We all know the statistics: one in five Canadians will experience a mental health illness in their lifetime and 30% of the short- and long-term disability claims are attributed to mental illness.

Employee mental illness presents challenges for employers: a decline in workplace productivity, increases in absenteeism and presenteeism, and higher group benefits costs—even risk of litigation.

Clearly, there are many reasons for employers to establish a psychologically healthy workplace, as outlined in the new standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (CAN/CSA-Z1003-13).

A psychologically healthy workplace is defined as one that seeks to prevent harm to employee psychological health—including in negligent, reckless or intentional ways—and promotes psychological well-being.

“While today we are talking about a voluntary standard, I’m personally of the view that it will become a legislative standard,” said Krista Hiddema, co-founder of e2r Solutions, on Tuesday at an Employee Assistance Program Association of Toronto event.

The recent release of the DSM-5 (the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) may also affect employers. Hiddema pointed out that one of the criticisms of the edition is its expansion of what falls under psychological illness. For example, now bereavement is included. “Claims could go up because of new definitions of psychological illness,” she said, adding that this idea of “everything is an illness” will become a little frustrating for employers.

The arguments
To ease the frustration, employers should establish a psychologically healthy workplace. And there are three strong arguments for doing so.

First, there’s the moral issue. Protecting an employee psychological well-being is a key element of being a responsible employer, Hiddema said. “A huge portion of our lives and self-esteem comes from our workplace and how we’re treated in the workplace.”

The financial argument almost needs no explanation. According to the Centre for Addition and Mental Health, the total cost of diagnosis and undiagnosed mental health illness in Canada is estimated at $51 billion annually.

Finally, there’s the legal aspect. According to a report by the Vancouver Board of Trade, there has been a 700% increase in the number of court-awarded settlements due to mental injury in the workplace since 2004.

But while there is still no legal obligation for employers to do anything (this is a voluntary standard), Hiddema couldn’t stress enough the importance of taking action.

“Being proactive and getting ready now will reduce litigation,” she said, “and you’re getting ahead of the curve.”

The P6
The standard actually provides help for employers on how to implement a psychologically healthy workplace by following its P6 framework. This six-step process—policy, planning, promotion, prevention, process and persistence—is “an extension on what your organization’s likely already doing,” she said. “And because this is a voluntary standard, there’s nothing stopping you from doing just P1 [policy] and P6 [persistence].”

Hiddema left the audience with a simple message: do something. “Just because you can’t do everything, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything.”

To download the standard, click here.

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Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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