Orion Associates was featured in the July 2009 issue of Twin Cities Business magazine, in recognition of our organization’s having received the Psychologically Healthy Workplace award from the Minnesota Psychological Association. Orion Associates was one of three Minnesota companies recognized for “paying attention to employees’ mental health.” Specifically, Orion was noted for its volunteer efforts and for its human resources policies and practices.

The text of the article is as follows (Note: The order of the companies featured in the article has been changed):

Rewarding Psychologically Healthy Companies

The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards recognize companies for paying attention to employees’ mental health.

July 2009, by Matt Holland

It stands to reason that employees who are happy, healthy, and mostly unstressed would make a high-quality work force. But how do you create a company culture that contributes positively to employee mental health? At a time when many businesses are laying off workers and cutting benefits, some local companies are improving productivity, lowering turnover, retaining talented employees, and minimizing missed work days by fostering a psychologically healthy workplace.

The Minnesota Psychological Association (MPA) awards companies that provide a healthy environment for workers with the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards each spring. Winning companies can also be nominated for the national awards administered by the American Psychological Association.

Dr. Jack O’Regan, dean of the college of psychology and behavioral sciences at Argosy University’s Eagan campus, is the chair of the MPA’s psychologically healthy workplace committee and one of the judges for the program. Applicants, which can be self-nominated or are recommended by MPA members, complete an extensive application and questionnaire. If chosen as finalists, they must submit to an employee survey and site visit. Each year, the MPA has awarded anywhere from zero to five awards, depending on the quality of the submissions.

Entrants are judged on elements that are present in a psychologically healthy workplace: employee involvement, work-life balance, employee growth and development, health and safety, and employee recognition.

“A psychologically healthy workplace fosters employee health and well-being while enhancing organizational performance, thereby benefiting both the employees and the organization,” O’Regan says.

Stellar Volunteerism

Orion Associates, a Golden Valley–based provider of finance, human resources, and training services, was one of the five recipients of the Minnesota psychologically healthy workplace awards in 2008, and was nominated for the national awards by the Minnesota Psychological Association. Orion’s Rivers of Hope initiative provides storm-ravaged communities with food and other donations, mental health information, and volunteers to deliver supplies.

The firm paid dozens of employees their regular salaries for volunteering to help raise funds, load tractor trailers with supplies, take 10 trips to New Orleans to help with Hurricane Katrina relief, and provided similar services after Hurricane Gustav hit New Orleans last year. Orion employees also made trips to Rushford, Minnesota, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to help with flood relief. Employees participate in fundraisers to defray their expenses for the trips, and Orion covers some costs.

The company has benefited from the teambuilding aspect of the work, according to Orion CEO Dr. Rebecca Thomley, a clinical psychologist. Thomley volunteers with the Red Cross and she formed Rivers of Hope after volunteering in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Orion also offers regular staff trainings for stress management and other topics, bonuses for employees who quit smoking, and on-site childcare, says Stephen Hage, chief administrative officer at the company. The firm also allows employees to bring pets to work, a practice that may increase productivity and creativity and can stimulate employees to work longer hours.

Happy Workers

A recent survey by glassdoor.com, a Web site that tracks worker salaries and benefits, found that 40 percent of employees would be willing to take a pay cut, and 34 percent would be willing to take unpaid time off if it was necessary in order for them to retain their jobs. So why, in this economy, should employers devote time and resources to fostering a psychologically healthy workplace?

Consider this: The average turnover rate among this year’s five national psychologically healthy workplace winners is just 11 percent compared to a typical turnover rate of 39 percent. An average turnover rate is hard to ascertain, O’Regan says, mostly because it varies widely by industry. But he says that a drop of just a few percentage points in turnover rates can save companies a significant amount of time and money on finding, hiring, and training new employees.

Health and safety programs significantly reduce health care costs and missed work due to sick leave. There are many ways to increase the psychological health of your work force without spending a lot of money. For instance, allowing employees to telecommute can save on real estate expenses. O’Regan points out that simple initiatives such as suggestion boxes, an employee-of-the-month program with a parking space, or volunteer-led yoga classes can all provide an inexpensive boost to employee morale.

Healthy Hive

St. Paul–based Beehive PR also won a 2008 psychologically healthy workplace award. “The MPA specifically called out our organization’s transparency, both in financials and organizational/culture development,” says Lisa Hannum, president and CEO. In particular, Beehive was praised for its annual whole-company meeting, where every employee can weigh in on business decisions.

Hannum is a strong believer that Beehive’s psychological-health initiatives are worth the effort. “We have had zero percent attrition over the last 18 months, while attracting top talent from the largest PR firms between Chicago and the Twin Cities,” she says. Beehive also offers a comprehensive wellness program, health club discounts, flexible schedules, and has tripled its professional development budget for 2009. Hannum attributes her company’s growth in part to employee stability and happiness. Beehive’s net income from fees was $2.2 million in 2008, an increase of 49 percent from 2007.

A psychologically healthy workplace can benefit both your work force and your bottom line. But it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Small improvements, such as providing the rationale for certain business decisions, flexible work schedules, or allowing pets to accompany employees to work can cut down on stress and create a positive atmosphere. Quality work environments will always attract talented workers, and retaining those individuals is more important now than ever before.

To learn more about the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards, go tohttp://www.mnpsych.org/

This article was published originally as “Psychologically Sound Superstars” in the July 2009 issue of Twin Cities Business on page 101.

Matt Holland is a former editorial intern at Twin Cities Business.

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