Why are Canadian employees less happy than they were a year ago? More importantly, what can business leaders and others do to create a better workplace for Canadians?

Recently Workplace Options (WPO) released the findings from its global “Psychological Safety Study,” which revealed a list of issues employees are dealing with in Canada and eight other countries. The value of the data for executive teams is that it was derived from actual conversations between Canadian employees and WPO clinicians, essentially providing an on-the-ground look into the barriers to psychological safety.

Ranked in order, the issues Canadians are confronting: “Concerns with daily work activities” (tasks and actions ranging from workload and unclear objectives to conflicting tasks and lack of autonomy), “Job performance” and “Conflict of values/ethical climate in the company” (instability/unpredictability of an organization or when values/beliefs do not align with the organizational culture).

WPO’s clinician-driven findings correspond to ADP Canada’s monthly Happiness@Work Index, which shows that Canadians are less happy than they were a year ago based on varying levels of engagement due to work-life balance, recognition, compensation and career advancement. The ADP Canada study also revealed that Millennials are the “least happy generation at work,” only slightly less happy than Gen X and Gen Z.

When employees use words like “conflict,” “concerns” and “least happy” to express sentiment, organizations and their leaders must find ways to re-engage workers who are clearly unsatisfied, particularly within the larger context of a difficult economy and lingering post-pandemic challenges. What is critical in this environment is to nurture psychological safety and make it an integral fact of Canadian workplace ethos.

WPO’s extensive research on psychological safety underscores its direct impact on organizational success. Findings from the research demonstrate that fostering a culture of psychological safety is essential for unlocking employees’ full potential and driving business performance. In Canada, where diversity and inclusion are celebrated as strengths, creating psychologically safe workplaces is more than a business strategy – it is a reflection of Canadian values.

For organizations just beginning their culture-first journey and others navigating a bumpy path, a sure course centres on the power of individual leaders to engage teams and colleagues. Canadian leaders, known for their collaborative and inclusive approach, have a unique opportunity to leverage their influence in fostering psychological safety at all levels. By setting the tone for workplace culture and creating an environment where employees feel safe to voice their ideas, concerns and feedback, leaders can empower their teams to thrive.

However, fostering psychological safety isn’t solely the responsibility of the C-suite. Employees play an essential role in facilitating a culture of trust, openness and respect. By actively listening to their colleagues, offering support and encouragement and embracing diversity of thought, employees can contribute to a workplace where everyone feels valued and empowered to succeed.

What WPO sees globally among its 83 million lives under care is an increasing amount of stress afflicting employees at every level. One challenge, despite recent progress, is the persistent stigma regarding mental health. For many people, fear and unease with the topic leads to less willingness to access resources for them or their families.

Any executive who wants to cultivate a psychologically safe workplace can put resources behind the effort to destigmatize mental health. By prioritizing education and awareness initiatives, they can promote health literacy and launch conversations on the topic. Normalizing discussions around mental health and well-being, organizations can create an environment where employees feel comfortable seeking support when needed and are empowered to prioritize their mental health.

WPO saw this firsthand with one of its clients in the liquefied natural gas industry where 4,500 people lived and worked on-site with no mental health service or resources available there. WPO created a holistic mental health program which provided around the clock support, and two counsellors, one educator and a program coordinator at the location.

Since the program began, the client has seen more than a 250 per cent increase in on-site counselling utilization. The care for the whole family also led to educational program attendance jumping from 355 people monthly to 765 in less than a year. When surveyed about the mental health initiative, 98 per cent claimed they were helped and 99 per cent believed that the company made the “right decision” in providing the service.

The data about workplace issues and program success is valuable. But the full value is measured in providing clients with insights that lead to action. In other words, there is a clear link between psychological safety and tangible bottom-line benefits. For example, prioritizing a healthier workplace leads to employee retention, customer satisfaction, enhanced innovation and overall profitability. This culture leads to heightened levels of commitment, motivation and initiative, ultimately driving enhanced innovation and higher productivity.

Inclusive leadership is one answer in nurturing psychologically safe workplaces and creating better environments for employees to thrive. Leaders themselves must exemplify behaviours that promote openness and trust. Tomorrow’s best executives in the culture-driven workplace will be able to foster an environment where employees feel secure in taking risks and exploring innovative solutions to their most pressing challenges.

By all measures, Canadian employees are struggling with a myriad of concerns that mirror what is seen around the world. What is fundamental is the notion that doing things the same way they used to be done won’t get organizations or humankind to the place where they can collectively meet their most vexing problems, most of which will require multinational cooperation and the best thinking across traditional barriers.

Based on what employees are experiencing each day, organizations need to view fostering psychological safety as more than a business imperative – it is now a moral imperative. Canadian leaders have a responsibility to create workplaces where every individual feels valued, respected and supported. By embracing psychological safety as a fundamental element of Canadian workplace culture, organizations can unlock their full potential and build a brighter, more inclusive future for all.


Founded in 1982, Workplace Options (WPO) is the largest independent provider of holistic wellbeing solutions. Through customized programs, and a comprehensive global network of credentialed providers and professionals, WPO supports individuals to become healthier, happier and more productive both personally and professionally. Trusted by 56 percent of Fortune 500 companies, WPO delivers high-quality care digitally and in-person to more than 83 million people across 113,000 organizations in more than 200 countries and territories.

Contact us today to learn more about creating a psychologically safe workplace for your organization: www.workplaceoptions.com/ca/contact-us/

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