The web site of health-care giant Johnson & Johnson proudly cites the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award it received from the New Jersey Psychological Association (NJPA) last fall. The award shares the list with honors bestowed by the U.S. Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, Environmental Protection Agency and other big names.

"Why would an international company like Johnson & Johnson be interested in applying for an award from a state psychological association?" asks David Panzer, PsyD, co-chair of the association's Healthy Workplace Subcommittee and president of Psychological Consultants in Highland Park. "The answer we consistently get from companies that apply is that they see the award as being useful for recruitment, retention and public relations purposes."

Now in its second year, the NJPA program has inspired state psychological associations around the country to follow its lead and start developing award programs of their own. The goal? Recognizing employers with policies or programs that contribute to employees' psychological well-being.

Panzer and other members of APA's Business of Practice Network (BOPN) are busily sharing ideas and resources. APA's Practice Directorate has even set up a Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award Assistance Program to provide advice and financial support. The directorate has given small grants to associations in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Vermont.

A win-win idea

The award programs represent an ideal way to educate businesses about the value of psychological services, "and is right on target with BOPN's mission," says David W. Nickelson, PsyD, JD, director of technology policy and projects in the Practice Directorate. "APA's Business of Practice Network serves as a place for the states to exchange information, refine criteria and ideas, and build a strong connection to APA's Public Education Campaign coordinators network," says Nickelson. "BOPN also presents a good way to expand the reach of the award program and is considering developing a way to have the state Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award winners compete at the national level for a Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award."

The program pioneered by NJPA shows that creativity doesn't have to be complicated. An outgrowth of the association's public education campaign, the program began with a set of criteria and a mailing to 300 local employers. Once applications are in, Panzer, subcommittee co-chair Elaine Garrod, PsyD, and other psychologists typically conduct site visits. When evaluating applications, the committee looks beyond employee-assistance programs and benefits packages. The committee instead assesses things like family-friendly policies, professional development opportunities, communication between employees and employers and programs on special topics such as workplace violence. NJPA then presents the awards at its annual conference.

An award gives winners an edge in a tight employment market, says Panzer. Employers can use the award as a recruitment tool, he explains. They can use it to boost morale among current employees. And the fact that the awards are given publicly represents good P.R. for the winning companies.

For NJPA, the program serves a different purpose. "The awards program is really a mechanism for engagement more than anything else," admits Panzer.

During site visits, for instance, Panzer and his colleagues not only review organizations' applications but also explore other ways employers can improve workers' health. A key message is that psychological health enhances productivity, which in turn leads to higher profits. This year the award program will also feature follow-up consultations with nonwinning organizations in an effort to help them understand what kinds of day-to-day policies can transform them into winners.

Increasing community awareness

Employers aren't the only ones who benefit from such efforts. The Minnesota Psychological Association hopes the award program it's developing will also educate psychologists about how to best interact with businesses so as to describe the value and utility of psychological services in the marketplace."

In addition to expanding the business community's understanding, Gary L. Fischler, PhD, a BOPN representative and director of the Institute for Forensic Psychology in Minneapolis, hopes the program will also help practitioners "think outside the box" of traditional psychotherapy. The attention generated by the award program may inspire members to provide services such as coaching executives, offering stress-management workshops or helping businesses make hiring decisions.

The Kentucky Psychological Association (KPA) views the award program as a two-part process. The first step is to educate KPA members about the issue of workplace health via a symposium at its annual convention. The second part is to develop the award program itself.

"Our goal is both to increase community awareness of psychology and respond to our members' interest in niche marketing," says Carol R. Lowery, PhD, a Business of Practice Network representative and president of Family Psychological Services in Lexington.

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