anthropology · behavior · brain · community · culture · happiness · health · mental health · play · psychology · Social

Unhappy Employees Cost More (and how to reduce that cost)

Employment Exhibition
What does it take to reduce on-the-job depression and create an overall happier work environment? (Photo credit: Modern_Language_Center)

A recent study of health factors and their associated costs at seven companies, published in the journal Health Affairs, found that “depression is the most costly among 10 common risk factors linked to higher health spending on employees.”

The analysis, found that these factors — which also included obesity, high blood sugar and high blood pressure — were associated with nearly a quarter of the money spent on the health care of more than 92,000 workers.

First the employees were assessed for health risks, then researchers tracked their medical spending from 2005 through 2009.

The average medical spending for each employee was $3,961 a year. In total, $82 million, or 22 percent, of the $366 million annually spent on health care for the workers was attributed to the 10 risk factors, the study found.

The relationship between higher spending and depression was the strongest, with 48 percent more spending for workers with a propensity for that widespread problem.

via VPR News: Depression And Health Spending Go Together.

Now, to be fair, this is a fairly small study of just seven companies, and the article didn’t say how many employees worked at these companies. However, this is definitely a trend that has been spotted at least anecdotally by many HR managers, so it’s nice to see that there is some “official” analysis being done on the issue.

So what can employers do about this? My fear is that employers would discriminate, unintentionally or intentionally, against people who suffer from depression. But these days many people will be diagnosed with depression due to a temporary life situation such as a death in the family, or their jobs, so being fired for temporary sadness is probably not a good idea for companies.

Instead, my hope is that companies would invest more on making people’s job satisfaction higher. As of two years ago, Americans reported the lowest job satisfaction ever recorded. That means employers can be doing A LOT more to improve their employees’ lives at work. And a lot of that has to do with feeling supported by their managers, and feel like they are heard and respected and overall a part of the team. A lot of that comes from having fun at work.

This philosophy has been spouted in several different books and magazines, and has been shown to work well in classrooms as well, referred to as the “Responsive Classroom” approach.

The Responsive Classroom approach centers on several ostensibly mundane classroom practices. Each morning students form a circle, greet one another, share bits of news, engage in a brief, fun activity and review the day’s agenda. The idea is to build trust, ensure a little fun (which adolescents crave) and confront small problems before they become big. Students might welcome one another with salutations from a foreign language. An activity might involve tossing several balls around a circle in rapid succession. Students share weekend plans or explore topics like bullying before lessons begin. (New York Times)

This approach could very easily be applied to a business setting, in fact it sounds like a team kick-off meeting one might see in a corporate environment. Taking time to connect with other coworkers and laugh a little before diving in to the day’s work has been shown to work wonders for productivity and boost morality in both school and work settings.

There is definitely a  drive and expectation in many industries to work longer, faster, harder hours, and be available and working at all hours. But that drive is unsustainable, demonstrated by the low job satisfaction and high burnout rates in many industries, from high-tech to physicians. Taking time to play a little bit at work, or just connect with coworkers, is being shown as an effective way to reduce depression related to work and job burnout, increase productivity, and create a more cohesive company with more loyalty overall to the company’s mission.

So long story short: remember to bring the koosh ball to your next meeting.

behavior · brain · environment · happiness

Want More Productive Workers? Adjust Your Thermostat | Fast Company

English: Temperatures in the USA, mesoscale an...
You temperature impacts your perceptions and job performance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The rain, wind, and falling leaves make it feel like fall is officially upon us in most of the United States (although some regions are still experiencing an Indian Summer). This makes many of us think of warm beverages and sweaters, unless you work in an office that turns the heat up WAY too high all winter long. In fact, working in a space that is either too hot or too cold can effect productivity:

One of the painful ironies of office life is that we can never quite get the temperature right. We spend our summers shivering in meat lockers and our winters sweating in saunas.

Central air hasn’t made us comfortable, so much as made us uncomfortable in a different way.

The experience isn’t simply unpleasant. It comes with a real financial cost… [according to one study], when temperatures were low 68 degrees, employees committed 44% more errors and were less than half as productive as when temperatures were warm a cozy 77 degrees.

Cold employees weren’t just uncomfortable, they were distracted. The drop in performance was costing employers 10% more per hour, per employee. Which makes sense. When our body’s temperature drops, we expend energy keeping ourselves warm, making less energy available for concentration, inspiration, and insight.

via Want More Productive Workers? Adjust Your Thermostat | Fast Company.

This importance of creating comfortable work environments is interesting to me. I know a lot of freelance workers that have a favorite coffee shop to camp out in, often one of the criteria being it’s warm and cozy in the fall and winter.

I also vaguely recall a couple of studies that found play did not occur for animals outside of certain temperature ranges. (If anyone can find one of the studies please let me know).

As humans, we are adaptable to almost all climates from the Arctic to the Serengeti. So I think it is surprising to people to discover just how fragile we are.

Speaking of fragile, the article also mentions the connection between feeling cold and feeling lonely:

In a fascinating study reported in the prestigious journal Science, psychologists uncovered a link between physical and interpersonal warmth. When people feel cold physically, they’re also more likely to perceive others as less generous and caring.

When we’re warm, on the other hand, we let our guard down and view ourselves as more similar to those around us. A forthcoming paper from researchers at UCLA even shows that brief exposure to warmer temperatures leads people to report higher job satisfaction.

The unconscious desire for physical warmth is thought to be the reason lonely people bathe longer, more frequently, and use higher temperatures.

We often describe people as “cold” or “warm,” so it makes sense our perceptions would match our physical sensations. I wonder if this has anything to do with the reported “Seattle Freeze” phenomenon and in contrast the southern United States’ reputation for being open and hospitable.

While the article in Fast Company focused on job productivity, I think this is an interesting observation into overall well-being and improving environments in general.

Do you find you perform better at certain temperatures? Is one temp better for working over playing? For example, I like it to be warm but not hot while doing non-creative work, but if I’m doing an art or construction project or something creative I actually like it a little bit warmer. Leave your complaints or comments below.

emotion · environment · happiness · psychology

10 Careers With High Rates of Depression – Health.com

On the Threshold of Eternity
Artist is one of the top careers associated with depression. But the most common jobs were in the "helping" professions. Image via Wikipedia

Feeling down about your job? You may not be the only one. In fact, some jobs are more prone to depression. A recent study looked at reports of depression associated with what job the individual had.

Here are 10 fields (out of 21 major job categories) in which full-time workers are most likely to report an episode of major depression in a given year. But if you want to be a nurse (No. 4), it doesn’t mean you should pick another profession.

“There are certain aspects of any job that can contribute to or exacerbate depression,” says Deborah Legge, PhD, a licensed mental health counselor in Buffalo (NY). “Folks with the high-stress jobs have a greater chance of managing it if they take care of themselves and get the help they need.”

via 10 Careers With High Rates of Depression – depression – Health.com.

It doesn’t give an order of which careers are the most depression-prone, but a lot of the careers on the top ten were care-giving or “helping” jobs. These jobs can be draining, don’t pay very well, and apparently there isn’t much appreciation dulled back onto these workers. A lot of them are also associated with or coordinated with government institutions, which is known for its bureaucracy. Bureaucracy can also be frustrating and make workers feel futile or helpless, another key stressor and depresser.

What are some ways to make these “giving” jobs better appreciated and less stressed? There’s a lot of hoopla right now about jobs creation, but what can be done to make the jobs we have right now better?