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.

The power of peer support

June 2015

Some of the organizations that are working toward implementing psychological health and safety in their workplaces have asked how peer support can help. The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) defines peer support as “a supportive relationship between people who have a lived experience in common.” This common experience might be related to their own mental health or that of a loved one.

Stéphane Grenier is a peer support expert, who is a retired Lieutenant Colonel with 29 years of service in the Canadian Military. He is Principal Founder and Lead Innovator of Mental Health Innovations. We asked him to help us understand how peer support aligns with psychological health and safety as well as the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.

Stéphane Grenier
Stéphane Grenier, peer support expert and retired Lieutenant Colonel

Grenier describes peer support as a systematic response that organizations can use to improve psychological health and safety in their workplaces.

“Peer support can be especially effective for those people who are in the ‘7 to 10 zone'. ” This he describes as those who are experiencing mental health issues ranging from stress or anxiety through to addiction and at the top of the spectrum, severe depression with thoughts of suicide. Grenier adds that the 7 to 10 zone covers issues that co-workers normally are not prepared to discuss with others when asked, “how are you doing?” 

“Workplaces are quite effective in supporting people in the lower spectrum, because this doesn't require a methodical response,” said Grenier. “But employers often don't have a solution for engaging employees with mental health concerns in safe conversations about the challenges they might be experiencing. That's what peer support is all about.”

Healing, transformative conversations that people with shared experiences can have provide hope, he said. In addition to providing trusted peers to talk to, this sense of hopefulness can support recovery.

“People in these situations are looking for hope, which is something that doctors can't always provide. Only those people who have been through it and have recovered can do that,” he said.

Grenier cautioned that not everyone with lived experience of mental illness is a good fit to become a peer supporter. “You're looking for people who will have good instincts about sharing a little bit of their own information at the right time, to create emotional resonance for the benefit of the person they're supporting,” he said. “You can tell a person is well enough to provide peer support when they don't feel the need to tell their whole story. At this stage they understand it isn't about them, but rather about the person they're supporting.”

To be successful, some workplaces may need to overcome stigma around mental illness to create a culture where peer support is accepted as a valuable approach to support employees who are experiencing mental health issues.

Recruiting those with lived experience into the peer support program not only provides invaluable support to co-workers, but also helps to address stigma around mental health issues. “This demonstrates that those with mental health problems are valued and are part of the corporate solution to mental health problems in workplaces,” said Grenier.

Workplaces have come a long way in their openness to talk about the mental health of employees and supporting them with information and Employee and Family Assistance Plan services. Peer support takes this a step further, providing a bridge to clinical interventions. “This is a way to support employees between their visits to the doctor,” said Grenier.

Accreditation and Certification

Workplaces should be prepared to invest in ensuring those providing peer support have some training and are supported in the workplace. Fortunately for employers, peer support experts like Grenier have come together to provide rigorous standards for peer support training available through Peer Support Accreditation and Certification Canada (PSACC).

PSACC offers a free comprehensive National Certification Handbook that outlines the Standards of Practice and the peer supporter certification process. The handbook states:

The philosophy of peer support is that each individual has within themselves the knowledge of what is best for them and a strong desire to find a path towards improved health. The peer supporter supports that person as they search for that inner knowledge and re-ignite that hopeful desire. Peer support is based on relationships in which each person is considered equal within the relationship and self-determination is highly respected. It is focused on health and recovery rather than on illness and disability.

Grenier urged employers to review the handbook to determine their own criteria for selecting those with lived experience who are more likely to be successful in the peer support role. He said that the communication used to begin the conversations in the workplace is also critical. “It should begin on the shop floor where you're talking to employees to find out what they want to see in a peer support program. Then you should be setting out the expectations so that those who apply for the roles understand what's required of them,” he said.

In many organizations that Grenier's company has assisted in developing a peer support program, the request for peer support volunteers has resulted in at least double the applicants than could be accepted.

“People want to share their experiences of recovery,” he said. “They want to impart that hopefulness that people with mental illness do get better and succeed.”

