British Columbia

A positive workplace benefits both workers and employers, says psychologist

CBC's workplace columnist Jennifer Newman takes a look at the role of both employer and employee in making work environments psychologically healthy places.

Jennifer Newman: feeling good at work has lasting effects on your health and your performance

Workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman says happy workers are less likely to gossip and more likely to go the extra mile. (Getty Images/Caiaimage)

As we inch closer to the best days of summer, CBC's workplace columnist, Jennifer Newman, has some ideas on how workers can best use their holidays to reset psychologically.

She joined Stephen Quinn, guest host of CBC's The Early Edition to explain what both workers and employers can do, right now, to make workplaces healthier.

Stephen Quinn: You do hear a lot about work-life balance and well-being a lot these days. What does that mean when you say it?

It's a research area in the field of positive psychology and it refers to subjective well-being, which is another way to talk about happiness.

It refers to how satisfied workers are with their lives and how much they tend to experience positive versus negative emotions at any given moment.

Being satisfied with your life is basically feeling positive a good degree of the time.

That can have lasting effects on your health and your work performance.

But, if you have a terrible job, an awful boss, bad pay and no time off, how can someone in that situation take care of their well-being?

Unfortunately, those kinds of things do have a terrible toll on people's well-being and life satisfaction is influenced by your income.

Higher wage levels are connected to higher job satisfaction but that's not the whole story.

Worker well-being is also connected to the relationship staff have with their boss.

If you have a crummy relationship with your boss, it's going to colour how satisfied you're going to be, no matter what.

If you don't have flexible work hours that can also create less satisfaction.

Workplaces with high degrees of stress, negativity, bullying or harassment all have lower life satisfaction [for employees] as well.

If these conditions changed wouldn't that promote worker well-being? 
Jennifer Newman is a workplace psychologist and regular guest on CBC's The Early Edition. (Jennifer Newman)

These conditions are highly susceptible to change. Employers benefit from paying workers properly and, can decide to do so.

Organizations can ensure managers know how to be effective and they can set-up flexible schedules.

Higher job satisfaction is related to better on-the-job performance.

Interestingly, more satisfied workers are less likely to steal or gossip.

They are more likely to help co-workers, pitch in and do extras without being asked. They serve customers better, are less likely to be absent, and are healthier.

Some might say, worker well-being is genetic — you're either a happy person or you're not, so what happens at work has little to do with it?

Research indicates genetics play a much lesser role than we thought in how satisfied workers are with their lives than previously thought.

It appears circumstances and the situations workers find themselves in, can have a big effect.

For example, experiencing unemployment, obviously, can have an effect on well-being long after the event is over.

What researchers have found though is even after you get your job back you don't always return to your previous level of life satisfaction.

Worker well-being can't just be up to employers, what about workers themselves?

The research on well-being indicates there are easy and cheap ways workers can boost their own happiness.

One way to boost well being is through gratitude; either saying 'thank you' or writing letters or cards or just counting your blessings, if done consistently this increases well being.

Are there any other ways to increase your life satisfaction?

If you don't mind keeping a journal, write about about positive experiences.

It focuses workers' attentions on positive feelings and what is going right in their lives.

Another one is meditation, focussing on positive feelings about yourself your family members or other people in your life.