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What Constitutes a Psychologically Healthy Workplace?

WHEN ASKED, EMPLOYEES SUBMITTED standards or factors that contribute to making a psychologically healthy workplace. Employees of Acxiom and Custom Direct considered their workplaces psychologically healthy because they have mission statements that are clearly stated and communicated to all of the employees. They also consider their companies to be psychologically healthy places because their employers give them opportunities to express their opinions as well as give feedback about their work environment and tasks that they do.

However, a psychologically healthy workplace is not just one that provides employees direct benefits and opportunities for advancement with the expected nonregard for age, race, gender, creed, or religious beliefs; but also one that provides expressions of concern for their families. For example, employees consider a work environment to be psychologically healthy when the employer offers child-care assistance by providing information about resources off site or when some larger organizations provide child-care services on site. An employer might provide payments for child care, a dependent assistance plan, elder care assistance such as resources and referral services, or financial support for elder care. Some employers also provide opportunities for leave that go beyond the Family and Medical Leave Act, allowing time off to care for mildly ill children.

In addition, employers who recognize that the most important elements of their business are their employees are those who provide opportunities for family problem resolution -- allowing them time to respond to family emergencies -- and family relocation services and support during transfers, downsizing and moves.

The ideal psychologically healthy workplace, according to employees of businesses applying for the ArPA awards, is a place where they can have flexible work arrangements, such as variable starting and stopping times, flextime, time to work at home or telecommuting. Other ideal environments are those that provide on-site services, such as banking, dry cleaning, shopping and exercise facilities.

However, it appears from the employee surveys that the most sought-after environment is one in which the employer regularly monitors employee satisfaction and can be counted on to respond to employee feedback. Also considered as highly desirable in the ArPA visits were those work environments where the supervisors provided clear, achievable and reasonable goals as a basis for employee evaluations and those with leaders who showed a genuine interest and commitment in quality workplace programs and policies.

Surprisingly, secondary to these issues were salaries and pay, with the exception that employees want to be considered on equal footing with all other employees. Employees actually responded positively to environments that encouraged competition for pay increases. However, pay increases are "psychologically healthy" only when the policy and procedures for raises were clearly delineated, clearly communicated and fairly administered. Because this type of environment typically allows an employee to do a variety of things to help determine their job duties or how they are carried out, it also helps employees determine their own future in the company.

Obviously, psychologically healthy workplaces were the ones that provided insurance options that included mental health benefits with as much coverage for psychological health issues as for medical health issues. Also in line with both physical and emotional health were the environments that did not expose employees to workplace hazards without appropriate safeguards and employee training being in place. Employers who responded to workplace crises or traumas by providing or allowing access to psychological health services or on-site counseling for debriefing fared well.

Failure to provide a psychologically healthy workplace can impact the bottom line. A 2000 poll conducted by the American Psychological Association found that one in four employees has taken a mental health sick day. According to The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, health care expenditures are nearly 50 percent greater for workers who report high levels of stress. "In this time of high. job stress and increasing demands on employees, these exemplary workplaces chosen by ArPA have demonstrated that they have made it a priority to create environments that are sensitive to the psychological well-being of their workers," said Sabra Hassel, Ph.D., president of the Arkansas Psychological Association. "By rewarding these businesses and organizations for their efforts, we hope others will take notice and implement similar programs."

The Choice in the Large Company Category:

ACXIOM WAS CHOSEN FROM APPLICANTS representing large companies because of its commitment to provide their employees with opportunities to not only work in a psychologically healthy workplace, but to participate in its design. For such a large corporation, Acxiom clearly does things differently than others its size. Headquartered in little Rock, Acxiom is a global leader in Customer Data Integration and customer recognition infrastructure, both of which are designed to enable their customers to develop and deepen their own customer relationships. Acxiom has an impressive list of blue-chip global clients and serves many of the world's leading companies in the retail, telecommunications, media, technology, automotive and consumer goods industries.

At Acxiom there are teams with a less formal hierarchy than one usually encounters in the business world, especially for a company of its size. Creativity and employee ownership of company goals is strongly encouraged in a number of formal and informal ways. Acxiom has demonstrated 32 years of success in the data management industry and currently generates revenues of more than $1 billion. It provides jobs to more than 5,400 associates worldwide.

