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How Lean Thinking Can Limit Mental Stress in the Workplace

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Lean thinking is a method of production that is inspired by Toyota. How do you think like a car? With lean thinking, the idea is to identify and eliminate wasted effort in the workplace. The goal is to not only produce a better product that will be more satisfying to the customer but also to facilitate a workplace environment that is as satisfactory as possible to the employees. 

The goals of lean thinking are to:

  • Define value
  • Map out how to achieve value
  • Eliminate flow bottlenecks
  • Avoid overproduction
  • Always be improving

Here are the steps so you can create a workplace environment that is simultaneously more productive and less stressful:

Clear goals

The first rule of lean thinking is to have clear, well-defined goals. From a purely productive standpoint, this is crucial for companies that want to make sure there is no wasted effort. In a production line, as with Toyota, the goal will usually be clear cut: make a car. 

In other workplaces, it may be trickier to nail down. For example, is a marketing firm’s goal to create the best ad? Or is it strictly a numbers/conversion game? 

Once businesses have developed an answer to this question, however, the work environment becomes significantly less stressful. 

Employees do well with clearly defined goals because it clarifies how they should be applying their efforts throughout the day. Does this task contribute to the well-being of the company or the consumer? If it does not it can probably be postponed or forgotten about entirely. 

Processes align with stated goals

Most businesses would probably tell you that they perform step one of lean thinking in some way. They have their idea of value, and they share it with their employees. Unfortunately, without step two – mapping out how to achieve value – step one is just words. 

Businesses that map out how to achieve value do two things:

  • They empower employees. Say you own a fast-food restaurant. Currently, your fry cook’s job is to make the food, clean the storeroom, and change the sign outside. It’s the lunchtime rush. What does your fry cook do? Well, without lean thinking, their attention and efforts might be equally divided among three unequal tasks. Obviously, making food is the high-volume item of responsibility. If they are empowered to focus only on that they will work faster, better, and with less stress. 
  • Moves the business towards productivity. Aligning your goals with your policies and actions also makes sure that everyone is on the same page. With lean thinking, the fry cook is in the kitchen where he should be. The manager is not overseeing pay role but helping at the registers. The drive-through employee is not cleaning countertops, but at their window, headset at the ready. The entire process works seamlessly because everyone is working specifically towards the goal of quick, high-quality production. Everyone knows what needs to be done, and what they need to do to make it happen. 

More efficient

Efficiency has been reshaped over the past several years, thanks largely to Covid-19. No one was sure what would happen when offices moved to the home front. And yet, businesses all over the world were surprised to find out that their employees were able to get the same amount of work done—or in some cases, more work done, in less time. 

For many, this meant they could have a full working day, and run errands, exercise, take their kids to school, and more. The home office scenario was so effective, in fact, that some people were able to hold down two salaried, full-time jobs at once. 

Why? Efficiency bottlenecks. The offices are full of them. Pointless meetings. Needless training exercises. Commutes. Small talk. It all adds up to hours of time gone each and every week. 

Lean thinking allows businesses to eliminate efficiency bottlenecks, trimming the operational fat so that only productive workflow processes are left. 

For the employee, this not only means that their time is more fruitful but possibly more flexible. Without wasted time, they get more done, while focusing on their mental health at the same time. 

Only what’s necessary

The average American worker reports feeling that they have more work than they can handle at least some of the time. A significant portion of these people report bringing work home with them or working through weekends. Not only is this stressful, but it’s also very obviously bad for a person’s mental and emotional health. 

With lean thinking, it may also be unnecessary. In addition to trimming processes to ensure that only the good stuff remains, lean thinking also focuses on producing only what is necessary. Employees are not forced to overwork for a surplus, but rather encouraged to do what is needed well. 

High-quality work

Finally, lean thinking also inspires high-quality work. This is important to the vast majority of working people. Employees don’t want to simply clock in and clock out every day, wading through their monotonous routine as if in a dream. They want to feel like they are contributing to something good and meaningful. 

Lean thinking is a high-impact strategy that produces discernably good results. Tennent five is to always be improving. Employees may feel reduced stress stemming simply from the fact that they are taking more pride and satisfaction in their work. 

It matters

Mental health in the workplace matters. Not only is it ethical and good for your employees, but it is also seen as a significant boon for highly skilled workers who are looking for employment. You want to be a productive business that employees want to work with for the long haul. 

Lean thinking will make that happen. 

By optimising your processes in a way that is aligned with both your employees and your customers in mind, you create a sustainable environment within which people will be happy to work.

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.


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