Mental health is an important part of a psychologically healthy workplace, but the concept is broader than that, according to David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA,
APA’s assistant executive director for organizational excellence.
“A psychologically healthy workplace is one where the
organization puts programs and policies in place that both
enhance the well-being of the workforce and promote
the performance and success of the organization,” he told
participants at the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards
ceremony at the State Leadership Conference in March. He
cited practices focused on employee involvement, health and
safety, employee growth and development, work-life balance
and employee recognition.
Such practices pay off, he added. This year’s award winners
report an average employee turnover rates of just 7 percent
compared with the national average of 38 percent, for example.
Finding ways to nourish employees’ inner work lives is a key
element of a psychologically healthy workplace, said keynote
speaker Teresa Amabile, PhD, co-author of the 2011 book “The
Progress Principle” and a professor at Harvard Business School.
Mostly hidden and unobservable, the inner work life is a
combination of workers’ perceptions about what happens at
work and what it means, their emotional reactions to what’s
happening and their motivation or drive to do their work,
Amabile explained. To uncover the secrets of inner work life,
she and her colleagues asked employees in three industries to
submit confidential electronic diary entries each day for five
The 12,000 diary entries that resulted produced several
lessons, Amabile said. The first discovery was that when
employees reported the most positive perceptions, emotions
and motivation, they were most likely to be creative, productive
and most committed to both the work and being better
colleagues — an effect that carried over to the next day
regardless of how they felt that day.
The factor that contributed most to positive inner work
life, the researchers found, was making progress on meaningful
work. Also important is progress on small, incremental steps.
While it’s important to have big, audacious goals, said Amabile,
“you need to set up incremental goals to get there so that people
Two factors are especially important when it comes to
helping employees make progress, Amabile said. One is
catalysts, including clear goals, autonomy in how to achieve
those goals, sufficient resources, an open flow of ideas,
opportunities to learn from mistakes and sufficient time to
finish the work.
“We discovered that the optimal level of time pressure for
creative productivity is a low to moderate level,” said Amabile.
“There should be enough that people know there’s urgency and
a need for the work but not so much that people have no time
Also important are what Amabile calls “nourishers,” which
include respect and recognition of employees, encouragement
and emotional support and opportunities for employees to get
to know and trust each other.
All this seems obvious, Amabile admitted. But when she and
her team surveyed more than 700 managers around the world
and asked them to rank various employee motivators, progress
in work came dead last.
“We know from our research that progress in work is the No.
1 factor keeping people motivated in their work,” said Amabile.
“But managers don’t understand what a difference it can make
for people to make even small wins.”
Four organizations won 2014 Psychologically Healthy
Workplace awards for having a comprehensive set of workplace
practices designed to meet the needs of both employees and
Helping employees —
and the bottom line
APA’s 2014 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards
celebrate employers making a difference.
BY REBECCA A. CLAY