Award-winning smaller employers offer employees typical benefits that support workplace mental health like robust health insurance coverage and employee assistance programs. But they also create a culture of mental wellness with a suite of day-to-day programs that encourage work-life balance, employee involvement and employee growth and development opportunities.
David Ballard is the director of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, which has sponsored the Psychologically Healthy Workplace awards for the last 10 years. Ballard says a key factor that all award-winning companies offer is a good mental health benefit as part of their overall health package.
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“That means access to mental health resources is available at parity or at the same level as physical health issues,” he says. “The mental health parity law passed, but in a number of cases insurance companies are still working to put other checks in the system to limit access to treatment for mental health issues. For example, mental health benefits may be managed more heavily so a patient has to jump through more hoops to get approval for treatment than they would for a physical health program.”
This year’s APA Psychologically Healthy Workplace winner in the small for-profit category was Beehive PR in St. Paul’s Minnesota. Beehive PR’s CEO Lisa Hannum started the company in 1998. The strategic PR boutique currently has 12 full-time employees. In 2010, two years after the recession hit, she says entire parts of some of her client-organizations had been wiped out and it was a particularly exhausting time for companies like hers.
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“I personally hit a point where I was really wiped out and needed to re-assess where I wanted to be as a leader and how I could create a company that would really have the staying power to draw and keep talented staff and clients,” Hannum says.
That’s when she began to develop the company’s robust “Be Well” program focusing on the physical, emotional and mental health of her employees. Despite its small size, Beehive employees can choose from high-deductible and a low-deductible health insurance options. The company pays 75% of employee medical premium costs and offers free, 24/7 access to a fully-stocked workout room with cardio and strength training equipment and showers.
There are regular fitness initiatives (e.g. Fitbit challenges) and free weekly yoga classes. For meditation and relaxation, Beehive has a dedicated quiet room shielded from wireless signals where employees can go to meditate and recharge their batteries. Seasonal fruit is delivered to the company kitchen every week and free, healthy snacks are always on tap.
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Work-life balance is a company priority with a four-day work-week option, summer hours and up to 40 days of paid time-off depending on the employee’s experience and tenure with the company. Employees can work anywhere because they are outfitted with laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi mobile hotspots and can claim monthly reimbursement for smartphone and data plans.
Beehive PR consistently celebrates both individual and collective accomplishments. An outside vendor helps administer team coaching. “We really try to focus on positive behaviors but if anything is identified we turn it over to the EAP or other appropriate resource in our health care plan. We’re very conscious of not going outside the bounds of coaching,” says Hannum.
“One hundred percent of the employees take advantage of one or more of the Be Well programs. Participation is baseline. It’s the foundation to everything we do,” she continues. “We are projecting $4 million in revenue this year and we will spend about $100,000 on the Be Well program.”
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Hannum proudly notes that in 2014 revenue grew 41.5% and the company is on target for a further 40% growth by the end of this year. Sick days are down 30% and employee retention is at about 85%. The only separations have been mutually agreed upon and an employee survey also revealed a 92% satisfaction rate. More than 44% of Beehive PR’s clients have been with the agency for five years or longer.
Beach Cities Health District, with 90 full-time employees, is one of the largest preventive health agencies in the U.S., providing services since 1955. CEO Susan Burden believes programs that support mental health in the workplace are essential, because employees bring their mental health to work with them every day.
“We walk the talk about mental health. Some organizations are focused on keeping the cost down, but our employees are a reflection of the services we provide to our clients,” Burden says.
She notes that programs have been built up over time since the late 1990s, beginning with her predecessor Bob Riley, who was committed to helping improve employee health. So when a community fitness centre was built on the company site, employees were given full access.”We don’t have a rule about when you go. I go on my lunch breaks,” she says. “We’re focused on how you get your job done, not on when you clocked in or clocked out.”
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Recently, BCHD’s innovative Life Planning programming was integrated into the organization’s benefits open-enrollment period, and it has been met with great enthusiasm. In one program, a BCHD employee and a licensed clinician shared experiences working with clients on preparing in advance for a life-threatening illness or injury to oneself or family members. Staff learned in a powerful way about the potentially dire consequences of failing to prepare for such a situation. Life Planning programs also underscore the importance of sound financial planning and taking advantage of BCHD’s pension and 457(b) plans.
BCHD’s yearly time-off benefits include three to five weeks of vacation, two weeks of sick days and eight holidays. The organization operates on a flexible work schedule in which employees enjoy a three-day weekend every other week, with additional flexible scheduling for school, childcare and other family matters.
Burden says lots of people bring their dogs to work and they’ve never had a problem. “And what is becoming more popular is parents bringing children to work if they have a daycare crisis. We had a baby in the office recently and he just got passed from department to department. It just calms people down.”
The organization surveys employees regularly to find out what they need and what they want. In response, this fall the organization launched a project to help employees to manage their personal finances. “We incent employees to participate by awarding points for each segment of the program they complete and as they accumulate points they get prizes and awards,” Burden explains. “This is only the latest in a series of fitness and wellness challenges offered every year and we have had as many as 87 out of our 90 employees sign up.”
By the numbers
Ballard is not surprised that psychologically healthy workplaces are such a win-win for both employers and employees. Using data from the APA’s 2014 Work & Well-Being Survey, his group compared the experience of award winners with the average U.S. employers participating in the study.
“Every year, regardless of the industries they come from, our winners outperform national averages,” he says.
Psychologically Healthy Workplace award winners report an average 21% turnover, compared to the U.S. average of 40%. Moreover, 84% of employees at the psychologically healthy workplaces report feeling valued, compared to the U.S. average of 52%.
“Creating a psychologically healthy workplace can be done by organizations of any size. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Employers can partner with local groups like the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.” Ballard says. “Also, employee involvement and control is really important. That’s really a mindset that truly views employees as partners and involves them in meaningful ways.”
Sheryl Smolkin is a Toronto-based freelance writer and lawyer.
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