Psychologically Healthy Workplaces

Is your work place healthy? Not just physically safe, well ventilated or ergonomically sound-but psychologically healthy?

Dr. Todd Kettner, president of the British Columbia Psychological Association, a group that advances the psychological well-being of B.C. residents, defines a psychologically healthy organization as one committed to “creating a productive and positive personal and interpersonal work environment through policies, programs and attitudes that promote employee and manager well-being.”

The question, “Is your organization psychologically healthy?” may not be an easy one to answer. It’s often simpler and more comfortable to talk about tangible things than wear and tear on staff psyches (“I need a new chair” versus “I need a new boss”).

Discomfort with the issue can stem from entrenched beliefs that employees should check their feelings at the business door, or that dealing with psychological health is a sign of trouble or weakness in an organization.

Yet, as research demonstrates, businesses that overlook the importance of psychological factors in the work place risk their bottom line and may miss opportunities due to this blind spot.

A Toronto-based think tank, The Global Business and Economic Roundtable, estimates job stress costs Canadian business about $16 billion a year through absenteeism, disability insurance, lost productivity, reduced sales and uncollected receivables, increases in short-term disability rates and prescription drug fees.

At the same time, studies show that companies that do pay attention to their organization’s psychological health reap the benefits in increased profitability, higher worker engagement, better customer retention, quality and productivity gains, innovation and lower staff turnover.

“The research shows a link between psychological health, peak performance and profitability, and the BCPA wants to get this message out to BC businesses,” said Kettner.

To achieve this goal, the BCPA has partnered with both the Canadian Psychological Association and the American Psychological Association, to host the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in June 2004, in Vancouver.

The BCPA hopes the award will help promote psychological health in the workplace and give organizations access to psychological resources.

“We’ll be the first province in Canada to hold this award and we hope the B.C. workforce and business community will benefit from its introduction,” noted Kettner.

Companies can apply for the award if they offer policies or programs in one of four aspects of a healthy workplace identified by psychologists:

Employee Involvement
Companies that involve staff in decision-making and problem-solving, and encourage the free and constructive expression of opinions, ideas and feedback tend to be psychologically sound. Conflict in these organizations is constructive and resolved in a timely manner. Employees who receive recognition and credit for accomplishments tend to work in psychologically healthy environments. They view performance reviews as collaborative and helpful to their careers.

Family Support
Organizations that recognize employees’ families as company stakeholders tend to be psychologically fit. Studies show that Family/Life/Work balance is crucial to employee well-being and productivity. Flexibility in the number of hours worked and the reduction of unnecessary work hours contributes most to work/family balance. Assistance with childcare or eldercare helps contribute to employee well being. Employees have easy access to effective employee and family assistance programs through healthy organizations.

Employee Growth and Development
Healthy companies offer training and team-building opportunities, as well as coaching and career advancement leads in the organization. Leaders at psychologically healthy companies work on their own interpersonal skills and self-management abilities. Research shows that disability claims increase when staff have poor relationships with supervisors or co-workers. Effective management deals well with disrupted work relationships and ensures they are not the cause of problems on the job.

Health and Safety
Psychologically healthy environments are also physically safe ones. Injury prevention and employee wellness programs, influence over the work environment (temperature, light and noise) and input into plant safety are hallmarks of a healthy workplace. Where applicable, psychological and medical monitoring of employees exposed to hazardous substances or situations is offered.

“Not all psychologically healthy workplaces will include all these factors, yet company efforts to address at least one of these areas does make a big difference”, said Kettner.

The BCPA hopes that by publicly recognizing companies already using psychologically sound practices, the idea will catch on–making BC a great place to work and live.

Small, large, for profit and not-for-profit companies are encouraged to apply for the award. Interested companies can obtain information, a sponsor package or an application form by calling the BCPA at 604-730-0501.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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