Mind the Workplace: How Workplace Stress Impacts Engagement and Productivity

Mind the workplace: mental health at work impacts productivity
Written by Michele Hellebuyck

Many employees will spend a quarter of their lives in the workplace. On any given day, they will spend more time interacting with their colleagues than loved ones. In a society that places much value on productivity, profit, and bottom lines, physical, and mental health in the workplace often becomes collateral damage, especially in high-stress work environments.

Workplace stress is inevitable and, at times, can foster motivation. This is often the case when high demands in the workplaces are accompanied with high-valued resources (support, reward, and recognition, etc.)

However, the opposite is true in workplaces with little to no resources. In these particular workplaces, employees experience higher stress levels that impact their engagement and productivity, as well as personal relationships and emotional wellbeing.

In 2017, Mental Health America (MHA) published findings from their 2017 Workplace Health screening survey in their “Mind the Workplace” report. Over 17,000 employees across 19 industries in United States completed the Workplace Health Survey, which collected data on how work environments were contributing to workplace stress and impacting employee engagement.

Why Work Environments Matter

The absence of accountability, support, and reward and recognition in the workplace results in higher-levels of stress among its employees. MHA’s study found that:

  • Due to a depletion of motivation, only 17% of employees felt that people were held accountable for not doing their jobs;
  • 64% did not believe they could often turn to supervisors for support; and
  • Less than 50% felt that they were paid what they deserved

With little to no credit or support in the workplace, many employees find themselves having to take on an already burdensome workload. An alarming 70% of employees reported that they faced unrealistic workload expectations with 63% percent noting that an unhelpful work climate was contributing to interpersonal hostility and social isolation. Despite facing high demands in the workplace, most employees are not receiving the necessary resources and are at a greater risk of experiencing emotional and physical exhaustion due to workplace stress.

Performance and Productivity

Emotionally and/or physically exhausted employees display lower levels of engagement and contribute to higher rates of absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace. More than a third of employees stated that they “Always” missed 3-5 days of work because of stress, and 77% reported that they “Always or Often” spend between 31-40 hours a week feeling distracted at work.

With all these statistics around workplace stress, it’s no surprise that it plays directly into the relationships employees have outside the office. 80% of employees reported that workplace stress had negatively affected their personal relationships, while 63% admitted to coping with workplace stress by engaging in unhealthy behaviors.

The data shows that the effects of workplace stress transcend the workplace. Employees’ workplace experiences and personal lives are more interconnected than ever. Emotional and physical exhaustion due to workplace stress is impacting productivity and performance and leading to the development, or exacerbation of mental and/or physical health conditions.

Workplace Perks and Benefits

Employers that want to identify ways to manage workplace stress should consider factors that improve job satisfaction. Employees who are satisfied with their job are motivated, feel an attachment to their workplace, and can recognize the value of their work. MHA’s Workplace Health Survey’s data analysis on the perks and benefits offered to employees showed that the following three had the strongest impact on job satisfaction:

  • Open door and relaxed work environment
  • Opportunities for professional growth
  • Flexible Work Arrangements/Workday Flexibility

Workplace perks and benefits are factors that influence workplace conditions, affect employee well-being, and improve productivity and performance. Workplaces that create opportunities for employees to learn new skills, take on more responsibilities and experience autonomy at work, foster self-efficacy and productivity.

Workplace Stress Management and Employee Engagement

Further findings from the survey highlight the relationship between employee wellness and productivity. Mitigating the effects of workplace stress improves employee performance, and reduces the significant financial losses stemming from high rates of absenteeism and employee turnover.

Every organization—large or small—is currently facing workplace instability and high turnover costs, with 70% of employees stating that they were thinking or actively looking for a new job. Knowing this information, employers can improve the health and productivity of their employees.

In prioritizing employees’ emotional and physical health, employers are eliminating the biggest threat to their organizations’ success: excessive workplace stress. With a strong commitment to stress management in the workplace, employers can tackle the source of the problem rather than its symptoms.


Workplace stress impacts everyone from top-down organizations to relationships outside of the office. Read the full Mental Health America survey to get in-depth coverage on how workplace stress and how organizations can work together to reduce its negative impact on employees.

Michele Hellebuyck is a Program Manager, Policy and Programs at Mental Health America (MHA). She manages the implementation of MHA programs as well as the development of publications for MHA’s programs and policy activities.