May is Mental Health Awareness Month. What does mental health have to do with transportation planning?

As most planners will tell you, transportation planning can be stressful! But at Foursquare Integrated Transportation Planning, Inc. (Foursquare ITP), leadership understands that our workplaces greatly affect our mental health, which encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.

In fact, Foursquare ITP leadership feels so strongly about the impact of work culture on mental health that they’ve encoded this belief into our Four Core Values. These values provide a framework for how we aspire to conduct ourselves in our work.

Passion for the Profession

Danelle Carey, Donica McNeill-Taylor, Jerri Norman, Mercy Iyere, Lessie Henderson, Doriann Apice enjoying themselves at a company event.

Many companies talk about providing a healthy work/life balance, but I’ve seen Foursquare ITP embody it through our Core Value of Passion for the Profession. Our staff cares deeply about what we do; Foursquare ITP hires people whose passion is evident.

Since passion is often driven by having satisfaction at work, Foursquare ITP utilizes elements of a healthy work/life balance to enhance employee satisfaction. Our policies include flexible work hours, generous remote working options, and embedding opportunities for employees to use their time off to actually rest and spend time with their families and friends, and, in many cases, our colleagues!

Thus, our workplace culture promotes mental health by promoting rest and fulfillment through non-work activities. This leads to more passionate teammates, which keeps everyone intellectually satisfied—and the cycle continues. These arrangements provide peace of mind for our staff, leaving us with the time and inclination to focus on our work.

Dedication to our Clients

Jack McDowell and Marc Szarkowski at the 2022 TRB Visualization Symposium.
Jack McDowell and Marc Szarkowski at the TRB Visualization Symposium.

Our Core Value of Dedication to Our Clients means clients are our number one priority. However, Foursquare ITP knows that we wouldn’t have satisfied clients without a dedicated staff. While we work hard to serve our clients’ needs, we are also dedicated to maintaining our staff’s needs.

At Foursquare ITP, the people come first. We clearly care about our clients, and one reason for this is that our workplace works for us. For instance, Foursquare ITP provides extensive opportunities for staff to pursue training. Through in-person, virtual, on-demand, and scheduled learning options, Foursquare ITP staff have ample ways to develop their knowledge.

I’ve been fortunate enough to take an online course to help hone my skills in InDesign, as well as in-person trainings about internal software tools and managing client expectations. Additionally, staff at all levels have opportunities to attend industry conferences. We’ve also had all-staff meetings about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and other courses to enhance our project management skills. Through these training sessions, our staff gains abilities to further help our clients. And through prioritizing learning and growth, Foursquare ITP staff gains more confidence in their roles.

Investment in Each Other

Another Foursquare ITP Core Value is Investment in Each Other. This is manifest in our compensation and additional benefits. We love our health and dental care plans that are no-cost for employees (something I’ve never experienced at any other company). The stated benefits above—flexible work schedules and generous PTO—are also proof that we care about the wellbeing of our colleagues.

And while it’s true that we work hard, we also have plenty of opportunities to play hard! Our staff celebrates birthdays and anniversaries regularly, hosts game and trivia nights, and attends picnics and parties with coworkers. Once a month, we also take a company-wide break for snacks—anything from pies to empanadas to cookies as large as my head! I know that, at least for me, food always equals a happier mental state.

Positive Outlook

A very large cookie during a company-wide snack break.

Our final Core Value is Positive Outlook, which helps with maintaining a healthy mental state. Foursquare ITP leadership is conscientious about offering ways to encourage positivity.

We’ve offered mindfulness breaks, for example. Staff can log in to various mindfulness activities during their working hours, including guided meditation. While I personally haven’t taken time to meditate, I take comfort in the fact that my colleagues who want to take advantage of meditation not only can, but feel empowered to do so.

On a broader scale, Foursquare ITP staff are encouraged to block out their personal calendars to work on any necessary tasks (or attend to personal matters) so that we have large chunks of time that are uninterrupted. This not only helps us complete our work, but it creates a sense of ownership of our time, which lessens our stress levels, thereby improving mental health.

Mental health, of course, involves more than being satisfied at work. There are things no employer can control, such as serious mental health issues like anxiety and depression, or outside stressors like family life. However, we are grateful that during Mental Health Awareness Month and throughout the year, we work in an environment that actively engages in policies and activities to strengthen our mental wellbeing.