Five Steps to a Psychologically Healthy Workplace

healthy work-life balance, stones balancing on seesaw August 28, 2017 By: Tabitha Arnett, CAE

There's a lot of talk about work-life balance, but few association professionals are able to achieve it. With five key elements, associations can create a psychologically healthy workplace.

Has a board member or supervisor ever asked you to stop checking emails on the weekend or while on vacation? Have you been encouraged to disconnect from work when you are away from the office? Little did I know, four years ago, when I began my position as executive director of the Indiana Psychological Association (IPA), that working for psychologists would open my eyes to better work-life balance.

Within my first few months, a board member replied to an email I sent over the weekend suggesting that I take a break on my day off. Although I was expected to run the association, I was surprised and pleased that I was not expected to work 24/7.

As association leaders, we are passionate about our organization's mission, yet we find it difficult to achieve work-life balance. How do we disconnect from work when there's so much going on and many tasks to complete? Instead of trying to find free time on our calendars to create work-life balance, which is nearly impossible, we should look at ways to create a psychologically healthy workplace (PHWP) for ourselves and our employees.

Each year, the American Psychological Association hosts a conference for psychological association leaders in Washington, DC. During the conference, APA recognizes top companies that have outstanding PHWPs. It is my goal to help association professionals recognize APA's PHWP criteria and begin to make a paradigm shift.

Instead of trying to find free time on our calendars to create work-life balance, we should look at ways to create a psychologically healthy workplace for ourselves and our employees.

To be considered a PHWP, an organization must meet five criteria, which were developed through scientifically sound research by a committee of psychologists:

1. Employee involvement. PHWPs empower employees by involving them in the decision-making process. They use structures and tools like self-managed teams, employee committees, suggestion boxes, and monthly meetings to discuss business decisions.

2. Work-life balance. PHWPs help employees better manage multiple demands outside of work, leading to increased job satisfaction, better morale, and stronger commitment to the organization. They offer options and resources like flexible work arrangements (flextime or telecommuting), assistance with childcare, financial management resources, and flexible leave options beyond those required by the Family and Medical Leave Act.

3. Employee growth and development. PHWPs provide opportunities for employees to gain new professional skills and competencies. This can improve the quality of a work experience and attract and retain great employees. Examples include professional development and training, tuition reimbursement, skills training, promotion opportunities, chances to attend association conferences related to their work, and leadership development programs.

4. Health and safety. PHWPs encourage and support healthy lifestyle and behavioral choices. Health and safety programs maximize employees' physical and mental health through prevention, assessment, and treatment of health risks and problems. Examples include safeguards that address workplace safety and security, health screenings, adequate health insurance (including mental health coverage), access to health and fitness facilities, and resources to help employees address life problems (grief counseling, employee assistance programs, or referrals to mental health services, for example).

5. Employee recognition. PWHPs recognize and reward employees for their work in a variety of ways, both public and private. Examples include performance-based pay increases, competitive benefits packages, employee awards, and recognition of accomplishments and milestones.

Dr. Natalie Datillo, clinical psychologist and IPA's public education coordinator, says, "It's important to remember that work-life balance can mean different things to different people and at different stages of your career. You have to find what works for you and be flexible as life demands change."

I encourage association leaders to think of ways to implement at least one example from the five criteria. In return, employees will be happier and more productive, and the entire association will benefit from becoming a psychologically healthy workplace.

Tabitha Arnett, CAE

Tabitha Arnett, CAE, is executive director of the Indiana Psychological Association in Fishers, Indiana.