Healthy Workplaces

It’s a fact in today’s corporate world to expect workers to check their true emotions and personalities at the workplace door. Many people we talk to mention the difficulty of being honest at work.

This is due, in part, to the belief in an artificial separation between the professional and private self (I can’t be playful at the office because I won’t be taken seriously), or the idea that work and home life must never intersect (I can’t put pictures of my kids up because it’ll hurt my chances for promotion) or keeping emotions hidden to appear intelligent (I can’t show that I’m worried about this decision. They’ll think I’m weak, and stupid).

But the notion that people must shed their values, needs, hopes, grief, dreams, fears and desires to don an automaton-like “company suit” is a myth. And companies are increasingly shucking this unspoken demand in favour of a more comprehensive understanding of what makes a workplace effective.

Indeed, we’ve observed that when employees feel compelled to hide their ideas, values, family life, their feelings and thoughts for the sake of their career, both staff and the company are short-changed.

Companies are realizing it is unhealthy and unproductive to believe people can be unemotional and that their personalities have nothing to do with how the job gets done – or that family matters can be rigidly compartmentalized and that one’s needs, values and dreams can be set aside during the work day.

Research demonstrates that making the workplace psychologically healthy makes good business sense. Engaged, creative and honest employees make a company successful.

B.C. is leading the way in Canada in advancing the notion of the psychologically healthy workplace as it hosts the first Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in this country – an international initiative originating in the United States under the sponsorship of the American Psychological Association, the Canadian Psychological Association and the British Columbia Association.

B.C.-based sponsors of the award include Vancouver City Savings Credit Union, the Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia, Westminster Savings Credit Union and the British Columbia Human Resources Management Association, which provides resources and educational opportunities to human resources professionals.

Companies from across B.C. that have applied for the award, come from a variety of sectors including lumber, tourism, the financial industry, food, insurance, telecommunications, communications, travel, oil and gas and health. Companies nominated for the Award offer policies or programs in at least one of four aspects of a healthy workplace, as identified by psychologists:

Employee Involvement
Companies that excel in this category encourage employees to express their opinions and give feedback regarding the work environment and tasks. These companies enable staff to participate in decision-making and problem-solving, and allow employees to influence organizational development. Award winners may create opportunities for conflict management, share recognition for innovation and collaborate with employees during performance reviews.

Family Support
Organizations who win in this category demonstrate a supportive approach to family concerns including offering childcare or elder care assistance plans. Family-oriented companies offer flexible work arrangements and schedules, provide leave for attending to mildly ill children and offer flexibility in number of hours worked per week. These companies may also offer easy access to effective Employee or Family Assistance Programs.

Employee Growth and Development
These winners encourage employee training, leading to job enhancement , career advancement or career counselling and leadership development and coaching. These organizations make efforts to develop responsive supervisors and help employees identify career advancement leads within the company.

Health & Safety
Companies nominated in this category provide physical and mental health benefits to staff. They provide medical surveillance for employees exposed to hazardous substances and offer injury prevention programs. Employees have opportunities to influence the physical plant and input into company safety. Companies that excel in this category promote employee health and wellness.

Building psychological health in companies is a long-term commitment to continuous development and BC business and psychologists hope to honour Canadian organizations that excel at the task.

An Awards luncheon, to announce the winners, is being held on June 3rd at the Vancouver Board of Trade with Minister of Health, Colin Hansen as guest speaker. For more information about the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award, contact the BCPA at 604-730-0501. For tickets to the Award luncheon, contact the Vancouver Board of Trade at 604-641-1248.

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 sunmail@newmangrigg.com

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

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