Many businesses attempt to drive their success with a high-pressure culture that focuses exclusively on short-term productivity gains. However, a growing body of research in organizational psychology shows that such a culture actually reduces productivity in the long term. A positive corporate culture increases productivity by reducing stress in the work environment, which can minimize the costs of maintaining a traditional culture. The following steps can help to foster a positive culture:
- Social connections
A single-minded push to improve productivity incurs several hidden costs. For example, BioMed Central reports that a high-pressure workplace can increase health expenditures by almost 50 percent. The American Psychological Association (APA) also estimates workplace stress costs the U.S. economy over half a trillion dollars and 550 million lost workdays each year.
Disengagement is another cost of a cut-throat work environment. This type of culture may generate greater engagement in the short-term due to excitement, but it’s likely to result in a loss of interest in the long run. A study by the Gallup Organization shows that disengaged workers make 60 percent more errors than engaged employees. Workplace stress can also cost a business by reducing the loyalty of its employees. For example, the Center for American Progress estimates the cost of replacing an employee to be about 20 percent of that person’s annual salary.
Related: How to Improve Work Productivity
Physical safety is an obvious factor in creating a positive work environment, but research shows that psychological safety is increasingly important for improving productivity. Leaders can foster psychological safety by encouraging communication from their staff, especially when they need help. Humility and a desire to include staff in decisions are also important qualities for creating a safe workplace. Employee empowerment leads to superior performance, especially when it’s combined with the right individual training and teamwork. Recent research at Sheffield University shows that these factors are more effective in improving productivity than increasing the efficiency of operations and manufacturing practices.
Leaders who are willing to sacrifice themselves can often inspire long-lasting loyalty in their employees. Many leaders are fair, but true self-sacrifice in the workplace generally involves leaders helping employees in some way, even when not required to do so. Self-sacrifice can motivate employees to do the same for other employees, which can help to create and maintain a reinforcing cycle of positive behavior. Recent research shows that employees with self-sacrificing leaders trust their leaders more and view them as more effective. This mind set results in greater cooperation with other team members, thus increasing productivity.
Most people become more productive when they form strong social connections with their co-workers. Many studies show specific psychological benefits to social connections, including increased productivity, faster learning and greater mental acuity. Physical benefits of social connections include a reduced rate of illness, lower probability of depression and greater tolerance for discomfort. A 2014 study at the University of California showed that people with poor social relationships have a 70 percent greater chance dying prematurely than those with good social ties. By comparison, the chances of dying prematurely are 50 percent greater for smokers, 30 percent greater for heavy drinkers and 20 percent greater for obese people.
Leaders have great influence over the feelings of their employees, which directly affects productivity. Researchers at the University of Michigan have suggested that empathetic leaders are particularly effective at promoting a group’s resilience during a difficult time. Furthermore, a 2012 study of brain images showed increased activity in the regions of the brain that deal with negative emotion when the subjects recalled an occasion when their bosses showed a lack of empathy. Similarly, the scans showed reduced activity in these areas when the subjects thought about a time their bosses were empathetic.
A workplace that increases the positive emotions of its workers will become more productive over time. An improvement in the relationships that workers have with each other can help protect them from the effects of stress, allowing them to function more effectively under challenging conditions. Leaders can foster this type of environment by going beyond their required duties to help their employees feel secure in their working environment. Empathy for employees can also be an effective method of improving productivity, even when it's unaccompanied by a solution to an employee’s problem.