Working in paid employment can be good for us. Having a job gives us an income, and provides a sense of purpose, meaning and structure to our lives.
We have the opportunity to develop our skills and competencies, build social networks and friendships, and feel that we are contributing to society. Feeling engaged and absorbed in our work can be a wonderfully positive and fulfilling experience.
So, perhaps it’s not surprising that the evidence shows that people who are employed generally have better psychological health than those who are unemployed.
But the nature of work is changing. There are increasing demands for higher standards of performance; innovation and new technology are reshaping the workplace; and there are much higher expectations around customer service quality.
Workloads can be high and leave people with little time to reflect or recover. Jobs are less secure than they used to be as roles change and new skills and competencies are needed. And an ‘always on’ culture means that, for many, there is work to be done outside conventional working hours. In the airport sector, simply coping with rapid growth is constantly ratcheting up the workload.
In short, organisational life is becoming more challenging. Just ‘keeping your head down’ and looking for an easy life is rarely an option. Organisations expect people not just to turn up and do their job but to deliver results: be responsible, adaptable, show initiative, be positive about change, learn new skills, work hard, put in extra time when necessary, show empathy with the customers and embrace innovation. And be loyal and cheerful!
The good news is that it’s possible to create a working environment where all this can be the norm, where people love their jobs and can perform at levels than they hardly believed possible.
This can happen when organisations pay sufficient attention to their people and commit to creating people-friendly workplaces.
Where this is missing, psychological well-being cannot be guaranteed. Depression, anxiety and burnout become real risks. Organisations can drift towards a culture of absenteeism, high turnover and low motivation with all the attending financial and industrial relations consequences.
‘Psychological wellbeing’ needs to be a leadership priority. The key is to identify and systematically eliminate and eradicate those outmoded approaches and practices which give rise to a toxic organisation culture.
These include poorly designed jobs with unclear objectives, excessive workloads and inadequate support; lack of attention to the needs of those in the front line; inadequate communication on the reasons for change; badly trained and ‘old school’ style managers with a lack of empathy and human understanding; and an absence of ‘psychological safety’ which stifles risk taking and innovation.
Involve people; give them control of their work as far as possible; invest in the development of skills in personal leadership, resilience, relationship building and team working. People matter.