APA Center for Organizational Excellence: Good Company

Resources for Employers

Good Company Blog

May 2013 Archives


I had the privilege of spending a few days in Los Angeles recently for the Work, Stress and Health Conference. I had the opportunity to interact with some outstanding professionals, some of which I have known for several years and some I met for the first time at the conference.

I learned a great deal from those who presented, and much of what I learned will be integrated into my own future initiatives and projects. But one thing that left me scratching my head a bit was the repeated emphasis on worker health. Wikipedia defines health as “the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living being.” When we think of health, we typically think of good health as the absence of illness or disease (either chronic or acute). When an illness or disease is present (either physically or mentally), someone could be considered to be in “poor health.”

Yet, when occupational health psychologists discuss the issue of “health,” they are referring to so much more than the presence or absence of disease. They are referring to what would be defined as well-being, “a good or satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterized by health, happiness, and prosperity.” High levels of well-being include, by definition, general levels of health, but it also includes emotional health (happiness) and even success or financial health (prosperity).

I might sound like I’m playing semantics (and maybe I am), but when organizational leaders hear the experts speak of improving worker health, they often assume that means the traditional conceptualization of health, such as weight loss, exercise and nutrition. In other words, they conclude that the best way to improve their bottom line is to offer a wellness program.

Though they can be effective tools for improving bottom line results, wellness programs and even establishing a “culture of health” (often defined as having healthy foods in vending machines, walking meetings and other such health-focused initiatives) are not strategies. They are tactics for improving the physical health of workers.

But here’s the struggle. Wellness programs do little to help workers who exist under the oppressive rule of an abusive supervisor. They are inadequate when it comes to helping workers manage work overload, especially when their work demands interfere with their ability to effectively participate in other aspects of their lives. They do little to help workers feel valued for their contributions to organizational success. And they seldom result in promotions and career advancement.

So, while a wellness program may be a great tactic for targeting worker health, that program will fall miserably short of improving an individual’s overall well-being, which involves so much more.

For organizations, this means you have to have a strategy, one emphasizing the development of a workplace that fosters (or at least does not detract from) overall worker well-being. It should not start with the implementation of a wellness program; it should start by taking a long hard look at the culture, structure and business practices of the organization to identify where those important contextual factors are enhancing or detracting from worker well-being. It should include an assessment of a range of well-being factors (including health). And it should result in a multi-faceted approach that leverages a host of psychologically healthy workplace practices to effectively improve worker well-being.

Exercise can be a good way to relieve stress that we experience from an abusive supervisor, work-life conflict or poor working conditions. But wouldn’t the organization and its employees reap greater rewards if abusive supervision, work-life conflict and poor working conditions were eliminated? Then, exercise could be used to enhance health rather than to simply maintain it (or keep it from deteriorating even more).

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/donshall / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


A panel of experts met with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to discuss employer wellness programs in a meeting last week that was open to the public. Panelists urged the Commission to issue official guidance on how to avoid discrimination in organizational health and wellness programs; specifically regarding the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Guidance from the EEOC on discrimination issues would make it easier for employers with wellness programs to comply with GINA, the ADA, the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Discussion points addressed during the meeting included the urgency to officially define “voluntary” participation in wellness programs and the need for employers to provide reasonable accommodation and adjustment of standards (or waivers) in wellness programs for disabled persons, as well as the consideration of employees protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Also discussed was the need for EEOC guidance on whether employees’ spouses should be asked for health information under an employer’s wellness program and how this would be protected under GINA.

As panelist Leslie Silverman, a partner with Proskauer Rose, LLP and former EEOC vice chair put it, “Wellness programs as a component of employer-sponsored health insurance are here and here to stay.” According to recent research by Aon Hewitt, 83 percent of organizations surveyed offer employees incentives for participating in wellness programs. Nevertheless, since employers still have questions about incentives and financial penalties, guidance from the EEOC may help organizational leaders, HR and benefits specialists structure reward systems in a way that ensures equal opportunity for all employees and avoids disparate impact.

Fifty-nine percent of organizations recently surveyed by Towers Watson expressed interest in expanding financial incentives to include employees’ spouses by 2014. Although including spouses in wellness programs can be an effective way to engage employees and family dynamics are an important factor to overall health and sustainable behavior change, organizational leaders and managers still have questions about the legal ramifications of collecting health information from employees’ spouses. Panelists asked the EEOC to weigh in on this.

