Feature

U.S. industries lose nearly $300 billion a year-or $7,500 per worker-in employee absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover and direct medical, legal and insurance fees related to workplace stress, according to the American Institute of Stress.

Some organizations have responded to this and other business challenges, by creating workplaces that do more than just improve productivity; they aim to build a strong, vibrant organizational culture that supports the company itself. For instance, the Comporium Group, a South Carolina-based group of telecommunications companies, recently created a joint employee-management committee that evaluates ideas for new products and services in order to empower employees and reinforce their worth to the company.

"Organizations are finding that creating a psychologically healthy workplace is not only the right thing to do-it's also good for business," says David Ballard, PsyD, MBA, assistant executive director for corporate relations and business strategy in APA's Practice Directorate.

This month, to recognize such companies, APA's Practice Directorate is presenting its first annual National Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards (PHWA) and its third annual Best Practices Honors at the directorate's State Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.

Building relationships

Since 1999, when the New Jersey Psychological Association presented the first state-level PHWAs to New Jersey companies, the Practice Directorate has worked with state, provincial and territorial psychological associations to develop similar award programs. The goal? To begin a dialogue with employers about the value of psychology in the workplace, says Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA's executive director for professional practice.

"The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award program provides an effective means for building relationships with the business community, recognizing best practices, and educating employers-as well as the public-about the connection between employee health and well-being and organization performance," says Newman.

Building upon the state-level program, the National PHWA program also aims to recognize organizations that make a commitment to creating a psychologically healthy workplace.

Nominees for the National PHWA came from a pool of 2003-2005 state-level winners. A judging panel evaluated nominees on their workplace programs and policies in five areas: employee involvement, work-life balance, employee growth and development, health and safety, and employee recognition. The standardized evaluation and selection process also factored in employee attitudes and opinions, the role of communication in the organization, organizational performance and employee health and well-being.

Following a competitive judging process, six winners were chosen in five organizational categories. They are:

  • Large for-profit: ARUP Laboratories. This Salt Lake City-based reference laboratory aims to create a balanced workplace by promoting the health and well-being of employees and their families. To do so, the lab offers a free, on-site health clinic that is open six days a week to provide services ranging from preventive to urgent care to employees and their families. The laboratory also aims to involve employees in a broad spectrum of company decisions through employee surveys, town hall meetings and "brown bag"lunches where executives answer other employees' questions. The bottom line? ARUP staff have increased their productivity, with an average of 598 tests per person per month in 2005, up from 530 tests per person per month in 2001.

  • Large for-profit: IBM-T.J. Watson Research Center. Health and safety at IBM's Yorktown Heights, N.Y., research facility are a high priority. IBM maintains an extensive menu of employee wellness resources that includes online tools, classes on a variety of health-related topics and access to a workout center and other sports and recreation facilities. Other opportunities available to IBM employees at the worksite include health screenings, wellness evaluations, immunizations and lunch-and-learn presentations. The company's corporate commitment to the "whole employee"is also evident in the educational and training resources available through IBM's Global Campus Web site, which features thousands of online training options on topics ranging from nanoscience to business administration. The bottom line? Repeat measurements show a reduction in employee health risks and IBM's U.S. health insurance premiums from 1999-2005 were, on average, 4.7 percent lower than the national average and 6 to 15 percent lower than industry norms.

  • Medium for-profit: The Comporium Group. This Rock Hill, S.C.-based family-owned group of telecommunications companies encourages a healthy two-way flow of communication between employees and management. As such, the company created Pipeline, a joint employee-management committee that evaluates ideas for new products and services. Another company priority is health and safety, which it emphasizes by offering an intensive health and fitness program that allows employees to meet with a nurse for a thorough evaluation and access to resources designed to encourage a healthy lifestyle and behavior choices. Benefits also extend to family members through access to employee assistance program services that include emotional, legal and financial counseling, and parenting and eldercare resources. The bottom line? Comporium has low employee turnover: The voluntary turnover rate is 2.3 percent, and the average Comporium employee has been with the company for 10 years. Moreover, while U.S. medical costs have risen 36 percent in the past three years, Comporium's health insurance premiums have only increased 14 percent.

  • Small for-profit: Versant Inc. This marketing communications firm, based in Milwaukee, makes a commitment to enhancing employee growth and development to help each associate reach his or her potential. As such, Versant's culture allows all employees to make important decisions, contribute to the company's success and assume responsibility for results. Versant encourages employees' continuous learning and development through coaching and mentoring, roundtable discussions, funded membership in trade organizations and on- and off-site education as a means of improving client solutions. The bottom line? Since 2001, Versant's productivity has increased 36 percent and fees billed per full-time worker have increased 31 percent.

  • Not-for-profit: Great River Health Systems. This West Burlington, Iowa, health-care system's corporate culture is built upon a customer service philosophy dubbed EXCEL, or "being Enthusiastically friendly, X-ceeding expectations, showing Care and compassion, displaying Energetic teamwork, and through Leadership and professionalism." Building upon those values, Great River has developed programs that train employees to help new staff members transition into the organization and that support cross-training to improve services and workplace relationships. The company also provides a number of services to help employees manage other life demands, such as adoption assistance, sick-child day care services in the pediatrics department and a lactation room for nursing mothers. The bottom line? Great River's turnover rate is 12.8 percent-compared with an average of 18 percent for hospitals in Iowa, and 17 percent for hospitals nationally.

  • Government/military/educational institution: Green Chimneys School. This Brewster, N.Y., special education day school encourages its employees to think of themselves as a community. Employees are involved in numerous work groups and task forces that help shape the facility's agenda. Green Chimneys School also helps employees manage stress and maintain an active lifestyle by allotting time during the day to exercise on the campus's walking trail. Employees' children can also take part in on-site day care, before- and after-school programs and a summer camp. The bottom line? Staff turnover has decreased by 50 percent throughout the past six years.

Further Reading

For more information about the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards, Best Practices Honors and the winning companies' comprehensive programs, visit www.phwa.org.