Acxiom's leader, Charles D. Morgan, the son of a Fort Smith hardware store owner, has assembled a team of visionaries who are convinced that in the emerging data-driven marketplace, accurate and up-to-date customer information is critical to the success of American businesses and the consumers they serve. As the owner/administrator, Morgan is very involved and serves as a role model by being concerned with individual employees and encouraging all to promote group goals.

The privacy and dignity of individual employees is obviously well-respected. The physical workplace is well-designed and offers central places to meet informally, have coffee or confer with others in a relaxed atmosphere.

Information flow within the organization is extremely good, such that even during the recent layoffs, employees were all informed openly of the decision and rationale and offered opportunities to talk about their concerns, including counseling for those leaving who may have had significant issues they needed to discuss.

ArPA's Psychologically Healthy Workplace award is only one of the many recognitions bestowed upon Acxiom. It was selected by Fortune magazine in 2001 for the third year as one of the 100 Best Places to Work in America, while Computerworid magazine for the second consecutive year identified Acxiom as one of the Top 100 Best Places to Work in Information Technology.

The Choice in the Mid-Sized Company Category.

CUSTOM DIRECT WAS CHOSEN FROM applicants representing mid-sized companies in Arkansas because of its dedication to its employees, which is exemplified in the opportunities it offers for personal growth. For example, Custom Direct has a tuition reimbursement policy that encourages its employees to prepare themselves for additional challenges and responsibilities not only in the workplace but also in the community at large, and in so doing Custom Direct is willing to adjust work schedules to accommodate such personal growth.

Since its formation in 1992, Custom Direct has become the second-largest direct marketer of personalized and financial products in the United States, now with 10 product lines. Having begun in 1992 with a staff of only 20, Custom Direct now boasts more than 575 employees. In addition to the Little Rock plant, it has a plant in Joppa, Maryland. At the Little Rock plant, the company has expanded from 40 employees in 1998 to approximately 300 as of October 2001.

Custom Direct maintains employee involvement in the company through its Employee Activity Committee. The employees report that they highly value their involvement in the decision-making process on a wide range of issues, from work schedules to activities involving the employee's family. A quarterly company newsletter, "The Direct Connection," keeps employees well-informed of changes taking place in this expanding company, but it also highlights the birthdays of each employee during that quarter and introduces each new employee.

Custom Direct has demonstrated one of the major benefits of a healthy workplace by its growth in the marketplace, increased productivity in product lines and extremely low employee turnover rate. As a consequence it has not experienced some of the recruiting difficulties other less psychologically healthy workplaces have experienced. The ArPA psychologically healthy workplace award for Custom Direct lends credence to their dedication, places them with a recruiting advantage and enhances the company's image. When talking with the employees, it was obvious that Custom Direct has provided them with a better workplace atmosphere and has produced workers who are less stressed and more satisfied with their jobs.

ArPA DETERMINED IT IMPERATIVE THAT the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System receive an honorable mention in the large company category due to its dedication to the veterans of Arkansas and the high-quality work environment it provides for its employees. One of the largest and busiest medical centers in the United States, the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System has two hospitals, one in Little Rock and one in North Little Rock, which provide a broad spectrum of inpatient and outpatient health care services. These services range from disease prevention and primary care to complex surgical procedures and extended rehabilitative care. The hospital has a rich 75-year history providing health-care services and serves as a teaching facility for approximately 90 educational affiliates, with the principle affiliate being the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Employees regularly participate in multidisciplinary teams in which each individual's expertise enhances the viability of the group in providing valuable insight into problem areas to enhance the quality of services provided by the system and the quality of the environment in which the services are provided. For example, the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System currently operates a child care program in cooperation with the Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock in which child care is available for families with a gross annual income of less than $50,000.

Although employees are not eligible for stock ownership in the company, they do have one of the best retirement systems available. They have options to contribute to a common stock index fund, fixed income index investment fund or government securities investment fund, with matching employer contributions available to most employees.
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Title Annotation:A psychologically healthy workplace may include child-care assistance
Comment:What Constitutes a Psychologically Healthy Workplace?(A psychologically healthy workplace may include child-care assistance)
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 29, 2001
Previous Article:Station to Station.
Next Article:Keeping Your Child's Stress Out of Your Workplace.

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