Cognitive Health – Impact on Ability & Performance in the Workplace!

Cognitive Health – Impact on Ability & Performance in the Workplace!

[sm_smlts_dropcap type=”rounded-with-ring” color=”orange”]R[/sm_smlts_dropcap]esearchers at Florida State University found an important link between cognitive health and the work environment, which may contribute to our understanding of the cost of quality. For example,  a clean and stimulating environment leads to better performance over time whereas a  dirty, dull environment can negatively affect performance over time. Negative performance is translated into increased costs, poor quality products, dissatisfied customers, and losses (monetary and reputation).

Organizations need to take proactive steps  to ensure that workers or teams (groups) have everything they need to work effectively. Teams work best when they have necessary tools. Teams also require the opportunity and ability to boost their performance. Opportunity covers two aspects – making sure the people have the tools and resources needed to do the job, and allowing them the space and environment to do the job well without distraction or restrictions. Cognitive health of workers is directly affected by the workplace health. This relationship is central for effective functioning and success of an organization.

The Brief Test of Adult Cognition by Telephone (BTACT) is one of the tool that assesses multiple dimensions central for effective functioning across adulthood:

  • episodic memory,
  • working memory,
  • reasoning,
  • verbal fluency, and
  • executive function.

The BTACT is the first instrument which includes measures of processing speed, reaction time, and task switching/inhibitory control for use over the telephone.

Understanding the role of selected workplace exposures in adults’ cognitive function

Study Introduction & Objective

A study collected data on 4,963 adults, age between: 32 and 84, published in the JOEM highlights the importance and impact of physical and psycho-social factors in understanding cognition among adults.

The objective of the study was to expand understanding of the role of selected workplace exposures (i.e., occupational complexity, conflict in the workplace, pace of work, and physical hazards) in adults’ cognitive function.

Cognitive function was assessed using the Brief Test of Adult Cognition by Telephone (BTACT). The BTACT was designed especially to enable assessment of cognitive functioning in large community based samples.

The BTACT includes the following cognitive dimensions:

  • immediate recall and delayed recall of a list of 15 words;
  • working memory span, where participants are asked to repeat a series of digits in reversed order;
  • verbal fluency—examines the number of animals participant can recall in 60 seconds;
  • inductive reasoning—where participants are requested to complete the next number in a series of five numbers;
  • processing speed—the number of digits completed in 30 seconds by counting backwards from 100;
  • attention switching task—in this task participants’ reaction times are recorded in two conditions
    • normal condition in which they are asked to respond with “go” to the stimulus “green” and “stop” to the stimulus “red”, and
    • a reverse condition were they are asked to respond with “stop” to the stimulus “greed” and “go” to “red”.

Study Findings

Three findings of this study are noteworthy.

1 First, it is noteworthy that the association of occupational complexity with self-perceived memory was modified by conflict at work.

2 Second, it is interesting that the association of pace of work, essentially an indicator of time constraints in the workplace, with executive function was attenuated to non-significance after adjustment for exposure to physical hazards.

3 Finally, it was found that associations of occupational complexity with objective indicators of cognitive function differed by gender such that the associations only held for women.

This study identifies specific exposures associated with better or worse cognitive outcomes, including any differences by sex.

Full study data is available in the JOEM (Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine).


Anjum Shafi,
Quality Auditor, Exemplar Global
Ruth Stanley, Vice Chair & PAR Chair, ASQ Ottawa Valley Section