FROM YESTERDAY: The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Conference held in Washington, DC last weekend gave everyone concrete and reliable evidence to make the topic a priority. The conference showed that creating a psychologically healthy workplace means more than promoting good health; it means enhancing both employee and organizational performance.
Now that the case for wellness in the workplace was established in our coverage of Day 1, Day 2 of the PHWPC was centered around making wellness work as a business process.
Stress in the Workplace
From Saint-Louis University, Matthew Grawitch, Ph.D. and David Munz, Ph.D. presented a systematic approach to addressing stress in the workplace. They cited a 2007 public opinion survey that found that
- 74% of workers say that work is a significant source of stress
- 55% report being less productive as a result of stress
- 20% report having missed work as a result of stress
Despite these vivid stats, most organizations don’t effectively deal with the issue and rely on their employee assistance programs (EAP) to do the hard work of picking up the pieces once damage is done.
The comprehensive process Grawitch and Munz propose includes four steps: identifying and reducing stressors, building resiliency, facilitating coping, and providing remediation (EAPs) when all else has failed. Two of their key messages were the following:
- It is often the little nagging stresses more than the overarching issues that cause the most damage. Eliminating stressors can therefore be both easier and more impactful than imagined. Reducing stress is often a matter of getting the conversation started, and taking proper (simple) action.
- Stress happens when the demands of the workplace do not match a worker’s capabilities, resources or needs. In trying to reduce stress, institutions can look beyond individuals and see what environmental or organizational solutions can be implemented.
Their research also demonstrates that lack of sleep is positively correlated with increased work stress – a finding that won’t surprise those of you who have followed my past articles.
Wellness as a Business Strategy
I also had the pleasure to hear from Tonya Vyhlidal, Med, CHPD and Director of Wellness, Safety and Life Enhancement at Lincoln Industries. This manufacturing enterprise located in Nebraska has included the following formal statement in their core business “Beliefs and Drivers”:
Wellness and healthy lifestyles are important to our success.
This statement is truly an integral part of the Lincoln Industries corporate culture: from employee selection to morning stretching, quarterly check-ups, paid on-the-clock smoking-cessation programs all the way to performance reviews and a yearly mountain climbing trip as an incentive for top performers, this company has wellness covered from all angles.
It pays off! The company spends more than $400,000 per year on wellness, and gets a return of five times that amount. Hank Orme, President of Lincoln Industries, says enthusiastically: “We’d like to get a return like this in anything that we did because the return is extraordinary!” For more info on Lincoln Industries’ approach to wellness, check out this YouTube video (also below).
Work-Life Balance or Work-Life Fit?
Cali Williams Yost, MBA, led a workshop in which she explained that work-life flexibility is a global strategic success strategy. Reminding us of the numerous snow storms that have slowed down business in the North East of the US over the past several weeks, Yost argued that organizations that support flexibility were least affected because employees were better equipped to work from home. Yes, work flexibility is a process aimed at bringing advantages to employer and employee alike.
As the CEO and Founder of Work+Life Fit, Inc., she insists the term work-life balance is outdated and misleading. It is work-life fit we need more than balance. For example, a Chief Marketing Officer who loves his work as much as he does his family including fully grown kids has a different work-life fit than a Chief Marketing Officer who is a single mother caring for her young children and aging parents. The different scenarios don’t make each individual better or worse; they simply highlight different realities.
Yost also explained that flexibility is not a “mommy-at-work” concern. In her experience, males and single people have a harder time finding the right work-life fit than women or married people do. A counter-intuitive finding that is worth thinking about!
Last but not least, she insists flexibility should not be treated as a perk that is granted or discontinued at will. “When it’s an ongoing conversation with periodical reviews, it’s much easier for everyone to understand and accept changes,” says Yost.
The conference concluded with the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards, presented by conference chair, David Ballard, Psy.D., MBA. This year’s winners are Advanced Solutions, American Cast Iron Pipe Company, Leaders Bank, Tallahassee Memorial Health Care and Toronto Police Service. Congratulations to all winners and honorees, but also to all participants and contributors!
All in all, I found the PHWPC to be a much needed, highly informative, quite inspiring and beautifully realized event. See you there in 2011?
Matthew Grawitch, David Munz and Tonya Vyhlidal courtesy of Marie-Josee Salvas Shaar, David Ballard courtesy of APA Practice Organization.
YouTube Video Cited:
Marie J – I always find these conferences interesting. A common theme pedalled is minimising stressors in the workplace. Which makes sesnse as there are huge consultancy opportunities around organisational chnage.
But what about the research suggesting resilience is just as important.I have staff who work for me who have the cushiest job in the world – and claim to be stressed. Yet othere who have every right to be stressed jut get on with it.
What do you think?
Building resiliency is indeed important, Wayne. The presenters I heard highlighted this fact too, so we are all in agreement.
But I’d like to bring up another idea. Above and beyond the need to build resiliency, I think in many cases, we should re-think our relationship to stress. Namely, saying we are stressed (and so feeling stressed to avoid cognitive dissonance) is often glamorized. As if our stress level meant we how much we are needed and important. It enhances our feeling of contribution and self-worth, somehow. In the case of your cushy employees, it could even be a strategy preparing for their next salary increase request! This is a mindframe that I disagree with, but observe all the time! A lot of people wear their stress as a badge of honor. So maybe it is not just resilience we need, maybe it is our relationship to stress that needs to change. Thoughts?
Thanks for getting the conversation started!
I absolutely agree with the notion that work-life balance is out-of-date. When I think of work-life balance I think of a teeter-totter and constantly trying to balance each of the sides. Not too easy or realistic. I tend to speak about work-life integration. I like the idea of work-life fit. It really is different for each of us, given our situations. Thank you for sharing this summary.
Thanks for chipping in, Val!
Someone in the audience challenged the presenter with the same question you’re bringing up, namely whether work-life integration is a better term. Cali responded that she prefers fit, because she’s worked with quite a few clients who insist on keeping their work and personal lives separate. To these people, the idea of integration is so unattractive that they can’t see past the term and open up to the concept. Hence, she chose to use work-life fit instead.
Funny how much language can turn out to be such a big issue, right?
Great info. I would love to attend this conference next year. When and where is the 2011 conference going to take place. Maybe I am looking in the wrong place, but I have not been able to find it online.
Glad you enjoyed the info, Tandrea! The conference is usually held in Washington, but I don’t think specific info for 2011 is available yet. That would explain why you can’t find it. But if you want to be one of the first people to be in the know (and get more valuable content throughout the year), you can signup for the PHWP newsletter. See their website here: http://www.phwa.org/