Enjoying Your Work
How to promote a psychologically healthy workplace
I have been a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) for a longer period of time than any other professional organization.
This association gives awards to companies whose executives take steps to foster psychologically healthy workplaces.
Such workplaces are those where executives feel that good employees are a company's most valued asset. Further, executive are committed to the idea that companies cannot achieve ambitious goals without the cooperation and active participation of a committed work force.
There are five criteria that are used when deciding on awards. All of them contribute to what psychologists believe is a productive workplace where employees have highly positives attitudes about their jobs. A company with a work force consisting of psychologically healthy people is able to form teams whose members work toward agreed upon goals with a minimum amount of unproductive conflict.
» The first criterion is that employees are involved in company decision-making on a variety of issues involving themselves, products and services provided by the company, and customers and clients.
» The second is that employees are encouraged to maintain a balance between their workplace obligations and obligations elsewhere, especially their families.
» The third criterion is that employees are encouraged to grow as both workers and as citizens of their communities.
» The fourth criterion is that the workplace promotes health and safety.
» Finally, organizations are recognized as candidates for an award if executives engage in practices that lead to recognition of model employees.
The criteria for awards are best understood if specific examples of company practices are discussed.
For the first criterion -- involvement in decision-making -- executives at a Honda automotive dealership in Spokane, Wash., schedule regular meetings that are run by professionals who have had extensive training in group facilitation. Meetings focus on ways of improving the quality of service to customers, increasing the morale and dynamics of teams, setting priorities, and contributing in important ways to decision-making at the dealership. Workers are encouraged to contrib- ute their ideas for improvement, and executives are not so thin-skinned that they view suggestions as criticisms of past management practices.
For the criterion dealing with work-other aspects of life balance, executives at a company in Atkinson, Wis., that distributes furniture and equipment to libraries have established a comprehensive employee-development program. It includes attention to mental-health issues, child and elder care, guidelines on parenting in these complex times that include the threat of drug abuse and life-threatening sexually transmitted diseases, and career development.
Within this program, employees are encouraged to think through and share information on ways of addressing the multiple demands on their time and energy that come from their workplace, their families, and other institutions, such as their churches and schools.
For the third criterion -- employee growth and development -- a financial services firm in Columbia, S.C., offers a one month sabbatical to employees for every five years of service to the company. This benefit can be taken multiple times if employees stay with the company for a tenth, fifteenth, and subsequent number of years in multiples of five.
Employees can spend the month in the pursuit of personal interests or they can engage in personal examinations of their future goals at the company.
At times, people's efforts lead to the conclusion that they would like to do something else with their lives and they pursue a career change. This decision is accepted by company executives as the best way for certain employees to pursue the goal of personal growth.
In next week's column I'll discuss the experience of companies that have been exemplary with respect to the other two criteria: health and safety and recognition of model employees.
I'll also discuss why executives find that attention to these criteria of a psychologically healthy workplace pays off in terms of company performance, otherwise known as "the bottom line."
The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.
is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office at email@example.com