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Tracy Kantrowitz, SHL

The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program: I-O’s Role and Involvement Opportunities

Robert Bloom, PhD, Performance Management Associates-HR
David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, American Psychological Association
Marla B. Royne, PhD, University of Memphis

The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program (PHWP; see www.phwa.org) is a public education initiative by the American Psychological Association (APA) designed to engage the employer community, raise public awareness about the value psychology brings to a broad range of workplace issues, and promote programs and policies that enhance employee well-being and organizational performance. Since 1999, Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards have been presented to businesses and organizations by state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations (SPTAs) with support from APA. The award program has grown to 56 psychological associations across the U.S. and Canada that, collectively, have recognized more than 500 organizations for their efforts to create a positive work environment.

SPTAs are the entry point for an organization to apply for a Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award. The application process includes qualitative and quantitative accounts of an organization’s workplace practices, a survey of a representative sample of employees, and a site visit by psychologists. Local awards are presented by SPTAs, and those winners are then eligible to be nominated for APA’s awards, which are presented at the APA Practice Directorate’s annual State Leadership Conference in Washington, DC.

An important component of the PHWP is the Psychology in the Workplace Network (PWN), a grassroots group of psychologists with representatives from APA’s affiliated SPTAs, as well as some APA divisions. PWN representatives direct the local-level award programs for their respective SPTAs, make substantive contributions to the PHWP, and serve as the links between the psychology and employer communities to build relationships and drive grassroots change.

I-O psychologists have made important contributions to the PHWP since the program’s inception, and APA and SIOP are working to further strengthen this collaborative relationship moving forward. The Professional Practice Committee of SIOP, as one of its initiatives to demonstrate the value of I-O psychology to the business community and general public, has chosen to highlight the PHWP. One of the authors of this article (Bloom) is the SIOP representative to the network and the chairman of the State of Tennessee’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Committee. Another (Ballard) is the assistant executive director at APA who heads the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program and the other (Royne) is the First Tennessee Professor and chair of the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at The University of Memphis. This article describes the rationale and foundation for the program, reviews the history of SIOP’s involvement, and discusses opportunities for I-O psychologists to participate in the program.

Why Focus on Employee Health and Well-Being?

One of the assumptions underlying the PHWP is that working is essential for psychological health. The world of work plays a significant role in our lives; the average adult spends a quarter to a third of his or her waking life at work. Moreover, job satisfaction accounts for a fifth to a quarter of life satisfaction in adults (Harter, Schmidt. & Keyes, 2003). Clearly, we need to ensure that the workplace is a positive and a healthy one. Considerable research demonstrates that working can promote connections to the broader social and economic world, enhance well-being, and provide a means for individual satisfaction and accomplishment (Bluestein, 2008). A positive work environment is an important issue for employers, as well. According to APA’s Stress in America survey (2012a), 70% of working Americans cite work as a significant source of stress, and in response to APA’s 2012 workplace survey (2012b), 41% of employees reported that they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday. Commonly cited causes of work stress included low salaries (46%), lack of opportunities for growth or advancement (41%), too heavy a workload (41%), long hours (37%), and unclear job expectations (35%). In addition to increased health care expenditures for highly stressed employees (Goetzel et al., 1998), an unhealthy workplace can also cost employers in terms of absenteeism, turnover, and diminished productivity (Rosch, 2001).

The Psychologically Healthy Workplace

Employers who understand the link between employee well-being and organizational performance are positioning healthy workplace programs and policies as a source of competitive advantage to assist in the attraction, acquisition, and retention of employees; to better manage employer–employee relationships; to slow the increasing cost of health care; and to boost employee engagement. These goals are increasingly accomplished through the implementation of novel organizational practices and policies in an attempt to cultivate organizational and employee health. As noted by Sauter, Lim, and Murphy (1996), a healthy workplace is any organization that “maximizes the integration of worker goals for well-being and company objectives for profitability and productivity.” The dual assumptions in the definition of a healthy workplace are the identification of the key factors that enhance employee and organizational outcomes and the establishment of research that demonstrates that employee well-being promotes organizational effectiveness and vice versa.

Employee well-being represents a complex interaction of the physical, mental, and emotional facets of employee health. Although no general agreement exists on the best indicators of employee well-being, a number of employee programs have assumed positive consequences for the organization. Research has focused on general physical health, general mental health, job satisfaction, employee morale, stress, motivation, organizational commitment, and climate for the theoretical and conceptual underpinnings of psychological health. As summarized in a review of research across multiple disciplines (Grawitch, Gottschalk, & Munz, 2006), the PHWP focuses on five categories of workplace practices linked to employee and organizational outcomes: employee involvement, employee growth and development, work–life balance, health and safety, and employee recognition.

