Psychologists urge firms to mind employees’ mental health

//June 14, 2007

Psychologists urge firms to mind employees’ mental health

//June 14, 2007

To run a successful company, an employer has to look out for a precious asset — its employees.

Studies conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) show that developing a psychologically healthy workplace produces better profit margins and cuts down on absences and turnover. There are useful resources and tips employers can incorporate into a company to foster a psychologically sound environment.

“Strong hiring practices set the stage. Hire people that fit their (employers’) culture and personality,” said Ross DeSimone, chairman of the Business Partnership Committee of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association and managing director of the Corporate Psychological Resource Center in Royersford, Montgomery County.

To find out more about job applicants, employers should use pre-employment studies and tests, DeSimone said. After suitable employees are chosen, employers should make sure the company has a mission in which the people they hire believe.

“Objectives should be clearly stated and understood, and there needs to be consistency in good, open communication between all parties,” DeSimone said.

Leaders should be sensitive to how words and actions affect employees, Simone said. Employees who are upset don’t produce at an optimum level. Last year, employee stress caused a loss of $300 billion in American industry, according to a report from the APA.

“An employer should be sensitive to the work/life balance. If a company expects an employee to be dedicated at the expense of their family and outside life, it will erode at employee satisfaction,” DeSimone said.

Harrisburg-based PinnacleHealth System and Hanover HealthCare Plus will be recognized for dedication to maintaining a healthy psychological environment at PPA’s annual Business and Psychology Day June 28 at the Hilton Harrisburg. Both companies will be given the Psychologically Healthy Workplace award.

PinnacleHealth strives to keep lines of communication open and offers development programs to managers and employees, said Leslie Shatto, director of employment and labor relations at Pinnacle.

And to promote safety and security among its employees, PinnacleHealth formed its Critical Incident Stress Management Team about five years ago.

“It was put together by a group of psychologists to support employees after a traumatic event, such as the death of a child in the emergency room or if there is an employee death, they will work with co-workers to help employees adjust and move on,” Shatto said. “It’s a huge asset for our staff.”

The team of psychologists helped PinnacleHealth employees deal with the shooting tragedy that took place May 18 at Holy Spirit Hospital’s Medical Arts building. The team is available to all 5,000 of PinnacleHealth’s employees, Shatto said.

Hanover HealthCare Plus has a similar resource available for employees through its Employee Assistance Program. A group of counselors and a chaplain are there to help troubled employees, said Gerry Post, director of educational services at Hanover.

Hanover is in the midst of an initiative focused on excellence in customer service. The company views employees as customers, too. And through its School of Excellence program, it helps workers develop work/life skills and helps them with conflict management, Post said.

Hanover created an employee-orientation program a year ago that focuses on service excellence and identifies the company’s mission and vision, core values, strategic goals, teamwork qualities and diversity practices, Post said. Hanover incorporates conferences, symposiums and more to promote psychological well-being.

The benefits earned through this type of concern are crucial for employers to understand, said Camp Hill-based psychologist Pauline Wallin.

Wallin has practiced psychology for 30 years, and in that time, she has counseled employees and employers on the link between business success and psychology.

“Giving people a raise is nice, but the happiness from getting a raise lasts only a few months,” Wallin said. “Showing appreciation and valuing your workers as human beings goes much further.”

The basic assumption is that out of every 20 employees, four to five have mental problems, Wallin said. And more days are lost to stress than other illnesses, Wallin said.

“People think it’s long hours or the type of job that causes stress. But the truth is a job at McDonald’s can be just as stressful as being a CEO,” Wallin said. “It’s all about how your employee feels about their job. If you love what you do, you don’t want to go home.”

Another, often unreported problem employers should be on the lookout for involves bullying at work. Bullying happens up and down the chain of command. It causes stress and can cause employees to call off from work, Wallin said.

Valuing input from employees is essential, too. All decisions are not up for a vote, but employers should ask for employee opinions, and workers should be involved in decisions that will affect them at work, Wallin said.

“Employers spend money on training and improving skills. But employees should be assigned jobs they are good at,” Wallin said. “You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. Everyone benefits from an employee’s happiness. Involve employees in goal setting. When employees help set goals, they feel more responsible for them (goals).”

To find out how psychologically sound your firm is, take a free company assessment test at www.papsy.org/home/phwa.html.

Tackling employee stress

It is critical for employees to understand the link between success and well-being, observers said. Pauline Wallin, a psychologist based in Camp Hill, shared five steps an employer can take toward realizing a psychologically sound environment in its workplace.

  • View employees as human beings with families.
  • Assume that employees want to do a good job. People feel good when they do a good job.
  • Show appreciation. Acknowledging an employee’s work doesn’t have to include an awards banquet. Small supportive comments are effective.
  • Monitor bullying in the workplace.

    A lot of employee-to-employee and supervisor-to-manager bullying exists under the radar.

  • Keep employees in the loop. If there’s going to be layoffs or other news, be upfront. Rumors can get blown out of proportion. This prevents surprises all around.