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RISMEDIA, March 20, 2009-(MCT)-Does it matter if workers are happy?

Only if an organization wants to do well.

One academic study found that managers with average salaries of about $65,000 cost their organizations roughly $75 a week per person in lost productivity if they are “psychologically distressed.”

Multiply that at large businesses, and the financial whammy is big.

Research shows that employee well-being is inextricably tied to higher performance, which is inextricably tied to the bottom line, says Thomas Wright, the Jon Wefald Leadership Chair in business administration at Kansas State University.

After controlling for age, gender, ethnicity, job tenure and educational attainment, Wright has found that an employee’s psychological well-being is a significant indicator of job performance.

Maybe you didn’t need an academic study to tell you that psychologically healthy people make better decisions and have better interpersonal behavior- it’s practically a given.

What’s not so universally accepted is what employers and employees can do about maintaining or encouraging such health.

In all the talk about employee wellness these days, the focus mostly is on physical health- on providing incentives to employees to stop smoking, lose weight, exercise, and manage their health-care expenses.

Meanwhile, the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” survey reported that about half of adults surveyed feel stressed, fatigued, irritable or angry or lie awake at night because of stress.

The psychological malaise translates into lack of interest or motivation, sadness, depression, headaches and muscle tension.

In one survey of 1,000 adult workers, Lynn Taylor Consulting found that “the average employee spends 2.8 hours a day worrying about job concerns,” such as company layoffs or losing his or her job.

The Taylor survey also found that something as ordinarily innocuous as a boss’s closed door sparks job-loss fears in 65% of those surveyed.

The flailing economy makes these fears realistic. But is there anything to do about it, anything that can improve psychological well-being in stress-filled workplaces?

From the employers’ side, according to Quantum Workplace: Ask your employees how they’re doing.

Leigh Branham, founder of Keeping the People Inc. in Overland Park, Kan., counsels organizations about employee engagement, or psychological well-being. He says that you-or a third party-have to ask, and keep lines of communication open between you and your employees.

Finding out, through questionnaires, if employees have confidence in management, if they see how their individual roles fit in, if they see opportunities for growth, and if they feel fairly compensated is an easy way to give your employees a sense of belonging.

It is essential to follow-up with a one-on-one meeting in which you discuss how the employee is performing within the company.

From the employees’ side, according to psychiatrist, professor and author Judith Orloff: “Flip the switch” on negative thoughts.

Although this is much easier said than done, Orloff suggests that employees try not to hypothesize about worst-case scenarios and avoid contact with people or situations that rev up stress responses in their body.

This includes avoiding caffeine, sugar, exposure to violent news, traffic jams, arguments, and people who are depressed, cynical or angry.

Psychological well-being, said Wright, is subjective, but there’s no question that a lack of it is harmful to both the employee and employer.

© 2009, The Kansas City Star.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.