Creating an environment where competition is balanced with collaboration and employees are mentally healthy is the key to a productive, healthy workplace, according to organizational psychologist James Campbell Quick, PhD.

During his invited address at APA's 2001 Annual Convention, Quick outlined the problem of many American organizations: "There is a sense of anxiety, stress and suffering" due to modern job insecurities and competitive work environments.

Psychologists can help turn that around by fostering productive effort and supporting compassion in the workplace, said Quick, a psychologist and University of Texas at Arlington business professor. "It is in our collective, public and national best interest to have people both healthy and productive."

Quick discussed two areas in which psychologists can contribute:

  • Helping employees and managers balance workplace pressures and challenges by fostering a supportive environment. "When our heads and our hearts are disconnected, it's when we are at the greatest risk of doing harm at work, either to ourselves or to others," he explained. "Alternatively, when our heads and our hearts are connected, when we achieve balance between thought and feeling, and feeling and action, we can act in helpful and healthy ways."

  • Helping organizations balance competition with cooperation among employees. "As competition increases, we experience stress and challenge, and that enhances motivation and effort--but only up until a point," he said. "When competition and competitive behavior go to an extreme, it becomes dysfunctional and destructive. Over-the-top competition and stress can tear down individuals and organizations."

But Quick cautions that collaborative work environments require mutual agreement and effort to maintain: "One competitor who has not disclosed the name of his or her game to everyone disrupts the cooperative system, turning it to a competitive system in which everyone may end up losing."

Psychological insights like these come into play in many workplace settings and situations, said Quick, including corporate downsizing.

"If downsizing is done with fairness, justice and a heart, it can lead to significantly more positive outcomes for both those who leave and those who stay," he explained. "Treating people who leave, as well as those who stay, right and fairly does pay dividends over time."