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Article from Las Vegas Review-Journal

Oct. 20, 2005
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

Companies honored for work environments

Three valley employers rewarded with Psychologically Healthy Workplace awards


Bob Linden, president of Shred-it Las Vegas, talks with employees Andy Anderson and Mike Brant in the company's "Green Oasis," which is designed to offer a respite from the workday.
Photo by John Locher .

Consider the phrase "psychologically healthy workplace."

Then consider the word "oxymoron." Or, if you'd prefer, just laugh, snort, chortle, swear or do whatever it is you do to express cynical disbelief.

Christa Peterson won't mind. She's pretty much heard it all by now, anyway.

Peterson, a Las Vegas clinical psychologist, is a member of a Nevada State Psychological Association committee that last month recognized three valley companies for their success in creating psychologically healthy workplaces.

The association's inaugural slate of Psychologically Healthy Workplace awards went to New York - New York , the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and Shred-it Las Vegas . All now will be entered in a national healthy workplace competition sponsored by the American Psychological Association.

And, Peterson says, what the winning companies prove -- and what other companies can learn from them -- is that psychologically healthy workplaces are good not just for beleaguered employees but for a company's bottom line, too.

The national awards program began in 1999, and 42 states now offer their own versions of healthy workplace award programs, said Reno clinical psychologist Roberta Ferguson, chairman of the state awards committee. This is the first year the Nevada association conducted a competition.

The program's goal, Peterson says, is to "educate employers about the value of a psychologically healthy workplace and the key role it plays in the success of an organization."

According to Peterson, studies show that psychologically healthy workplaces experience less employee absenteeism, lower health expenditures and increases in productivity than less-healthy companies, and they're also able to better attract and retain employees.

Job stress can result not only in physical problems, Ferguson says, but can spill over into family conflicts and such problems as alcohol and substance abuse.

Ferguson says 15 Nevada companies entered this year's competition. First, company representatives filled out questionnaires outlining ways in which they strive to create a mentally healthy workplace. Then, psychologists conducted on-site interviews with employees and administrators at each company.

The program evaluates companies on their efforts in five areas: employee involvement; work-life balance; employee growth and development; health and safety; and employee recognition. However, the ways in which companies translated those values into practice varied.

For example, Peterson says, the selection committee was "completely awestruck" by the number of employee support activities -- everything from Weight Watchers meetings to a literacy program to flexible schedules that enable employees to attend school -- in place at first-place winner New York-New York.

Among the more unusual employee recognition measures is an employee talent show, says Brenda Bradbury, the hotel's director of human resources. "It allows our employees to showcase their talent singing or dancing or doing stand-up comedy."

Leonard Wilson Jr., the hotel's vice president of human resources, says the variety of assistance, education and recreational programs offered to employees help to create a workplace in which employees not only feel appreciated, but pass on their positive feelings to customers.

For that reason alone, he says, any employer who maintains it's "not their job to create an environment where an employee wants to work and be happy shouldn't be in the people business."

A commendation went to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, where the roster of employee-directed activities includes wellness programs and a confidential employee counseling program.

But Mark Olson, vice president of human resources, notes that creating a psychologically healthy workplace doesn't have to be expensive. For example, he says, a popular event among authority employees is a sort of regular coffee break program with the organization's president.

Also on the roster are social events and other programs intended to just be fun. The straightforward rationale, Olson says: "If our people are having fun, that means they can serve customers better."

Bob Linden, president of Shred-it Las Vegas , which was cited for most innovative practices, is sold on the happy employee-customer service connection. Linden says his 16-person franchise -- which offers confidential document destruction services -- last year ranked second out of 130 branches nationally in customer service.

Positive employees, he explains, are "key to our revenue growth."

Among the more unusual measures his company takes is the awarding of a $300 "personal development" stipend to each employee annually to take any kind of class the employee desires.

The class doesn't have to relate to work, Linden says -- employees have taken glass blowing and video production classes -- but merely serve as a reminder that "you should always be open to learning more and considering new ways of looking at things."

And, Shred-it employees can take a break from the workday in an on-site "Green Oasis" equipped with plants, a sofa, a recliner and other hallmarks of a restful environment.

Make no mistake, though. There still are plenty of companies around that subscribe to a less enlightened philosophy of employee relations.

"I have to tell you, I've talked to other businesses that thought I had a few screws loose," Linden concedes.

Nonetheless, Peterson says, "the research really proves this approach affects the bottom line in a positive way. And I think most employers would have their heads in the sand if they didn't realize that they really could do better if they adopted some of these practices."


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