Efforts to increase employee involvement empower workers, involve them in decision making and provide them with increased job autonomy. Some examples include the implementation of self-managed work teams, employee committees or task forces, continuous improvement teams, participative decision making, and employee suggestion forums.

Opportunities for growth and development help employees expand their knowledge, skills, and abilities, and apply the competencies they have gained to new situations. Examples include continuing education courses; tuition reimbursement; career development or counseling services; in-house or outside skill training; opportunities for promotion and internal career advancement; and coaching, mentoring, and leadership development programs.

Programs and policies that facilitate work–life balance acknowledge that employees have responsibilities and lives outside of work and help them better manage these multiple demands. Examples include flexible work arrangements, such as flex time and telecommuting; assistance with child care and elder care; resources to help employees manage personal financial issues; availability of benefits for family members and domestic partners; and flexible leave options beyond those required by the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Health and safety initiatives help employees improve their physical and mental health through the prevention, assessment, and treatment of health problems and by encouraging and supporting healthy lifestyle and behavior choices. Health and safety efforts include a wide variety of workplace practices such as training and safeguards that address workplace safety and security issues; efforts to help employees develop a healthy lifestyle such as stress management, weight loss and smoking cessation programs; adequate health insurance; and resources to help employees address life problems including grief counseling, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), and referrals for mental health services.

Employee recognition efforts reward employees both individually and collectively for their contributions to the organization. Recognition can take both monetary and non-monetary forms such as fair compensation; competitive benefit packages; acknowledgment of contributions and milestones; performance-based bonuses and pay increases; employee awards; and recognition ceremonies.

The program also highlights the importance of effective two-way communication and the need to tailor workplace practices to the unique needs of an organization and its workforce. This requires attention to a variety of contextual factors, including an organization’s structure, culture and processes.

The Benefits of a Psychologically Healthy Workplace

When well-designed and implemented, a comprehensive set of psychologically healthy workplace practices fosters employee health and well-being while enhancing organizational performance. Previous research examining the relationship between employee well-being and organizational improvements is rich and extensive. A psychologically healthy workplace promotes better physical and mental health, improved ability to manage stress, increased job satisfaction, higher morale, and enhanced motivation.

Benefits to the organization include improved performance, higher levels of productivity, and increased quality of work, which can translate into improved customer service and satisfaction. In addition, a healthy organization experiences lower health care costs, reduced absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover, and fewer accidents and injuries. At the same time, a positive climate can lead to the ability to attract and retain top quality employees.

Benefits to Psychology

As a public education initiative, the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program serves as a highly visible effort to educate employers and the general public about the valuable roles psychology can play with regard to a variety of workplace issues. The program provides connections between the business and psychology communities at local and national levels, enabling us to work together to address issues of mutual interest and pursue common causes. Working together, each group also benefits from the other’s expertise. All of the major issues facing employers (e.g., skyrocketing healthcare costs, global competition, turnover, energy consumption, building a competitive advantage through human capital) have one thing in common—they are related to human behavior, psychology’s area of expertise. By working with psychologists, employers are able to better address these issues, thereby enhancing the functioning of their organizations.

Similarly, working with the business community helps psychologists develop a “business lens” that they can use to more effectively design and deliver services that meet emerging needs in today’s competitive marketplace, as well as reach those who could benefit from services in the place where they spend most of their time: the workplace. This collaboration between psychology and the employer community truly represents a win–win–win scenario, driving positive change and helping employees, organizations, and psychologists perform at their best.

The Role of SIOP and I-O Psychology

I-O psychologists have historically contributed to the PHWP by presenting research at APA- and PHW-related conferences; contributing articles to journals, blogs, and newsletters; and serving on state PHWP boards and committees. In recent years, there has been substantial representation by I-O psychologists in the PWN-related annual conference as speakers on topics such as engagement, occupational health and safety, and job-related stress. I-O psychologists also serve as chairpersons and committee members to SPTA PHWP committees or participate in the evaluation of organizations for state and national awards.

Working with PWN helps advance SIOP’s mission of strengthening external relationships; raising the visibility and awareness of I-O psychology to business and the general public; providing opportunities for members to apply their knowledge, skills, and abilities; and building collaborative relationships across research, practice, and education. Mutual benefits to SIOP and APA can be derived from a close working relationship. This could involve more SIOP members participating in the identification and evaluation of organizations for the PHW awards; providing cutting-edge research on topics including workplace stress, occupational health, and interpersonal relationships in organizations; and providing high-quality content for distribution through existing communication channels. Likewise, APA’s program can advocate for I-O psychology; help build alliances with government, private sector, and academia; and facilitate multidisciplinary collaborations among clinical, counseling, I-O, and other subdisciplines of psychology with interest in the same topics.

