As we celebrate Canada's 150th birthday this year, we reflect on the Government of Canada's involvement in workplace mental health over the last 10 years.
In 2016, after years of speaking out on the need for the Government of Canada to have a workplace mental health strategy, Bill Wilkerson, founder of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Mental Health and Addiction in the Workplace, was invited to participate in the Clerk of the Privy Council's advisory committee for just this purpose. He was quoted in the Ottawa Citizen as calling the initiative a "potential breakthrough" for federal employees.
This was a tremendous shift for the better and a huge difference from years prior when Wilkerson had publicly labeled the federal workplace as the "worst of the worst" and Ottawa as the "Depression Capital of Canada".
At that time, there had been ample evidence of high levels of chronic stress and depression among federal employees. The 2012 Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX) Work and Health Survey found that about 32 per cent of the government's executives were disengaged from their work and struggling to deal with their job demands. Yet even while this was being reported, the federal government had already stepped up to be a funder in the development of the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety (the Standard), which was launched on January 16, 2013.
On January 13, 2015, almost two years to the day that the Standard was launched, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the union for many public servants, proposed that the federal government and union implement the recommendations of the Standard and "work together to identify what may be psychologically harmful in the workplace, and implement practices that support and promote good mental health." On March 27th of the same year a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Treasury Board of Canada and PSAC stated that they would review "the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and identify how implementation shall best be achieved within the Public Service; recognizing that not all workplaces are the same." They struck a working committee that consisted of representatives from both labour and management.
Sari Sairanen, National Health and Safety Director for Unifor, was asked by
PSAC to sit on the working committee as someone who had served on the
Technical Committee for the Standard. She said, "There was a clear
commitment from both sides that they wanted to get this right and to ensure
that the Standard was implemented in the best way possible for everyone
involved." She added, "I felt great pride in our government for this
François Legault, also a member of the Technical Committee and once a public servant himself, is hopeful about the future of employees of the federal government. "I've made numerous presentations on the Standard to large senior and middle manager groups within the Public Service. The interest and motivation to act is there," he said.
So to Bill, François, Sari and others whose voices have been raised to help change employers like the Government of Canada from being "worst of the worst": let's all say, "Happy birthday, Canada. You're not getting older; you're getting better."