State Leadership Conference

In an era of global economic competition, building psychologically healthy workplaces is a matter of long-term survival for the United States, said former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman at a 2006 State Leadership Conference session.

Herman served as the keynote speaker at the presentation of APA's 2006 National Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards and Best Practice Honors.

The national awards to six organizations inaugurated the APA Practice Directorate's recognition of comprehensive programs promoting a psychologically healthy workplace, while the third annual Best Practices Honors were recognized companies for adopting individual programs that creatively meet the unique needs of their work force (see box for the honorees).

The first crop of national award winners are:

  • Government/military/education institution: Green Chimneys School, a special education day school in Brewster, N.Y.

  • Not-for-profit: Great River Health Systems, a health-care system based in West Burlington, Iowa.

  • Small for-profit: Versant, a marketing communications firm based in Milwaukee.

  • Medium for-profit: The Corporium Group, a family-owned group of communications companies based in Rock Hill, S.C.

  • Large for-profit: T.J. Watson Research Center, an IBM research facility in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

  • Large for-profit: ARUP Laboratories, a reference laboratory in Salt Lake City.

Needs of a changing work force

Herman, who served as secretary of labor during the Clinton administration, said the U.S. economy faces a number of workplace challenges, including a growing need for technically skilled work Six national winners set high standards for creating a healthy and productive work environment. ers, an increasingly diverse work force and employee demands for satisfactory work-life balance. To help meet those challenges, employers must adopt policies and practices reducing stress in the workplace, she said.

Besides improving the quality of life for employees, those changes are financially necessary because workplace stress inflicts high costs on the economy, she said, noting estimates of $300 billion lost or spent annually because of absenteeism, employee turnover, lost productivity and medical, legal and insurance fees related to stress. That cost averages out to about $7,600 per American employee per year.

Herman pointed out other challenges, including that although the nation's baby boomers are nearing retirement age, many will need to continue working past age 60 because of financial pressures; women make up close to half of the work force but still bear the brunt of caring for family; and many of the younger workers of Generation X and Generation Y are not willing to sacrifice the quality of their personal lives to the demands of their jobs, she said.

All of those factors create a need for on-the-job programs that help employees manage the unique pressures of their unique circumstances, said Herman, citing such benefits as employer-organized exercise programs, development of a healthy diet, assistance with child care and elder care, and flex time.

Efforts such as APA's awards program can help spread the word about steps that foster healthy workplaces and that, as a result, boost productivity and reduce turnover, she said.

"This is not pie in the sky; this is about the bottom line," said Herman Building psychologically healthy workplaces "isn't just the right thing to do. It's also the smart thing to do," she said.

Recognition programs growing

Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA's executive director for professional practice, said that the national awards are a culmination of a trend started by the New Jersey Psychological Association in 1999 when it recognized companies with psychologically healthy practices with a state-level award.

Encouraged by APA's Practice Directorate, 44 state, provincial and territorial psychological associations now have awards programs, giving APA a chance to select among the best from among more than 250 state-level winners for its national awards this year.

For the awards, APA looks for organizations with programs that foster employee growth and development, promote a good work-life balance, recognize employee achievement and promote health and safety on the job, all while actively involving employees.

George Graham, PhD, a semi-retired industrial and organizational psychologist in Waukesha, Wis., who started consulting with Versant in 1997 and continues to work with the company, attended the awards ceremony.

When he first started working with Versant, Graham said he stressed that employees want to interact with their supervisors and have input on decisions, rather than to just follow orders in a top-down management style.

"In order to hold on to those people, they have to have an opportunity to express themselves," Graham said.

Will Ruch, Versant's CEO and managing partner, said Graham's insights into promoting a psychologically healthy workplace made a difference in the company's success.

By keeping employees, Versant has built strong relationships with its customers and grew during an era when many marketing firms failed, Ruch said.

"It's made a huge impact on retention and the acquisition of clients," he said.

2006 Best Practices Honorees

Abacus Planning Group, Columbia, S.C.Carl M. Freeman Associates, Olney, Md.Coleman Professional Services, Kent, OhioDowntown Honda, Spokane, Wash.Highsmith, Atkinson, Wis.NRG Systems, Hinesburg, Vt.Pacific Shipyards International (NISMO Division), HonoluluSecunda Marine Services, Dartmouth, Nova ScotiaStone Construction Equipment, Honeoye, N.Y.Trihydro Corp., Laramie, Wyo.