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Kelly C. Doherty/MEDILL

Employees at ATI Physical Therapy’s Lincoln Park location talk about why their company is a winner as a psychologically healthy place to work.  ATI was recently honored with an award from the American Psychological Association.

Healthy work environments give companies a competitive edge

by Kelly C. Doherty
April 07, 2010

Chart of statistics on psychologically healthy workplaces

Courtesy of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Web site (

Statistics comparing Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award winners to the U.S. average on turnover, stress, and employee satisfaction. (Click to enlarge)

Related Links

American Psychological AssociationPsychologically Healthy Workplace Program

Facts and figures

5 Criteria that applicants are evaluated on for the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards

  • Employee involvement
  • Work-life balance
  • Employee growth and development
  • Health and safety
  • Employee recognition

By the numbers:

  • 74 percent of employees say work is a significant source of stress and one in five has missed work as a result of stress
  • 55 percent of employees say they were less productive at work as a result of stress
  • 52 percent of employees report they have considered or made a decision about their career, such as looking for a new job, declining a promotion or leaving a job, based on workplace stress
  • 52 percent of employees say job demands interfere with family or home responsibilities, while 43 percent say home and family responsibilities interfere with job performance
  • 31 percent of adults experience stress as a result of managing work and family responsibilities and 35 percent cite jobs interfering with their family or personal time as a significant source of stress

Sources: Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program and the American Psychological Association (figures from 2007)


Two Chicago-area companies recently won Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards from the American Psychological Association.   

The awards are based on five criteria: employee involvement, work-life balance, employee growth and development, health and safety and employee recognition, along with an over-arching theme of communication, said Alan Graham of the APA. Psychological health and business can be mutually beneficial, to both companies and employees, said David Ballard, assistant executive director for marketing and business development at the APA.  

Leaders Bank, headquartered in Oak Brook, won one of the five main awards.  Sara Mikuta, chief financial officer, said the bank had employee health and wellness in mind from the beginning. When Leaders Bank opened 10 years ago, “we hired a social worker,” to come in and help with team building and strategies in order to provide a psychologically healthy environment for employees, Mikuta said.  

ATI Physical Therapy, based in Bolingbrook with locations in five states, received a Best Practices Honor for its Get Fit employee-led wellness program.  The Get Fit program helps to create a “team spirit” among employees as the different offices hold friendly competitions to meet their health goals, said Lisa Gutierrez, vice president of human resources. This program, along with open communication, company-supplied healthy snacks, and schedule flexibility help ATI to live by their motto of “our work, our life, our balance,” Gutierrez said.    

Mental health in the workplace can affect customer service and client interaction.  Brian McKenna, director of counseling at OMNI Youth Services, a former award winner in the northwest suburbs, said health and wellness at his company means counselors and other staff can better serve the youth they work with.    

“Taking care of employees takes care of the bottom line,” said Jennifer Thompson, associate professor of the business psychology department at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.  

In addition to keeping employees satisfied, motivated and able to manage stress, a psychologically healthy workplace can result in higher productivity, lower health costs and turnover rates, and an increase in morale, Ballard said. Businesses that are run from the top down, with little employee involvement and a lack of acknowledgment for employee needs and life demands do not provide a healthy work environment, he said.   

Successful companies “understand the value of people in their success,” said Jerry Halamaj, a senior manager and consultant at Valtera, a company that provides professional consulting services, including employee engagement surveys.   

Over time, Ballard said, more organizations “have come to understand that link.”    

Companies that provide a psychologically healthy workplace also have a better chance of overcoming obstacles such as a recession. With more satisfied and productive employees, these companies will have a “competitive advantage” in the market, said Ballard.   

Mikuta said that during these tough economic times, her company has been able to weather change better because they have always been transparent with employees, even when making difficult decisions.  

If organizations implement strategies and health and wellness programs when the economy is good, people are better able to understand when changes need to be made, said Matthew Grawitch, chair of the Organizational Studies Program at Saint Louis University and the primary research consultant for the PHWP program.  

A workplace that is not psychologically healthy can have a variety of negative effects on a person.   

“Stress is probably by and large the most detrimental experience that people have,” Grawitch said.  Some results of stress in the workplace include stroke, heart disease, heart attacks, depression, anxiety and sleep problems.  Ideally sleep allows one to recover from daily demands but a lack of sleep decreases the resources a person has to get them through the next day, Grawitch said.  

Leaders Bank’s Mikuta said in the workplace, and in her industry in particular, people can’t avoid stress, but a psychologically healthy work environment gives them the tools to cope with it properly.  

Ballard said there is no one way to create a psychologically healthy workplace and that any type of organization can do it.  “It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money,” he said.   

Graham said he hopes other companies will take note of award winners’ successes as examples of strategies and policies that work.     

Halamaj said companies in the Midwest seem to do a good job of providing psychologically healthy workplaces.  There is “generally a sense of caring and doing the right things for employees.”  

The Psychologically Healthy Workplace program originated in 1999 on a state and local level through the APA, with the national program starting in 2006.