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Blog: How workplace psychology could improve productivity


The human brain is an organic machine: it needs to recharge its battery, organise its stored data and maintain its memory if it hopes to perform at a consistently high level. This is why many global businesses are realising that, as well as stocking their offices with the latest technology, they also need to provide a proactive working environment tailored to the ergonomic needs of their staff if they hope to boost efficiency levels.

This concept of productivity hacking – which could include restricting your own personal internet access or tactically scheduling your day – isn’t a new concept. However, these management strategies are almost entirely individual, and therefore must be implemented by the workers themselves rather than by companies.

For managers, encouraging these efficiency tactics in the workplace involves delving deeper into the psyche and transforming the organisational culture entirely.

The cost of a negative culture

The days of high-pressure office environments are coming to an end, as businesses realise that these stress factors are less motivating than once believed. While pressure can push staff to work harder in the short term, health and contentment are drastically affected in the long run.

The Harvard Business Review notes that American companies found a 50% higher rate of health spending in high-pressure environments, with $500 million per year spent on stress-related illnesses (and the resulting absenteeism). Disengaged workers are also 60% more likely to make mistakes, which could mean costly claims on liability policies.

Workplace fraternising can increase loyalty

Friendships between colleagues, and the care and kindness that comes with them, are one of the driving factors of a positive organisational culture. Social connections in the workplace have been shown to reduce the number of sick days taken by employees, and they even boost information retention and recall.

Forgiveness and empathy lead to loyalty and engagement

Aside from personal relationships, management teams are in an ideal position to create positive and friendly working environments that are shown to boost productivity. Unkind behaviour has been linked to negative emotions in employees that can last up to a year after the incident. The Leadership Quarterly conducted a brain-imaging study that showed how workers continued to feel negativity and avoidance when asked to remember unpleasant ex-bosses. On the other hand, managers who show empathy and act as mentors to their teams help to drive loyalty through the establishment of positive working relationships.

Safe spaces can drive performance

Maintaining an open organisational culture that drives discussion is more likely to drive up creativity and innovation. This means offering time during meetings for team brainstorming sessions and reducing any fears of negative consequences. Staff members should feel comfortable asking for assistance, querying assignments and discussing problems with management.

Time out is as important as ‘time in’

No matter how positive the work environment is, the human body and mind have their limitations. Studies have shown that productivity is improved when workers concentrate for 52 minutes before taking a 17 minute break, preferably away from their screen. Research from the DeskTime productivity app found that employees who followed this pattern were 10% more productive. Similarly, a Cornell University study from 1999 foreshadowed this advice, showing that workers who received alerts advising them to take a break were 13% more productive than their colleagues.

In order to function at their best, employees need an open and honest environment that doesn’t thrive on pressure. They need to feel comfortable enough to innovate, and have friendly relationships with their colleagues and management team. Taking frequent breaks throughout the day is also necessary, even if a few of those periods are spent flicking through newspapers or listening to a podcast.