Once a month, clinical psychologist Dr. Marianne Bowden leaves her office, crosses the street and walks over to Certified Angus Beef, where she strolls the hallways, chatting casually with employees, looking at photos of employees' children and listening to what's going on in their lives. Then, she makes her way to the company's dedicated wellness room where she meets more formally with employees who've booked appointments with her in advance.

In 2010, Certified Angus Beef launched a unique employee benefit: free onsite access - on company time, no less - to a clinical psychologist. Determined to walk the talk, the company wanted to emphasize the importance of mental health and work-life balance and, in the process, erase some of the stigma that often accompanies mental health issues.

Today, Bowden is onsite for a half-day once a month. Employees book 30-minute sessions with her so she can see up to six people per month. And she's booked solid.

"My presence - just being there - has given people permission to talk to me and others about things in their lives, whether it's positive things or stressful things," says Bowden.

Walk down meat aisle of your local supermarket and you're likely to see the Certified Angus Beef label. The brand sells over 2.2 million pounds of product daily through nearly 14,000 grocery stores and restaurants in the United States and around the world. Ranchers and farmers across the United States who want their cattle to carry the premium label have to meet strict quality specifications.

As an organization, Certified Angus Beef is the not-for-profit division of the American Angus Association, which comprises nearly 30,000 members. It's a small company - about 100 employees, 85 of whom are based in the corporate headquarters in Wooster, Ohio. But Certified Angus Beef is proof that small employers are capable of doing big things in the benefits realm.

"It's pretty unique," says Bowden of the onsite program, noting that while many employers have employee assistance programs, not many go to the lengths Certified Angus Beef does to ensure employees' mental well-being. "It's pretty forward-thinking. It really puts a face to mental health so it becomes something that's okay for people to access."

Pam Cottrell, director of human resources with Certified Angus Beef, says that "when we say 'work-life balance,' we mean it. We want you to balance it. We're important as well, but we're not your life. We are where you work."

Cottrell interviewed several psychologists to find the right fit culturally, and she approached the hiring process in the same way as if she were hiring any other employee.

"When we fill a position here we look for the right person with first, the right skill set, but, second, the right personality," she explains. "Do they fit our organization [and] the culture of our organization? Do they fit what we are looking for? Is this a great place for them, as much as are they a good addition to our team?"

 

Shrink your stress

After interviewing about 10 candidates, Cottrell selected Bowden, a clinical psychologist who also happens to be the company's EAP provider. An added bonus? Bowden's office is right across the street from Certified Angus Beef's headquarters in Wooster. If employees need more extensive services, already having a relationship with the psychologist makes it easier to reach out for help.

The company branded the program "Shrink Your Stress with Dr. B."

"She thought it was a hoot to take something that could have a stigma attached to it and remove the barriers to that," recalls Cottrell. Employees were invited to a lunch-and-learn where Bowden discussed the topic of stress.

"Everybody has life stress - whether it's job stress, family stress, small children, aging parents. Everybody has it," says Cotrell. "So, rather than making it not a good thing to talk about or to admit that we all have stress, [we talk about] how [to] balance all the challenges that everybody faces today."

Following the lunch-and-learn, employees were encouraged to attend a meet-and-greet with Bowden. She stayed onsite for the rest of the day, meeting casually with employees. "She established some really good relationships in 15 minutes," says Cottrell. "You don't talk about a lot in 15 minutes, [but] you get comfortable." And that comfort level helps build trust.

Certified Angus Beef has a dedicated wellness room in which all of its wellness providers - which include a psychologist, registered massage therapist, certified financial planner, nurse and ergonomics expert - can meet with employees.

Interestingly, employees use the company's public Microsoft Outlook calendar to book appointments. While there's an option to mark appointments as private, Cottrell has noticed that very few people, if any, do when it comes to meeting with Bowden.

"It's like when the massage therapist comes. People write their names on the calendar and go," says Cottrell. "We've made it okay. When the certified financial planner comes onsite with us, nobody really cares that they've got their name marked on the calendar. It doesn't mean that they need financial help. It means they want to learn more about how they can be better financially."

It's the same with the psychologist, she continues. Booking an appointment to see her simply means employees want to better learn how to manage their emotional and mental health. Visits to the psychologist booked through the EAP, meanwhile, have always been (and will always remain) strictly private and confidential.

All of Certified Angus Beef's wellness programs are offered on company time. "We don't have a problem with that," says Cottrell. "If that will help our employees be able to better manage their health and well-being, we are happy to support that, and it's not an issue."

 

'Pretty cool things'

Certified Angus Beef was recently recognized by the American Psychological Association as a 2012 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award winner. The company also has received platinum-level recognition from the American Heart Association for creating a culture of physical activity in the workplace, and the company also landed on the Best Employers in Ohio list this year in the small/medium employer category.

While Cottrell acknowledges the accolades are great, "we are not doing these things to get the awards. We're doing them because we acknowledge that we think we're doing some pretty cool things."

And there's proof these "cool things" translate into hard numbers. Employers on the American Psychological Association's list of psychologically healthy workplaces reported an average turnover of just 11% in 2011 - significantly lower than the national average of 36% as reported by the Department of Labor (see chart.)

Surveys completed by the winning organizations, meanwhile, show that only 34% of employees reported experiencing chronic stress at work, compared to 41% nationally, and 80% reported being satisfied with their job, compared to 70% in the general population. Additionally, 78% said they would recommend their organization to others as a good place to work, and only 14% said they intend to seek employment elsewhere within the next year, compared to 28% nationally.

In addition to a variety of wellness programs, Certified Angus Beef works to ensure employees' share of the health plan premium remains low; it's currently 10% of the total premium. The company also offers a generous paid time-off package. Right from day one, employees are eligible for 20 days off - 10 vacation days and 10 personal days. Each additional year with the company is rewarded with another personal day off. "What we believe in is a generous time-off program that we truly want our staff to use," says Cottrell.

 

 


Workplace winners

 

The following companies were recognized this year by the American Psychological Association for their efforts at implementing and promoting good mental health practices and programs in the workplace.

Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award winners:

* Certified Angus Beef

* Coconino County

* College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia

* Noble-Davis Consulting

* ReMed Recovery Care Centers

 

Best practices honorees:

* Certified Angus Beef

* Chimes Delaware, Newark Vocational Facility

* College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia

* Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus

* Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research Northwest

* Koinonia Homes

* Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, LSS Financial Counseling Service

* Orion Associates

* ReMed Recover Care Centers

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