Jennifer Mathis, deputy legal director for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health highlighted an important take away for organizational leaders – when it comes to wellness programs, ensure that your communications reach all employees, including those with disabilities who may require alternate forms of communication, such as American Sign Language. This key point underscores the tenet of our healthy workplace model – in order to be effective, it’s important to consider the specific needs and preferences of your workforce and tailor communications accordingly.

After testimony and rounds of questioning from the Commission to the panelists, the meeting concluded with Commissioner Chai Feldblum of the EEOC stating that “not having clarity and certainty from the EEOC is not fair to either employees or employers” and that this meeting was the beginning of a process. Feldblum further stated that she believes “it is an obligation on the EEOC as [they] interpret laws to be cognizant of the entire body of law that’s out there, even if that’s not an easy situation.” It is now up to the EEOC to decide whether or not to issue guidance with regard to employer wellness programs and discrimination issues.

Click here to read a Society for Human Resources article about a recent case (Seff vs. Broward County) mentioned by Mathis in the meeting, about an employee who sued their employer over participation in a wellness activity. You can also access more information about the EEOC meeting, including the video recording and panelists’ written testimonies on the EEOC website. Written comments can be submitted to commissionmeetingcomments@eeoc.gov (please note that all comments submitted may be made public, so do not include any personal information you do not want posted on the EEOC website).

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/emzee / CC BY 2.0

Couldn’t make it to our 2013 Work & Well-Being Conference in Chicago last month? Never fear, we’ve aggregated the Twitter postings from the event, below. Here's what people were chirping about...

Stay tuned for other goodies from the conference, including photos, online sessions and more.


Have you noticed that organizations have some employees who are a drain on the workplace while other employees are very effective at promoting the well-being of the company? Did you ever wonder how to improve motivation or promote resilience in the workplace? Are you clear about how to nurture the relationship with existing customers or attract new customers?

These questions, and many others, are questions about human behavior. Psychologists are dedicated to studying and understanding human behavior. So why don’t more businesses have psychologists on their boards of directors?

The board of directors sets policy, represents the owners of the company and oversees the operations to ensure that the company is working up to its potential. To be successful, organizations need an effective board of directors with a diverse set of skills. It is necessary to understand the financial picture of the organization. The legal and regulatory environment must be understood. Marketing and public relations for the organization are key to its success. It is also necessary to be effective in directing and motivating employees, as well as dealing with customers.

Most businesses have a board of directors that includes accountants, lawyers and business development experts to help them to address financial, legal and marketing issues that are a part of the day to day functioning of the organization. I believe that a psychologist should also be on every board of directors to address human behavior, something that is critical to business success.

There are a multitude of issues that come up within the workplace that require a good understanding of human behavior. It is essential to focus on goodness of fit, including getting the right people in the right places within the organization. Executives and managers need to understand human motivation. Conflicts arise and need to be resolved. The organization must strive to promote and support excellence in performance. In a stressful business environment, workers must have the ability to be resilient. There are workplace behaviors that will contribute to the bottom line, but others that will interfere with good outcomes. It is important to promote the behaviors associated with positive outcomes while limiting the negative behaviors. Having a psychologist on the board will help ensure that these vital workplace issues are addressed.

There are also ways to promote good connections and retention of customers. Human beings need to connect on both emotional and intellectual levels in the process of making decisions about accepting what an organization has to offer. To gain a usable understanding of this extraordinarily complex human behavior, it is helpful to have a psychologist involved.

Human behavior is difficult to understand. It is often driven by multiple and contradictory factors that result in actions that are sometimes rational and sometimes emotional. Human beings make systematic errors in decision making. They also can be incredibly innovative, hard working and effective. All of this can be confusing. Yet it is critical to the success of any organization. A psychologist is uniquely positioned to work with a business in addressing and maximizing the potential for working with human behavior to improve the bottom line.

Every company should have a psychologist on the board of directors.

Photo Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Jason_V


If you are a student interested in healthy workplace issues, consider working with APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence on our 2013 Work & Well-Being conference in San Francisco at the Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf Hotel on September 12-13. Students from all disciplines, especially industrial-organizational psychology graduate students, psychology undergraduates, students studying business, HR, nursing, medicine and more will find value in working with us on this engaging conference.

