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If you have been in the workplace for a while, chances are good that you’ve had a job you didn’t love.

The research we discuss today will help you understand what was lacking in that employer.

If you currently run a company or lead a team, you need to know these 5 things.

For almost 20 years, the American Psychological Association (APA) has been doing research on organizations to identify the most essential building blocks of psychologically healthy workplaces—The Center for Organizational Excellence.

In their years of study, they have distilled 5 essential practices to create the best workplaces.

As a leader, you can use these principles to supercharge your organization or team. Without them, you will be severely limited—and the odds are good that your morale, engagement, and productivity will suffer.

The APA defines a psychologically healthy workplace this way:

“A psychologically healthy workplace (1) fosters employee health and well-being (2) while enhancing organizational performance and productivity.”                  

Here is my definition in the form of a question—As a leader, how can you help employees do what they do best every day while pursuing their dreams, AND meet the organizations highest goals at the same time?

With very few exceptions, when you help employees win—the organization wins too.

The 5 Things

Employee Health and Safety: This might seem like a no brainer, but unless your organization is military or law enforcement, people need to know they will be safe at work. Like Maslow’s hierarchy, this is a required foundation. But growing research also highlights that employees need psychological safety as well. This means that people need to feel like they can share unpopular opinions and also that their shortcomings won’t be used against them. It is also the job of the leader to eliminate toxic gossip that undermines psychological safety in a team.

Employee Involvement: The most basic principle of Organizational Development is this—People are more likely to get behind an idea they helped to create. Your team members need a voice in the decision-making process. Leadership expert Patrick Lencioni says that “reasonable people don’t need to get their way every time, but they do need to know their ideas have been heard and understood.” It might be important to create regular forums or channels by which employees can give input.

Another key principle of leadership that applies here is that the leader may need to define the end result they want—while allowing the team member the freedom to find a creative way to get there.

Work-Life Balance: Numerous recent studies have shown that our hyperconnected age has blurred the lines between work and home life. If you don’t help set a culture where you demonstrate that employee’s personal lives are important, you will burn them out fast. And your team cannot thrive and be burned out at the same time. If they thrive, your organization thrives.

By all means, demand excellence and results from your team—but make sure you also model what it looks like to disconnect and recharge. As the leader, it is your job to set the tone and pace on this. Make sure have things outside or work that bring richness and meaning to your life.

Employee Growth and Development: Top employees want to gain mastery at skills that matter. They want to know they are on a trajectory toward being the best in their field. They might even want to take on greater leadership opportunities. If you don’t provide these avenues for them, you won’t keep them. And the most progressive companies help people develop in their not just in their professional lives, but in their personal lives as well. They help them grow as professionals, and as humans! Some companies will even provide resources to help employees improve their marriages, parenting skills, physical health, and financial competence. What would our world be like if our future workplaces all looked like that?

“Train your people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough they won’t want to.” –Sir Richard Branson

Employee Recognition: Here is the simple truth—people who feel unappreciated leave. Find regular ways to recognize people. A great strategy is to highlight stories that support the culture you want to create. Be creative and consistent. The APA recommends having a structured way to do this in order to really promote a vibrant work culture.

If your team or organization has been struggling with turnover, absences, or lack of employee engagement, the chances are good that one or more of these 5 elements are missing.

Turn information into action

Here are some questions for reflection:

  • How can you provide more professional growth opportunities for your team?
  • What systems could you use to elicit more input from your team members into organizational decision making?
  • How do you regularly ensure you recognize and appreciate people?
  • What is the evidence that you model a healthy work-life balance? Do you reward employees who do this?
  • How could you improve physical or psychological safety in your workplace?

Have a great weekend.


*If you have enjoyed Parker’s blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast that Parker co-hosts. We interview successful leaders and discuss research-based principles that help people win in the workplace without compromising the things that matter most—relationships, a life of purpose, and health.

Suggested resources:

  1. APA Division of Psychologically Healthy Workplaces—Center for Organizational Excellence

  1. The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team—Patrick Lencioni



Dr. Parker Houston

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a board-certified Organizational Psychologist and Leadership Performance Coach. His personal mission is to improve the way people live and work by helping them apply science-based strategies for personal, family, and workplace leadership—in that order. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
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