Given that most of us spend a good amount of our time at work, it should come as no surprise that the work environment plays a significant role in our psychological health and, as studies are increasingly showing, the economic health of the organization.
A 2016 Work and Wellbeing survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) reported that less than half of the 1501 workers surveyed felt their organization supported employee well-being, and one in three reported being chronically stressed on the job. Only 47 percent felt the recognition they received reflected their contributions to the organization. Fifty-three percent reported a lack of opportunity for growth or advancement, which was the second largest contributor to job stress after low salaries.
Programs for change
Each year, the APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence (COE) recognizes organizations across the country for their commitment to employee psychological well-being and creating a positive working environment. The annual Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards program began as an effort to demonstrate how organizations can take care of their employees while, at the same time, enhancing their bottom-line performance.
Employers who understand the link between employee well-being and organizational performance are best positioned for success in the economic recovery. -David W. Ballard, PsyD., MBA, head of the COE.
Since its launch and in almost all cases, winners have reported that their return on investment—reduced turnover and increased productivity—far outweighed the costs. This year’s winners were no different.
Prudential Financial, the winner of the 2017 Organizational Excellence Award, was recognized for its efforts to promote employee psychological well-being, as well as for its work to destigmatize mental health issues within the workplace—and beyond.
Winners of the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards, Utah Foster Care (UFC), University Health Alliance, Hill Brothers, and Waimānalo Health Center, were recognized for their efforts to foster employee well-being by honoring practices centered around self-care. The turnover rate for each of these organizations was less than a third of the national average. Approximately three-fourths of the employees reported having adequate resources to address their mental health and stress management needs.
Selections for the APA awards are based on evaluations of programs and policies around factors that significantly impact the work environment and the psychological well-being of employees.
Below are four of these factors that every organization needs to pay attention to if they aspire to cultivate a psychologically healthier environment, happier employees, and, ultimately, a healthier bottom line.
Employee recognition and appreciation
In a survey of employees at Prudential, this year’s Organizational Excellence winner, 82 percent reported that employee recognition was a top priority of the organization. “Given identity is tied to work, being recognized and appreciated makes employees feel valued and boosts sense of self and self-esteem, which is protective in terms of depression and anxiety,” says Psychiatrist and author of The Power of Different, Dr. Gail Saltz. “Since close to half of all employees will at some time in their lives struggle with mental health issues, it behooves companies, for productivity and saved dollars for disability, to encourage early mental health care.” Saltz points to the fact that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Psychologist Dr. Jacinta Jimenez, head of coaching at BetterUp, agrees. “One of the most powerful things an employer can do is place their employees in positions that enable them to use and develop their strengths. Building employees’ strengths is a far more effective approach than looking at deficits.”
Eighty-nine percent of employees surveyed at Prudential felt the organization valued and recognized the importance of work-life balance. Some practices implemented by Prudential and the other winning organizations include flexible scheduling, telecommuting, paid weekly leave for exercise or health-related classes, and reimbursements for wellness-related purchases.
Steve Pritchard of giffgaff, one of the UK’s leading cellphone networks, believes the aim of every business should be to create a profitable company that also knows how to retain happy employees who feel secure in their jobs and able to speak to the management:
Flex time helps employees to achieve a healthy work/life balance. For many workers with outside commitments, this lifts an enormous weight off their minds. These practices make for a much more positive workplace … The backbiting is kept to a minimum as workers have much less to be worried or stressed about, which generates a relaxed atmosphere in the office.
Availability of mental health and stress management resources
The earlier treatment occurs in the problem, according to Saltz, the better chance it works quickly:
What mostly keeps people from treatment is stigma and lack of available treatment at times and prices they can afford. Companies that are more open and less judgmental about these issues not only help their employees, they help their bottom line because in addition to the issue of productivity, people who develop mental health issues have a higher incidence of other medical problems [such as] cardiac, diabetes, etc. This too, diminishes productivity and costs money.
Laurie A. Brednich, CEO of HR Company Store, understands the direct correlation between the workplace environment and the mental health and well-being of employees. She spent her career building “world-class” wellness programs for employers including Pinnacle Foods and GoDaddy. A fully integrated wellness program, according to Brednich, includes strong mind programs, such as mindfulness, to help employees get centered and personally at peace, and employee assistance programs (EAPs) to address anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
The wellness program Brednich designed and implemented at Pinnacle Foods helped them reduce their year-over-year healthcare costs by 2 percent without cost shifting to employees or reducing benefits. The program she designed for GoDaddy landed them on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list in 2016. “When a workplace is unhealthy or even toxic,” she says, “increased costs manifest themselves in a variety of different areas—healthcare costs, leave of absence data, productivity and even overtime requests.”
“With strong mind and money programs in place, employees are likely to be more engaged in their health,” says Brednich. “Individuals will exercise more, eat healthier, participate in tobacco cessation and health-condition management programs (e.g., diabetes, asthma, etc.)—programs that employers generally relate to a ‘wellness program.’” The result, she says, has been lower health care expense, less absenteeism, high productivity and even less requests for overtime (as the employees can live within their income circle).”
Also integral to a successful wellness program, according to Brednich, is a strong financial component that addresses issues such as debt management, financial education and retirement savings. “These programs help employees and their families manage their money, eliminate debt and save for the future, all [while] helping reduce stress, anxiety and depression.”
As winners of the APA awards have demonstrated, when employees are valued, appreciated and cared for, they in turn become empowered and motivated to do their best work. “It’s not enough to just expect the best from your staff,” says Pritchard, “If you want a loyal and happy workforce, you have to create a workplace that enables them to be the best they can be.”
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