Throughout a hectic workday, it can be difficult to understand how our environment is affecting how we feel and perform. From the people with whom we surround ourselves, to the physical space of an office or home, our environment matters much more than we often realize. How do we set up a positive work environment, and promote both well-being and career success - especially while working remotely?
As human beings, we experience a complex range of emotions that can be altered by the slightest, unnoticeable changes. In the working field, we may not always grasp the reasoning for our dissatisfaction. This ambiguity in contentment can be attributable to the theories of emotion.
Theories of emotion have long been debated upon in the area of Cognitive Psychology. In doing so, renowned psychologists have perpetuated their own theories in an attempt to debunk the mysteries of human emotion. In essence, there are 4 components of emotion. These components include cognitive evaluation (what the situation means to you), subjective feelings, physiological changes, and behavior. The controversy surrounding this topic lies in the order these components take place. For example, James-Lange theory of emotion states that cognitive appraisal occurs first, followed by physiological changes, and ultimately, subjective feelings arise. To clarify, in the presence of a bear, James-Lange theory proposes that one would first perceive the threat, the body would undergo a fight or flight response, and the feeling of fear would arise last. This appears to be a reasonable explanation for how emotions are processed, that is until you hear about the Schachter-Singer theory of emotion.
Schachter-Singer theory postulates that even before cognitive appraisal, our body undergoes physiological changes. In other words, before you even fully understand what is happening in front of you, your brain unconsciously changes your body’s physiology to respond to the situation at hand. Take our bear situation. Upon seeing the bear, your body would enact a fight or flight response to combat the situation, then you would realize a bear is standing in front of you, with fear arising towards the end of this process. These are two of many theories with different presumptions regarding the order of emotional processing.
How one feels about their day to day work experiences is not always attributable to what they can concretely see. Subconscious factors play into emotional states. Therefore, different aspects of work environment quality and overall well-being must be analyzed in order to deduce if a person is content in their current position.
Mental Health in the Workplace
Mental health is a key factor for success. Being in your best state of mind promotes productivity and ensures the submission of quality work. So how can your place of work impact your mental health and well-being? Let's find out.
In order to update the current literature, Törres Theorrel and his colleagues investigated the relationship between work environment and depressive symptoms. 59 research articles were analyzed, and the evidence acquired pointed to a distinct correlation between poor working conditions and mental health deterioration. Employees who reported job strain, bullying, and other indicators of a poor work environment were more likely to report an emergence of depressive symptoms or recurrent depressive episodes. Both workload and the daily interactions people had with their fellow coworkers had sharp repercussions on their state of mind.
Similarly, Samuel B Harvey et al. conducted a meta analysis of 37 review articles to deduce different factors within poor work environments that contribute to depletion in mental health. A total of 12 risk factors for mental health deterioration within the workplace were identified with backed support from numerous studies, and models incorporating how each factor affects one another were suggested. For example, the job demand-control-support model outlines the negative consequences of high demand/low control positions, where the employee is given heavy workloads with minimal control over decision making. Additionally, social support plays a role in employee mental state, where those experiencing low social support combined with the risk factors above showed an increased risk of illness and reduced well-being.
It is evident that your surroundings when working, along with the people around you, can heavily impact your mental state. Knowing that chronic stress can have significant impacts on physical health, mental health in the workplace should not be overlooked.
As stated by Robert D. Bretz and Timothy A. Judge, the Theory of Work Adjustment proposes that individuals and the workplace must share a mutually beneficial relationship in order to achieve success in one’s position. For one to be satisfied, the workplace and work environment must meet their needs, and to maintain their job, the individual must meet the needs of the workplace. Therefore, the production of quality work, along with experiencing a regularly satisfactory work environment, improves one’s chances of being successful.
These authors also analyzed the degree to which person-organization fit had an effect on the individuals levels of career success. Person-organization fit refers to how compatible a person is with the values and ideals of their employer. This analysis was achieved through the use of questionnaires, evaluating both career success and desire for differing organizational environments. The data indicated a positive correlation between career success and person-organization fit, meaning those that shared company values were more likely to contribute to the company’s success and their own. Furthermore, those that were poorly matched to the company were less likely to show effective performance in their positions. This study provides a view into how one’s satisfaction within their career path can promote or hinder their success.
Abdulwahab S. Bin Shmailan conducted an explorative study centering around job satisfaction, job performance, and employee engagement. Abdulwahab found that an employee satisfied with their position is more likely to be more engaged. In addition, employee satisfaction was found to increase work productivity, while low employee engagement decreased profit margins and led to higher turnover rates. Therefore, it is beneficial for workers to find the right fit for themselves and for employers to be engaged with employees. In doing so, meaningful work is encouraged and good business practices are formed.
Working in a Pandemic
During these unprecedented times, it is difficult to manage work while simultaneously ensuring the well-being of ourselves and those around us. Although this may be the case, we can adapt to ensure we perform to the best of our ability.
Working from home is an option that many companies and individuals have transitioned towards as of late. However, in order to outline the benefits of working remotely, one must have an understanding of what work-life balance entails, especially at home. According to Tracey Crosbie and Jeanne Moore, a potential way to define work life balance is to split it into 3 categories: meeting personal needs, meeting the needs of those we care about, and meeting the needs of our career path/employers. To maintain successful work life balance, these three areas must be accommodated accordingly. Employee wellness benefits, such as meditation, therapy, and DIY cognitive training apps, are essential alongside more traditional learning and development tools, like leadership training or seminars. Especially in an era of remote work due to the Coronavirus, the latter can be far more scalable and offer at-home flexibility.
Nicholas Bloom et al. investigated how working from home affected the work performance and satisfaction levels of call center employees. The researchers monitored performance rate, and at the end of the experiment, participants reported work contentment. They found that working from home resulted in a 13% increase in work performance, which were attributable to more calls per minute and more minutes per shift. The workers also reported higher levels of contentment and showed lower rates of attrition.
In addition, Jean-Victor Alipour et al. analyzed administrative data following the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic. They concluded that working from home resulted in a large reduction in new virus cases, along with preventing temporary reduction in working hours. These results, along with the results above, indicate that working from home is beneficial not only to the employee, but to the employer as well. Work quality and performance can potentially skyrocket, as long as you attempt to balance work and life properly. Leaning too much to one side can result in either lowered productivity or lowered subjective well-being, yet finding the right schedule for yourself can be extremely beneficial. Improving work quality while also maintaining a safe environment should be sought after by everyone in the working field, and working from home could potentially be the answer.
These studies show that a positive work environment can not only improve how you feel about your employer, but also improve your work overall. In conjunction with the findings regarding working from home, working remotely can be a powerful tool in promoting quality work and enhancing subjective well-being. Coupled with resources that serve a person’s holistic health: their self, career, and relationship fulfillment -- employers can motivate their people for the better during this unpredictable and extraordinary time. Working from home -- especially with the right training, resources and support tools -- can be both good for your people, and good for business.
Harvey SB, Modini M, Joyce S, et alCan work make you mentally ill? A systematic meta-review of work-related risk factors for common mental health problemsOccupational and Environmental Medicine 2017;74:301-310.
Nicholas Bloom, James Liang, John Roberts, Zhichun Jenny Ying, Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment , The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Volume 130, Issue 1, February 2015, Pages 165–218.