For just the second time since 2006, the Minnesota Psychological Association recognized a county with its Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award.

Dakota County and its roughly 1,800 employees learned they received the award last month.

"We were excited to be nominated for it," Dakota County Director of Employee Relations Andy Benish said.

Dakota County was nominated by Sand Creek, which administers the county's employee assistance program.

According to PHWA Committee Chair Jenn Pollard, that is not normally how the process works.

"We typically have organizations that apply for the award and they're knowledgeable of the award, where Dakota County was a little bit of a twist where they were actually nominated by another organization," she said.

Benish said the county made employee engagement a priority and the award highlights the continued work the county has done to make it "the place where people want to be."

"It really comes down to leadership commitment, what they're willing to put their energy and efforts into," Pollard said.

The award focuses on five key areas:

• Employee Involvement

• Work-life balance

• Employee growth and development

• Health and safety

• Employee recognition

"The American Psychological Association has done tons of research just to validate that those five areas represent psychological health in an organization," Pollard said.

She described the award - which isn't given out every year - as more of a qualification than a competition.

Part of the assessment is an employee questionnaire, Pollard said, which simply asks how employees feel.

"Those numbers came out really high and really well," she said.

Benish said the county pays attention to employee engagement and regularly asks its employees how they're feeling.

"We want to provide opportunities that focus on the whole person," he explained.

Dakota County Board Chair Kathleen A. Gaylord credited the entire organization for the distinction.

"A lot of it has to do with all the hard work that goes on every day," she said, "and it's nice to see that people recognize and feel proud of the fact that it's a good place to work and you're making a difference."

Benish said the county wants to maintain the work staff members have already implemented with a continued focus on development.

"I think we're a great organization because we have great people," he said.

Dakota County, as a state winner, is eligible to apply for national recognition from the American Psychological Association.