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Firms Honored For Fostering Mental Health

March 31, 2006
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Great River Health Systems names a sandwich in the cafeteria each month after an employee who performs an exceptional act. IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center gives employees tools for finding elder care. ARUP Laboratories offers workers a free on-site health clinic. These are among the practices that helped a handful of organizations win "Psychologically Healthy Workplace" awards this month.

The American Psychological Association, the award sponsor, argues that attention to matters such as worker recognition, health and safety, and work/life balance do more than just help employees’ mental health. "Many employers now recognize that the key to success lies in their own workforce and understand that employee health and well-being and organizational performance are inextricably linked," Russ Newman, executive director for professional practice at the APA, said in a statement.

This is the first year the APA has given out national psychologically healthy workplace awards. Six employers won, including West Burlington, Iowa-based health care provider Great River Health Systems, computing giant IBM’s research operation located just outside of New York City, and ARUP Laboratories, a clinic and laboratory based in Salt Lake City. The other three were Versant, a Milwaukee-based marketing communications firm, the Comporium Group, a Rock Hill, South Carolina-based communications services provider, and Green Chimneys School, a New York-based facility serving emotionally disturbed children.

IBM, whose Watson Research Center employs about 1,600 people in New York State, was credited for a commitment to the "whole employee" and programs such as self-managed work teams, health screenings and immunizations. "By empowering employees and treating them with dignity and trust, IBM is able to attract and retain top-quality talent," the APA says.

As a company overall, IBM has cut some U.S. jobs while hiring overseas in recent years. Fear of being "offshored" looms in the minds of many technology professionals, but IBM has tried to offset this anxiety. Two years ago, the company launched a $25 million retraining program in the face of overseas competition. "Employees can continue developing their skills to meet the needs of the marketplace," IBM spokesman Todd Martin says.

At Great River Health Systems, a not-for-profit organization with 1,600 employees, workers developed the customer service philosophy. Employee representatives also meet regularly with company leaders to discuss concerns.

The APA called attention to Great River’s recognition programs, including the service "hero" of the month sandwich honor. One went to a nurse who drove 30 miles after her shift to take medications to a patient who’d left them at the hospital, says Craig Borchard, Great River’s director of public relations.

Great River’s award stems from an effort launched in 1999 with the construction of a new hospital, Borchard says. Prior to its opening, Great River’s patient satisfaction rates had dipped below the 20th percentile nationally. Now it is in the upper 80s and low 90s, Borchard says. What’s more, the company’s employee turnover rate fell from 12.8 percent in 2004 to 9.6 percent last year.

To continue winning over workers, and therefore satisfy patients, Great River just broke ground on a day care facility for employees. "One of our primary goals is to be the employer of choice in the area," Borchard says.

Ed Frauenheim

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