How do you remake a workplace to promote strong employee mental health?
If you’re Lisa Hannum, president and CEO of Beehive, a small St. Paul-based PR firm, you start with yourself, making key adjustments to the way you run your business — and live your life.
“I really understood that if our company was going to change for the better, the change had to start with me,” Hannum said. “And I had to commit to what these changes needed to be personally.”
Hannum, who launched Beehive as a “strategic boutique shop” in 1998 after a career in public relations and corporate communications at Carmichael Lynch, and Bozell, saw the need to improve her company’s support for the emotional well-being of its employees.
“It was 2010,” she recalled. “We were mid-economic recession. Like everyone else in the industry, we were experiencing fast and continuous change. We knew that the changes we were seeing were going to be permanent shifts that were going to be the new normal when businesses started to come out of the recession. We needed to adapt in order to stay healthy as a company.”
To respond to what she anticipated would be an eventual cultural shift toward leaner, more employee-centered workplaces, Hannum wanted to create a company with a portfolio of unique benefits that would draw valuable, balanced workers — and offer existing employees an environment that supported loyalty and positive emotional health.
First she looked within, working with business consultant Maryanne O’Brien, founder of the Minneapolis-based business development firm Live Dynamite.
“I focused on every aspect of energy: physical, mental, emotional,” Hannum said. “My well-being needed to be front and center.” Personal changes that Hannum eventually adopted included getting more sleep. (“It’s made a huge difference for me,” she said.) She also improved her eating habits, and, “broke a really impressive Diet Coke habit.” She also meditates every day, and taught herself to “cycle” her work patterns, focusing her attention and energy in concentrated bursts interrupted with breaks for movement and conversation.
O’Brien said Hannum deserves kudos for her commitment to seeing the change through in all aspects of her personal and business life.
“Lisa said, ‘I want to create a culture that supports people and I want to keep developing our talents,’ ” O’Brien recalled. “Business owners know that attraction and retention of the right people makes business grow and thrive. It is not easy work. It comes through personal development and growth and a wiliness to invest in yourself.”
Once Hannum made improvements to her own emotional health, she began working with senior staff to make changes within the larger company designed to promote the emotional health of all employees.
The company’s mental health improvement efforts — which included an office remodel, featuring a meditation room with wireless barriers, free weekly yoga classes, a monthly professional development sessions led by O’Brien, cardio workout space and a café with free fresh fruit and other healthy snacks, also extended to workplace policies like flex time, access to high-quality technology and generous PTO.
Efforts bring award
This spring, Beehive’s efforts were acknowledged when the company was honored as one of five top workplaces in the country at the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 10th annual Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards. The award was presented March 14 in Washington, D.C. Other winners included Beach Cities Health District, Hilltop Community Resources, LaSalle Network and Team Horner.
Hannum is proud of this distinction. The company applied for the award, and was evaluated through an APA-administered review process.
“The APA award is no beauty contest,” Hannum said. “It is the most credible workplace award we know of. The selection process is rigorous. There is a thorough application. There are interviews. They come in and talk to our leaders, clients, employees, partners. The APA takes this seriously.”
David Ballard, director of APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace program, stressed that the independent evaluation process for candidates is involved and lengthy. “This is not just a vanity award,” he said. “The APA feels like we have to do a thorough assessment.”
Practical business decision
Hannum is aware that these changes in her company could be viewed cynically, like a flippant nod toward an increasingly picky pool of potential employees, used to workplaces that offer all the comforts of home.
Beehive’s changes go much deeper than that, she insists. It is not just a remake of the ’90s –era dot-com trends like free roving shoulder massages, department talent shows or “bring your dog to work” policies.
“This is not a superficial strategy,” she said. “We didn’t just say, ‘Let’s bring in a ping-pong table,’ It’s not that at all. And this is not a ‘draw in the millennials’ strategy, either. It is being driven by a 50-year-old woman: Me. We’re way past the millennials.”
So far, the changes appear to be having the desired effect. Two years into the company remake, Hannum said, “Our revenue grew 41.5 percent last year. Our employee retention rate was at 80 percent, which is higher than the national average. We’ve added three new people. We’ve been able to draw them from impressive organizations. Our sick days were at an all-time low.”
Ballard said that APA was pleased with Beehive’s combination of positive culture shifts and business performance.
“Beehive is a great example of actions being driven by the culture of the organization,” he said. “This is not just benefits for the sake of benefits, and their performance numbers back this up.”
On a personal level, Hannum said she wanted to create a workplace she felt happy about going to every morning.
“I wanted to work in a place that is built on strong, positive energy,” Hannum said. “This business it is very personal to me. I wanted to find joy in my work, and I hoped others would, too.”