Surviving in competitive markets is a question of building high-pressure cultures focussed on bottom line results. Encouraging people to be cut throat and take-no-prisoners to ensure financial success. Right? As you might expect from the way I phrased it, this is wrong and there is a lot of evidence to demonstrate that cultures like this damage employees and productivity.

A major study from 2011 found that health care expenditures in high-pressure companies are almost 50% greater than in organisations with more collegiate and co-operative cultures. Meanwhile, in the UK, the Health and Safety Executive’s latest Labour Force Survey found that 27.3 million workdays were lost during 2014-15 due to work-related ill-health. In the US, the American Psychological Association estimates that workplace stress siphons off over $500 billion from the US economy and accounts for 550 billion lost working days every year.

Other studies consistently show that 60-80% of workplace accidents are attributable to work-related stress, as are more than 80% of doctor consultations, plus stress substantially increases the risk of other illnesses: one study found that the lower a person’s rank in a rigidly hierarchical workplace culture, the higher their chances of developing cardiovascular disease and even death from heart attacks.

The high-pressure cultures that feature in these figures probably won’t even succeed at what they’re meant to be achieving: creating a pool of motivated, engaged and productive people. Studies by Gallup and the Queen’s School of Business in Ontario found that such cultures foster disengagement, with disengaged workers being 37% more likely to be absent from work. They also result in 49% more accidents, 60% more defects and errors, 16% lower profitability and 65% lower share price over time; and that’s before you get to the corrosive effects they have on employee loyalty: cutthroat cultures result in nearly 50% greater voluntary turnover rates.

Thankfully, there’s an antidote. There are some basic steps to building a positive culture that has diametrically opposite effects to the ones I’ve detailed here. In Part Two, I’ll walk you through them.

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