The continued success of this program will drive increased awareness and an enhanced understanding by the public of the important role that I-O psychologists play in the daily life of businesses and the people they employ. As such, the result is recognition that psychology is a vibrant and productive field that is undergoing a renaissance with new ideas and research findings that are critical to helping individuals, groups, organizations, and communities thrive.

To find out how you can get involved with the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program in your state, province, or territory, or to learn about opportunities to contribute to the program’s newsletter or blog, e-mail phwa@apa.org. For more information about SIOP’s collaboration with the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, please contact Robert Bloom, the SIOP liaison with the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, at robert@pma-hr.com.

References

American Psychological Association. (2012a). Stress in America: Our health at risk. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2011/final-2011.pdf
American Psychological Association. (2012b). APA survey finds feeling valued at work linked to well-being and performance. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/
stress-exec-summary.pdf
Blustein, D. L. (2008). The role of work in psychological health and well-being: A conceptual, historical, and public policy perspective. American Psychologist, 63(4), 228–240.
Goetzel, R. Z., Anderson, D. R., Whitmer, R. W., Ozminkowski, R. J., Dunn, R. L., Wasserman, J., & The Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) Research Committee. (1998). The relationship between modifiable health risks and health care expenditures: An analysis of the multi-employer HERO health risk and cost database. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 40(10), 843–854.
Grawitch, M. J., Gottschalk, M., & Munz, D. C. (2006). The path to a healthy workplace: A critical review linking healthy workplace practices, employee well-being, and organizational improvements. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 58(3), 129–147.
Harter, R. W., Schmidt, F. L. & Keyes, C. L. M. (2003). Well-being in the workplace and its relationship to business outcomes: A review of the Gallup studies. In L. M. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well-lived (pp. 205–224). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Rosch, P. J. (Ed.). (2001, March). The quandary of job stress compensation. Health and Stress, 3, 1–4.
Sauter, S., Lim, S., & Murphy, L. (1996), Organizational health: A new paradigm for occupational stress research at NIOSH. Japanese Journal of Occupational Mental Health, 4, 248–254.

Professional Practice Committee Updates

The careers study of I-O psychologists is underway! With its chief objective of delineating career paths of individuals with advanced degrees in I-O psychology in both academic and applied settings, the outcomes of this study will equip professionals and students with valuable information about competencies and experiences that contribute to success in an increasingly diverse array of roles held by I-O psychologists. Member participation in the study is critical as you are our subject matter experts! From contributing source materials including job descriptions, competency models, and career paths to participating in surveys and interviews, we welcome and encourage your participation as the project phases roll out. The findings from the study will help professionals at all stages of the career lifecycle, including those contemplating a career in I-O, those entering the field, and others making transitions between roles, and will provide the Practice committee with insight on resources to provide to members for continued professional development.

I’m also pleased to report new additions to the 2012 SIOP–SHRM white paper series. This effort, designed to make the science of I-O psychology accessible to HR practitioners, summarizes research and practice on topics of interest to SHRM members in practitioner-oriented white papers. The first paper, titled “Achieving Well-being in Retirement: Recommendations from 20 Years of Research” was coauthored by Mo Wang and Beryl Hesketh. The second paper is by Talya Bauer, Julie McCarthy, Neil Anderson, Donald Truxillo, and Jesús Salgado and is titled “What We Know about Applicant Reactions on Attitudes and Behavior: Research Summary and Best Practices.” Both papers are distributed to the SHRM membership and are also available on the SIOP website.

We are taking the mentoring program in new directions. To complement the successful speed mentoring sessions held at the annual conference, we are launching the next group mentoring program to members. This program is designed to match mentors with multiple protégés to share relevant experiences and best practices. This installment builds on lessons learned during a pilot group mentoring program, as additional resources and structure will be provided to participants. Practice committee members will facilitate learning sessions and check-in meetings to ensure the program is meeting objectives for both mentors and protégés.

Finally, it’s not too late to subscribe to SIOP Research Access! This outstanding, value-priced benefit connects members to EBSCO research databases and archives of SIOP conference sessions, and is sure to come in handy as you prepare your SIOP conference posters and presentations.

 These are just a few of the active initiatives underway within the Practice committee, and I’d like to thank the Practice committee members for their continued efforts and enthusiasm to drive these forward. For more information on these and other projects, please feel free to contact me at tracy.kantrowitz@shl.com.