Orion Associates received a “Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award,” presented by the Minnesota Psychological Association, on April 1, 2011, during the Minnesota Psychological Association’s 75th Anniversary Convention in Minnetonka, Minnesota.

The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award was created to recognize organizations that understand the link between employee health and well-being and organizational performance, and have implemented a variety of workplace practices in an active effort to create a positive work environment. Award applicants are judged on criteria including: employee involvement; health and safety; employee growth and development; work-life balance; and employee recognition.

The following is the text from Orion Associates’ initial application to be considered for this award, prepared by Stephen Hage:

Orion Associates was founded on the ideal of excellence, an ideal towards which we continue to strive. As a management services company, we are dedicated to providing the companies we manage with excellent services. As an employer, we are dedicated to providing our employees with a positive, rewarding work experience, truly caring about their professional growth and personal satisfaction. Finally, as citizens of our community and the world, we are dedicated, to seeing beyond mere business interests to the needs others, through our organization’s volunteer and charitable efforts and through our policies which make it possible for our employees to volunteer their time and talents to serve others.

We believe that it is this understanding of who we are and what do as an organization that is the medium by which we become, for our employees, a truly psychologically healthy workplace.

As an organization, we continually strive to make efforts to accomplish the goal of being a psychologically healthy workplace for our employees. Two of the most significant of these efforts include helping our employees to understand themselves as “Leaders in Service” and our efforts to educate our employees in all that we offer to them as an employer through our “Be a Star” campaign.

It has been our experience that when we set the highest standards for ourselves as a company, our employees rise to meet the challenge, taking on leadership roles and ownership in the what needs to be done to achieve the goal, whether it is a goal meeting the needs of our clients, their coworkers or the community. They become the leaders in the making the services possible. They also develop a fuller understanding of the difficultly of changing and improving an organization, and enhance their sense of themselves as leaders as they gain confidence in themselves as they take on the responsibility to struggle to meet the challenges, and share in the pride of a job well done and the recognition that follows. They become better employees and better people, very consciously taking the initiative, as “Leaders in Service” to serve our clients, the community and their fellow employees.

Our company has long offered a remarkable range and variety of benefits to our employees, with the aim of creating for them a psychologically healthy workplace. Our recent “Be a Star” campaign has been an ongoing effort had educate our employees about the benefits available to them, with the goal that they will take fuller advantage of them for their own benefit and the benefit of their families.

Ultimately, we seek to be recognized as an organization for our commitment to programs and policies that facilitate a psychologically healthy workplace because we believe that this recognition will support and strengthen our ongoing efforts as we strive for the ideal of excellence in service to our clients, employees and the community.
In response to Orion Associates’ application, members of the Minnesota Psychological Association visited the company’s offices and met with a group of Orion employees. The following are their notes from that visit:
As one employee put it, Orion has a culture “you can just smell.” Yes, he meant that in a positive way. There were too many positives to list them all. Here are a few.

Orion won the MN PHWA award a couple of years ago They also won the national American Psychological Association’s Best Practice Award for their outstanding efforts around volunteerism. Since last time, despite the current economy, they have added a number of programs that strengthen their workplace. And despite budget cuts, they have continued to grow. Here are some of the programs that we saw during our site visit that we feel should be recognized by providing this award.

Employee Involvement
Orion continues to provide opportunities related to volunteering which are head and shoulders above other organizations. More than 90% of their employees participate in volunteer activities supporting the community. Their volunteer committee plans four major volunteer projects per year and employees and non-employees may choose to participate in. Employees raise money to pay travel expenses and Orion provides paid work time to support those projects. Recent trips have included Haiti and New Orleans.

Employees also receive two personal volunteer days to use as they choose (e.g., volunteer at school, attend a child’s field trip, etc.).

Open door policy: leaders noted the flat organization and the many ideas that have been implemented because of employee recommendations. Employees confirmed that they enjoy the open door policy and the fact that they feel comfortable going to any leader with ideas, questions, or concerns. There is also an anonymous online suggestion process for those not comfortable speaking up.

The volunteer activities help to create a more egalitarian work atmosphere because of working closely on a project or sleeping side by side on cots in Haiti.

There are twenty-five committees that employees can volunteer for to bring about changes in the company.
Work-Life Balance

This is especially challenging because of the nature of the work (social services). In addition, most of the employees are young women – and many are parents of young children. Orion has implemented a number of programs to help employees better integrate work and family demands.

Onsite daycare was implemented in the past year. In addition the offices have always welcomed occasional visits from children and pets as needed.

Company hosts pot lucks that include families, and onsite daycare incorporates parades and other activities within the work space.

Volunteer activities include non-employees, even children. For example, families (including children) go on the trips to New Orleans, Haiti, etc.

Modified schedules and flexibility of work schedules are common (although “work from home” and part time work are not accommodated, yet are wanted by many employees). Employees feel free to leave during the work day to attend school events or take care of personal needs.

The company has reworked call schedule to ensure that employees who are on call can have times where they are “off call” and guaranteed not to be called.

The two personal volunteer days can be used for volunteering for more personally relevant activities (e.g., at school, church, etc)

Employee Growth and Development
The company has worked hard within constraints of decreased state funding to offer educational benefits to employees and clients. Some of this has required thinking creatively about funding. For example, they were able to hire a training director and offer additional training by offering training to other companies or individuals in the community.
The company has also used the volunteerism as an opportunity to allow every employee to take turns leading – in various ways depending on their strengths.

Health and Safety
On site exercise equipment.
“Fruit cart” once per week available with healthy snacks.

Employee Recognition
They have photos of employees EVERYWHERE in their building of volunteer trips and other activities. But they also have framed bios with a photo for every employee in the company hanging in the halls. The employee writes their bio which includes work and personal information about themselves.

As part of their “show your talents” the employees sign up to share a specific talent with others that may be a secret – work related or not.