*updated Jan.16. More to come later today about the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.

The psychological health and safety (PH&S) of employees deserves the same level of attention as their physical well-being. The new National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, being released today, provides employers with a benchmark to measure improvements in PH&S. These improvements will, in turn, help to enhance employee engagement levels, productivity and the bottom line.

There are a number of reasons why employers should pay attention to the PH&S of their workforce:

  • current and emerging case law suggests that employers have considerable legal responsibility in this area;
  • success and productivity are primarily dependent on psychological rather than physical competencies of employees; and
  • a growing body of research demonstrates the substantial impact of workplace psychosocial risk factors on employee physical and psychological health.

Failing to address these issues increases employers’ risk of escalating disability and benefits costs, disruptive rates of turnover and rising frequency of grievances and litigation.

A psychologically healthy and safe organization is defined as one that promotes employees’ psychological well-being and does not harm employee mental health in negligent, reckless or intentional ways. But the real evidence is in the day-to-day practices and workplace culture. Most of us know whether an organization is psychologically safe and healthy based on our own experience, be it as a staff member, a customer or a client. It is a workplace in which employees clearly want to be there, support one another and truly aim to do good work and make a difference.

Increasingly, Canadian organizations understand this. But many employers are not sure how to build such an environment before first answering several key questions: What are the potential actions I could take? Which actions are most relevant to my organization? Which are feasible in terms of cost and resources?

Psychological Health & Safety: An Action Guide for Employers (co-authored by me and Dan Bilsker from the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health & Addiction at Simon Fraser University) should help to address this problem. The free guide is available to any Canadian organization—public or private, large or small—and offers an overall strategic approach for workplaces seeking to implement a PH&S initiative. It provides concise descriptions of 24 organizational actions, evidence-based and practical, that can be used to enhance psychological health.

For each action, there is an explanation for why it should be considered, how it can be implemented and where employers can find the tools to support implementation. The guide will help employers do the following:

  • plan and implement an effective workplace PH&S strategy;
  • build resilience and good job fit among employees;
  • identify and support employees showing early signs of psychological distress;
  • help psychologically disabled employees to return to work; and
  • improve communication between employers and the healthcare system.

A substantial amount of research has been done to show the prevalence of mental health issues in the workplace, and to demonstrate that employers that address these issues can reap the rewards in lower disability costs and improved production. While practical tools to help employers adopt a mental health strategy have been harder to come by, the new national standard and the guide should help to bridge that gap.

More to come later today on the release of the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.

Merv Gilbert is an adjunct professor with the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health & Addiction at Simon Fraser University mervgilbert@ gilbertacton.com

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Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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