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How to boost workplace productivity through a people-first approach

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This blog post is part of a TELUS Health series to support employers in navigating several workplace challenges by providing ways to prioritize employee well-being, foster a strong company culture, reduce absenteeism, and increase retention.

This article explores how a people-first approach can boost workplace productivity. From mental health support to flexible work schedules, Telus Health highlights the key factors that help create a productive and engaged workforce.


A lot of tools, software, and processes boast that they can increase productivity. But that overlooks a key factor: people. That's because true productivity is only possible when the workforce is set up to succeed.

Employers, then, might benefit from thinking less about the granular metrics of efficiency, and more about ensuring their employees are passionate about their work and inspired to perform.

Right now, workplace stress is considered a pervasive issue. One study conducted in 2021 found that when people were distracted by worry and anxiety, the losses in business productivity were cumulatively totalled around $1,500 per employee annually. The cost of this distraction adds up — about $1,500 per employee annually, based on a 40-hour work week and a $60,000 salary. Conversely, when employees are happy, their productivity has been shown to increase by 12%.

In fact, global surveys show just 15% of employees are engaged at work, leading Gallup to declare that declining productivity and economic dynamism may be one of the workplace's most pressing concerns. Organizations can address productivity challenges by improving engagement through supportive solutions that aim to enhance employee wellbeing.

The problem of presenteeism in the workplace.

Disengagement can take many forms in the workplace, but one of the most prevalent is called presenteeism. Unlike absenteeism, where employees don't show up at all, presenteeism occurs when people come to work but are not in a space to be productive, mentally or physically.

Presenteeism can be common in organizations that don't enable employees to take adequate time off to recover from illness, or don't have a culture of shared trust and responsibility where employees feel that they can reliably defer or delegate work. Flexible work schedules, however, can curb presenteeism. A recent survey of 10,000 desk workers found that those with schedule flexibility reported nearly 40% higher productivity and almost 65% improved focus.

Employers know there's a big difference between employees who are simply present physically, and those who are truly present and engaged — and the financial impact is significant. Each year in North America, these disengaged employees cost the business economy more than $350 billion.

The new phenomenon of "quiet quitting", where employees have "quit" performing tasks outside of their basic job description, is related to presenteeism. It's a strong indicator that much needs to be done to improve workplace mental health.

Mental health support is a potential solution to disengagement, since stress and burnout are directly related to mental health disorders and decreased productivity. A recent assessment from the TELUS Health Mental Health Index reports that personal or work stress impacts 74% of Canadians — although those who felt supported by their employers fared significantly better than the national average.

Engaged employees are productive employees.

Engaged employees view the workplace as a space where they feel valued, validated, and respected. On the other hand, disengagement involves a lack of interest, motivation, and energy, which leads to substandard focus and effort. And research on engagement has actually found that a two-thirds majority of employees aren't fully engaged.

Productivity has been shown to be 14% higher among engaged teams. But a more engaged and productive workplace has to comprehensively support employees.

This improved engagement starts with leadership. For employers and managers, that means establishing a relationship with employees based on a shared sense of purpose, and ensuring that people are equipped with the resources and opportunities to hone their skills, use their unique talents, and do their best work.

At the peer-to-peer level, teams within the organization need to have relationships based on mutual confidence, integrity, success, and trust. Not only does this empower employees to lean on each other when overcoming stress or recovering from a personal illness or issue, but it's also transformative for the organization's quality of service and reputation.

After all, employees who are more engaged can feel a sense of ownership and accountability for the products and services they provide, and therefore tend to be more knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and attentive. This can have a transformative effect on the employee-customer relationship.

Creating the conditions for exemplary performance.

Of course, organizations can't just mandate that employees be more productive. Instead, they have to institute a people-first culture and implement systems, processes, and incentives to empower productivity.

One way is by enhancing employees' sense of autonomy and control over their time. A 2021 survey by the American Psychiatric Association found that 34% of employees see flexible hours as effective for boosting their mental health. It's been well-established that a sense of freedom and independence can increase motivation and performance. This is further supported by a 2022 poll where 61% of the workforce ranked work-life balance and better personal wellbeing as "very important".

Another way is by providing access to mental health support:
  • 37% of employees want mental health resources;
  • 32% want explicit encouragement from their leaders and managers to take care of their health; and
  • 30% want their organization to actively champion employees taking their full allotment of paid time off.


For employers, it's critical to listen to the workforce and take their requests seriously. The same survey reports that 36% of workers believe that recognizing employee contributions creates a psychologically healthy work environment — and 48% identified a lack of involvement in decision-making as a contributor to stress.

Fostering autonomy and productivity through virtual care.

People-first virtual care is a way to help meet employees' health and wellbeing needs. Digital healthcare services entrust employees with control over their time and help them achieve the work-life balance they desire. At the same time, on-demand access to medical professionals, specialists, and health-tracking platforms can allow them to take better care of themselves. This includes access to counsellors who can support people with their mental health and provide referrals if a higher level of care is needed.

Virtual care delivers a significant boost to an organization's benefits package. It can help employers be more competitive in recruiting talent and incentivize current employees to stay.

TELUS Health offers holistic solutions that not only connects individuals with a dedicated network of medical professionals and services, but also provides tools, resources, and ancillary services to help boost an overall sense of balance and wellbeing. The employee assistance program (EAP) provides an opportunity for people to talk about their personal and professional challenges with counsellors.

It's a simple solution to a seemingly complex problem — employees who are happy and fulfilled are also the ones who accomplish the most at work.

Read More in the Series

  1. How a Strong Company Culture Can Drive Recruitment
    Organizations are now evaluated based on their employee treatment. Learn how a culture of wellbeing and exceptional benefits can attract top talent.

  2. How Employers Can Help Reduce Absenteeism in the Workplace
    Absenteeism costs companies billions in productivity each year. Discover how supporting employee health and work-life balance can mitigate this issue.

  3. How Employee Engagement Can Help Reduce Turnover and Drive Retention
    Employee retention is a testament to people's feeling of commitment, engagement, and enjoyment in their work. Explore how engagement can significantly reduce turnover and enhance retention.

  4. How employee health and wellbeing can be the solution to HR challenges
    Learn how prioritizing employee health and wellbeing can address key HR challenges like recruitment, absenteeism, productivity, and retention, highlighting the interconnectedness of these issues and the benefits of supportive solutions. Download the eBook to learn more about implementing effective health and wellbeing services. View some stats from the eBook here.
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