SUMMARY: A 3-year national research study has been undertaken by the Mental Health Commission of Canada to determine how Canadian employers are using the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. Results will help identify promising practices, formulate programs, and develop educational tools and processes to help more organizations adopt the Standard and to promote mentally healthy workplaces overall.

Join the conversation as we share questions and ideas from our participants and expert panel. Visit the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) website for more information about the Case Study Research Project.

Psychologically safe collective bargaining

July 2015

The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace provides a framework that can be used to help employers and unions work together to create healthier workplaces. This includes recommendations for the establishment of a psychological health and safety management system and joint committees, as well as more collaboration between the two parities. This framework may be helpful in collective bargaining.

Working together to establish a process for conducting negotiations in a psychologically healthy and safe way before bargaining time may make it easier to arrive at a collective agreement in a way that's based on accountability and openness, as well as civility, fairness and respect.

This process should include those who are accountable for the collective agreement and who may want to come together before it is time for collective bargaining to discuss potential issues and concerns. Some of the questions that could be discussed include:

  • What are the essential elements of collective bargaining? What must get done?
  • How contentious or emotional are each of the elements and why?
  • How could these elements be implemented in the most respectful way?
  • What is reasonable behaviour for this type of process and what crosses the line to incivility or disrespect?
  • What would be a reasonable approach to managing what needs to get done?
  • How can we respectfully hold each person accountable to this approach?
  • When can we get together after the bargaining is concluded to review our experience and refine our process?

Understanding the issues may also open the door for offering training in areas such as conflict resolution, coping skills, and respect and civility in the workplace. 

These approaches may be a new way of doing things for the union, employer and employees. Offering these approaches as a pilot to improve the way in which all parties treat one another throughout the collective bargaining process may help to gain support and ultimately result in a more successful outcome.

Additional reading

Union Involvement looks at the important role union representatives play in supporting employees who are returning to work after a leave, or who require accommodation related to mental health issues.

Union Support highlights the many ways a union representative can add value and support to workers to help ensure a successful return to work process.

Improving the ability to resolve conflict in the workplace

July 2015

Maureen Gauci, a mediator who has worked extensively in the areas of human rights and workplaces, recently joined the Mental Health Commission of Canada's case study expert panel call to share her perspectives on conflict in workplaces. She shared that all organizations should be working to create what she refers to as “conflict-competent workplaces”.  She described this as a workplace that:

  1. Understands that conflict is normal and expected.
  2. Provides skills-based training in conflict resolution for employees, supervisors, and managers.
  3. Has internal dispute resolution (ADR) processes and strategies.
  4. Has a conflict management process in place that addresses conflict on a continuum of prevention, from informal to formal structures.
  5. Recognizes when external or outside expertise in conflict resolution is needed.

There are different types of conflict resolution processes to be considered such as:  

  • Intrapersonal: Conflict coaching, negotiation, conflict resolution training as well as those available through EAP, accommodation or mentoring.
  • Interpersonal: Mediation, facilitated dialogue.
  • Team: Group intervention processes, group facilitation, workplace restoration.
  • System: Conflict resolution system design, conflict resolution training, resolution of grievances and human rights complaints, policies, procedures, workplace discrimination awareness, mental health strategies, system re-design.

Gauci also urged employers to pay attention to the potential costs of not dealing promptly and effectively with workplace conflict. These can include lower levels of productivity, higher absenteeism and presenteeism, drains on grievance systems and managers and damaged relationships. Gauci says that these costs could potentially be reduced with approaches that include:

  • Focusing on interests (what is important and why: concerns, expectations, impacts, consequences etc.).
  • Using open-ended questions, which result in collaborative dialogue.
  • Working to resolve conflict at the earliest opportunity.
  • Using external assistance when needed, such as conflict management practitioner, mediator or facilitator.
  • Ensuring that those who will manage a conflict have the depth of training and experience in conflict resolution processes, as well as the support of policies and training related to discrimination, harassment and mental health issues in the workplace. 

This approach focuses on an interest-based process that gets at the heart of what matters to people.

Additional resources

Resolving Conflict provides an example of collaborative dialogue that offers an alternative conflict resolution approach that can be more effective when mental health is a factor.  

A Guide to Resolving Workplace Conflicts is a resource by Alberta Human Services to help clients, learners and employees deal effectively with conflict at work.

Lessons learned along the journey toward psychological health and safety in workplaces

July 2015

Organizations can benefit from the lessons learned from progressive organizations across Canada who have either adopted the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety (the Standard) or are well along the journey of implementing a psychological health and safety management system of their own.

Markers of success for these organizations include:

  • Measurement against original baselines that show noticeable improvements. If the organization sees trends toward improvements, they know they are going in the right direction.
  • The establishment of a psychological health and safety management system. This includes having the system in place and showing improvements in the way business is conducted, as well as how leaders and employees treat one another.
  • Tools and data in place to continuously monitor progress. In addition to looking at baselines, the organization is able to collect enough qualitative data to measure progress and improvements for years one, two and three and, if necessary, beyond. 
  • Committees and processes are in place to collect data from peers and report back. This should include the ability to communicate successes and challenges in a way that ensures ongoing engagement by all stakeholders.

Additional reading

Review other psychological health and safety articles for ideas and solutions from organizations that are leading the way in implementation of the Standard.