Our Work & Well-Being student volunteers have come away from our conferences with new connections, presented their research in front of future employers, published their writing through our communication channels and more. Below is a list of opportunities for students – see which one is right for you…


If you like to network, consider volunteering your time to staff our conference sessions where you will be responsible for conference registration, handing out name tags, distributing handouts, answering questions from participants about the schedule and sitting in on sessions to make sure they run smoothly. We will work with you to find hours that fit your schedule. Each conference is different, but typically our volunteers work 3-6 hours over two days.


We invite graduate students with research on psychologically healthy workplace topics to submit proposals for presentations at the conference. These will be brief (ten minute) presentations that will be part of a special conference session. Topics can include, but are not limited to: workplace wellness and health promotion, employee involvement, work-life balance and flexibility, employee learning and development, occupational health and safety, job stress, diversity, industrial-organizational psychology, occupational health psychology, management and employee recognition.

Guidelines for Presentation Proposals

  • Proposal must be submitted via email no later than June 24, 2013
  • Proposal must be in Microsoft Word, follow APA format and be no longer than 300 words
  • Please include the presentation title, statement of problem, study design, sample size and composition, measures used, analysis method, results and conclusions
  • Also include a one-page bio with the presenter’s credentials, academic affiliation, education, research and work experience, statement of career goals, mailing address, email and phone number

Presentations will be selected and students will be notified by July 15, 2013.


If you are an experienced writer and interested in covering the conference, please consider writing a newsletter article or blog post. We will work with you ahead of the conference to go over your topic and discuss interviewing our presenters. In general, our articles and blog posts should follow these guidelines:

  • 500-800 words 
  • Tone and style blend psychology and business writing
  • Use headings breaks, short paragraphs and clear/concise language 
  • Provide links, bibliographic information, and primary sources for any and all cited content – we need to be able to access exactly what you’re citing 

Suggested perspectives and other tips:

  • Connect presentations to the categories of psychologically healthy workplace practices (employee recognition, employee involvement, health and safety, employee growth and development, and work-life balance)
  • Discuss sessions as they relate to key issues of employee well-being, productivity, communication, organizational outcomes
  • Comment on related economic trends and workplace conditions
  • Read past issues of the Good Company newsletter
  • Access blog posts

The deadline for submitting articles/blog posts is September 27, 2013.


For those of you who are active on Twitter and interested in tweeting from the conference, please send us your Twitter handle so we can determine if it would be mutually beneficial for us to work together this way during the conference. You can check out our Chicago 2013 conference tweets by searching the #WWB2013 hashtag. Check us out on Twitter, where we post as @APA_excellence. We are also on LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest and more if you are social media savvy – so pitch us your creative ideas soon so we can formulate a plan ahead of time.


If you are an experienced or skilled amateur photographer with your own equipment and interested in taking photos during the conference and would be willing to release the photos to us, we would love to have your help. Send us a link to your portfolio or flickr page so we can take a peek before signing you up!


In exchange for volunteering for our conference, we will waive your conference registration fee ($399) and you will be able to attend the main conference sessions you are not scheduled to work for free. You will be fully responsible for your travel, hotel stay and miscellaneous costs, like parking, cab fare, although some food and beverages will be provided.


If you are a current student and interested in working with us on our San Francisco conference, please review the opportunities listed above and email us with your name, email address, cell phone number, school name, program/degree expected, date of expected graduation and a commitment to the conference time frame (September 12-13, 2013) and clearly state which opportunities you are interested in and why you are qualified. Once we receive this information from you, we will forward a registration form that must be returned to us in order for you to volunteer. If at any time your availability changes, please let us know ASAP so we may offer your spot to those on the waiting list. Please note that you must be a student to volunteer with us.

The American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence works to enhance the functioning of individuals, groups, organizations and communities through the application of psychology to a broad range of workplace issues. To learn more, please visit: apaexcellence.org.

Additional information about the conference is available online here. If you have any questions, please call our office at 202.336.5900 or email us. We look forward to hearing from you!

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/footloosiety / CC BY 2.0



  • Bookmark and Share

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

April 2013 is the previous archive.

June 2013 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.