A Psychologist Explains: Balancing Productivity and Mental Well-Being at Work

20 Sep ‘23
5 min
Work performance
Editorial Board OpenUp
Gecontroleerd door Psychologist Lili Thoelen
Balance Productivity and Wellbeing
Productivity and well-being go hand in hand, but they can also hinder each other. Those who feel emotionally and psychologically well have the headspace to be productive. However, those who face mental well-being challenges may also face productivity challenges.  


Psychologist Liliane Thoelen explains how your company can create a culture where the balance between mental well-being and productivity can be achieved.

“We need productivity to feel good, but we also need to feel good to be productive.”


  • Lili Thoelen

The interplay between mental well-being and productivity


“Someone who feels good mentally and physically is more resilient, deals with adversity more easily and embraces a challenge,” Liliane says. “And logically, this has positive outcomes at work; such as enhanced productivity, achieving goals more easily, and a higher retention rate”


At the same time, productivity boosts an individual’s well-being: “A productive day gives you a sense of accomplishment and boosts your mood. Compare it to that fulfilled feeling you get when you tick a task off your to-do list. Little can beat that.”


Productivity and well-being put you on an upward spiral, but the reverse is also true: those who don’t feel well are less productive, therefore feel less fulfilled and may find themselves experiencing a lower mood.


Liliane: “If someone doesn’t feel good at work, both motivation and concentration can decrease. This affects productivity and work performance. Moreover, it affects relationships with colleagues, which has a negative knock-on effect on the work atmosphere and team morale.”


Achieving the right balance


Scientific research also shows that mental well-being and productivity are linked. And the answer lies in finding the right balance.


For instance, research by the University of Eindhoven shows that too much workload and too few resources well lead to overtiredness or less engagement at work, respectively.


The reverse also applies: research by the Centre for Economic Performance demonstrates that the better the well-being of employees, the greater the profitability of a company.


It is all about achieving the sweet spot between factors such as challenge and time pressure, as well as feedback and a healthy degree of autonomy. The researchers at the University of Eindhoven came up with the demands-resources model that demonstrates the relationship (and balance) between such factors.


A good balance between sufficient work demands (deadlines, challenge, contacts) and sufficient resources to deal with those demands (feedback, support from manager, job security) creates a healthy work environment in which people are productive and feel positive about their work.


High workload and perfection in productivity


“When the workload becomes too high and there are too few resources to do your job, an imbalance occurs,” psychologist Liliane underlines.


For example, striving for perfection in productivity can backfire, Liliane believes. ‘’Just like when productivity at work comes at the expense of other parts of life, such as hobbies, exercise or spending time with friends and family.”


As a psychologist, Liliane regularly sees people struggling to create a balance for themselves, which can lead to burnout or absenteeism. The biggest contributing factors? Overworking and not being able to let go of work (constantly checking emails and messages, even in the evenings and at weekends).


💡Also interesting: The ROI of Well-being: What Investing in Workplace Happiness and Well-being Yields


As a leader or manager, you want to encourage and support employees in finding a healthy balance that works. Liliane top factors to focus on include:

1. Encouraging flexibility and autonomy

2. Encouraging work-life balance

3. Creating a positive and safe corporate culture

4. Communicating with and listening to each other

5. Giving constructive feedback

1. Encouraging flexibility and autonomy


Research shows that employees are more productive, motivated, and perform better when they feel a sense of autonomy. This culture of flexibility and the ability to organise your own working day is more than just a fringe benefit.


The challenge here is that there is no one size fits all solution in this area. For both the employee and the organisation itself, finding the right level of autonomy and flexibility is an ongoing process. How much flexibility does someone need? To what extent can and does someone want to make their own decisions about their tasks and working day? This is different for every person and every organisation – and often is a process of trial and error.


This article from HBR looks at the future of flexibility at work and how to deal with it as an organisation. The main point is that flexibility is a vague concept and how you implement it varies not only from organisation to organisation, but also from department to department and even from team to team.


Regardless, autonomy and flexibility contribute to a good work-life balance. An employee who is given the space to work flexibly and autonomously generally experiences a better work-life balance.


2. Encouraging work-life balance


Work provides meaning and routine, which us humans need to feel fulfilled. Equally, time for ourselves and for our social life also makes us fulfilled and and provides us with a much needed  sense of connection. A balanced work-life balance is a prerequisite for happy and healthy employees.


How individuals achieve the above varies significantly. As an employer, you therefore want to give employees the space (flexibility and autonomy, see point 1) to create it.


After all, a good work-life balance promotes productivity, but also diversity within the organisation and employee well-being. And that, in turn, has a positive effect on staff turnover, explains HBR.


Read more 👉 How Work-Life Balance is Changing: Trends and Risks to Look Out For

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3. Create a positive and safe company culture


A safe company culture contributes to positive mental well-being, research shows time and again. In fact, many people consider it ten times more important than a high salary.


In a positive and safe corporate culture, there is room to make mistakes, learn and grow. People can be themselves, and talk openly about their challenges and successes. Open communication (see the next point) and mental well-being are also paramount.


Learn more 👉 How Work Culture and Mental Health Are Connected


4. Communicating with and listening to each other


Everyone wants to be heard. Indeed, it is one of our most fundamental needs. You need to be able to express yourself and feel safe in doing so.


In organisations where there is open communication, active listening, and compassion, this feeds into a safe culture that promotes well-being and productivity. You can achieve this by creating a safe space where people can talk openly about their challenges. For instance, with a confidant within the organisation or a psychologist or coach outside of the organisation.


In addition, encourage managers and leaders to do the same: someone who is open themselves shows others that it is OK to be so too. This fosters a culture of trust and safety.


Continue reading 👉 How to Create Psychological Safety at Work as a Manager


5. Giving (constructive) feedback


Another important part of open communication is giving and receiving feedback. Effective communication hinges on constructive feedback; an essential part of a healthy organisation.


Anyone who wants to grow and learn wants to be open to feedback. It helps teams and individuals move forward, but it also improves the organisation, psychologist Britt Slief underlines in this article.


Make giving and receiving feedback part of your company culture so that people become familiar with it and don’t see it as scary or unpleasant. “Feedback is necessary to grow. To develop talents, motivate and give direction and thus increase job happiness” Liliane emphasises.


Want to know more? 👉 Read: Tips for Giving and Receiving Feedback

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