a lot here! I feel like I will definitely come back to this article if I need to provide my employer with some reasoning to put more emphasis on mental health in the workplace. Great job!

  • Diani Alvarengaabout a month ago

    I definitely agree that improving an employee’s mental health is important! And at my college professors are very understanding when students need to have a couple days off. Overalll great article!

  • Nice one. Mental health is key to the success of any organization.

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