State Leadership Conference

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to designing a psychologically healthy workplace, David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, told attendees of APA's 2013 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards ceremony at the State Leadership Conference in March. But these workplaces typically have several things in common: They have programs and policies that emphasize employee involvement, employee recognition, health and safety, employee growth and development, and work-life balance.

This year, APA celebrated four such organizations that do it all, as well as nine others that have a single strong policy or program.

Healthy workplaces aren't just good for employees' well-being, Ballard said. They also benefit employers by improving retention and performance. The four award winners this year had a turnover rate of just 6 percent in 2012 compared with the national average of 38 percent, for example. Surveys completed by the winning organizations revealed that an average of just 19 percent of employees report experiencing chronic work stress, compared with 35 percent of workers nationally.

Star status as a psychologically healthy workplace can be difficult to achieve, however, because most organizations today are relics from the past, said keynote speaker Polly LaBarre, former senior editor of Fast Company magazine.

"The modern organization was invented to maximize standardization, specialization and predictability," said LaBarre. "While revving up the engines of mass production in an industrial economy, we strapped flesh and blood into straitjackets to institute obedience, compliance and conformance."

Many organizations have never left that factory mentality behind even as society's challenges have changed, said LaBarre. Today, success requires inventiveness and inspiration.

LaBarre said employers who want both their employees and their organizations to flourish must wrestle with three questions:

  • What ideas are worth fighting for? "You'd be hard pressed to find an organization without a mission statement on the wall," said LaBarre. "But few really mean it." In contrast, healthy organizations really know who they are. These organizations stand for a cause, promote a vision of an improved future and shift the question from "What keeps you up at night?" to "What gets you out of bed in the morning?" she said. Employees want to work on something meaningful that might change the world, she added.
  • What does it mean to build an organization that's as human as the human beings who work there? Most organizations mistakenly focus on control — of people, information and deviations from the norm, said LaBarre. To unleash creativity, LaBarre said organizations should shift the balance from control to freedom through such actions as ditching formal hierarchies or instituting peer-review-based compensation, for example.
  • How can we spark innovation? Healthy organizations encourage ideas from employees, no matter where they sit in an organization. Mutual gathering places, opportunities to comment on work in progress and shared training experiences can all foster creativity, said LaBarre.

The 2013 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award winners are:

  • Bowers + Kubota Consulting of Waipahu, Hawaii, sees ohana — Hawaiian for family — as one of its core values and treats employees accordingly, with frequent professional and social events, an employee-run wellness committee and self-directed project teams that give employees work-life flexibility.
  • Christiana Care Health System, Helen F. Graham Cancer Center, Cancer Care Management Department of Newark, Del., recognizes the importance of self-care via flexible scheduling, one-on-one meetings with the director and a confidential wellness website.
  • Triple-S, the leading managed care company of Puerto Rico, offers an onsite employee health clinic, a Leadership Development Academy and an employee recognition program offering cash awards.
  • Tripler Army Medical Center of Honolulu, has onsite safety officers, a commitment to employee development and staff input, flexible scheduling and employee recognition programs.

Nine organizations were 2013 Best Practices Honorees:

  • Bowers + Kubota Consulting created a wellness program where employees can earn points for making healthy choices.
  • Christiana Care Health System, Helen F. Graham Cancer Center, Cancer Care Management Department uses an annual retreat to set goals for the coming year and help staff recharge so they can help their patients heal.
  • Cleveland Clinic, Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis Treatment and Research of Ohio has a disease management program for employees diagnosed with chronic conditions affected by lifestyle choices.
  • St. Luke's of Duluth, Minn., launched a safe patient handling program to reduce injuries incurred while lifting and moving patients, resulting in a dramatic decline in the hospital's workers' compensation claims.
  • Tasty Catering of Elk Grove Village, Ill., replaced formal departments with teams that send members to monthly council meetings that resulted in the creation of seven core values that now guide day-to-day work.
  • The Harvest Group of Rogers, Ark., maintains an intimate office culture despite rapid growth with strategy teams whose leaders are responsible for setting goals, directing their teams and meeting deadlines.
  • Triple-S provides an onsite health clinic offering medical services, support programs and preventive screenings; employees may also consult with a psychologist during paid work hours.
  • Tripler Army Medical Center averts compassion fatigue by requiring resiliency training for staff who work with patients. The training has significantly reduced burnout and improved customer satisfaction.
  • University of Southern California in Los Angeles has a Center for Work and Family Life that's a one-stop-shop for counseling, referrals and more, plus a website with wellness-enhancing resources and stress-reduction labs that allow users to see how stress affects their hearts.

To learn more about APA's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program and the 2013 winners, visit APA Excellence.

Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.