Additional reading

MHCC also developed Guidelines and Practices for the Training of Peer Support that was the precursor for the Peer Support Accreditation and Certification Canada standards and practices mentioned above.


Psychological health and safety in large organizations and small businesses

June 2015

Canadian employers of all sizes are taking steps to improve psychological health and safety in their workplaces.

Two psychological health and safety management system implementation scenarios are provided in Annex D of the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety (the Standard) – one for a small automobile repair centre with 10 employees, and the other a large multinational company employing over 10,000 people in locations across Canada.

The two scenarios show that there can be different roads to implementation of psychological health and safety. Surprisingly, similar approaches could work for both organizations because it often comes down to how people in workplaces treat each other on a daily basis. Key differences are related primarily to the ability for small business owners to make decisions quickly and be more nimble in terms of implementation. Larger organizations must typically navigate through more complex layers of decision-making authority, but also benefit from established processes for implementation.

Organizations may start with the similar intentions and goals, but the strategies they implement can vary greatly depending on circumstances and the resources they have available.

Different reasons to adopt the Standard

The owner of the small automobile repair shop wanted to address concerns related to low morale, negative attitudes, and high absenteeism. He turned to the Standard for help in determining effective steps he could take.

Meanwhile, ABC Inc. is the large company that has a robust health and wellness program directed at supporting employees in all aspects of their work and personal lives. Its employees are highly engaged and the organization considers itself effective in supporting a psychologically healthy workplace. It sees adoption of the Standard as a means of remaining competitive in terms of attracting and retaining talent.

Problem recognition

The repair shop owner may want to consider involving his staff in discussions related to improving psychological health and safety at work. He may choose to have a group meeting, possibly in a more relaxed work setting (providing lunch or at the beginning or end of the work day). He can share the various psychosocial factors identified in the Standard and have the group discuss where they think there is room for improvement.

ABC has decided to review its policies, programs, and processes against the Standard to ensure it is competitive in the labour market. ABC will also want to obtain staff input – but its employees are dispersed in numerous different work locations and environments. It could consider using existing committees, employee representatives, and employee resource groups as sources of input and request feedback through questions on an employee opinion survey. It may also want to look at reported concerns or employee feedback on internal intranet or social media sites. The organization could then measure these findings against its existing programs and policies to determine whether there are gaps or issues that implementation of the Standard might resolve.

Similarities

Differences

  • Identify current strengths and concerns
  • Engage employees and obtain agreement

 

  • Small business: Single audience
  • Large organization: Multiple audiences and channels


Policy statement and commitment

The repair shop owner may want to consider developing a written policy statement to set the tone for the workplace that states his company's commitment to both the mental and physical health and safety of its employees. He could find some sample messages and a policy statement to help communicate his plans in Commitment, Leadership and Participation. He'll then need to look at communicating the policy to all employees and taking a leadership role to address any psychological concerns.

ABC has many internal stakeholders whose input is required for the policy statement, as well as numerous existing general policy statements that could be affected. ABC could establish a group of key stakeholders, including Health and Safety Committee members, to review existing policies and programs and develop a statement consistent with the Standard. ABC will be able to use its existing channels to communicate the policy statement to employees.

Similarities

Differences

  • Develop effective policies, programs and services
  • Communicate effectively
  • Small business: New policy statement, leader driven
  • Large organization: Possibly update existing policy, require leader and stakeholder buy-in


Worker participation

The repair shop owner would seek out employee participation by recruiting volunteers for a psychological health and safety committee, having employees elect a representative, or engaging all employees in meetings.

ABC may ensure participation in a variety of ways: by using existing employee committees and representatives; by using existing or establishing new employee resource groups; requesting volunteers for a new psychological health and safety committee; or by using existing internal social media sites to raise awareness and engage employees.

Similarities

Differences

  • Recruiting volunteers, champions or committee members
  • Small business: May need to establish committees or roles related to psychological health and safety
  • Large organization: May have the ability to draw on existing committees, structures and roles


Planning and assessing needs

The repair shop owner will want to determine realistic goals for change and compare those to relevant baseline data (such as absenteeism, conflict and turnover) so he can measure success. He, along with his staff, may be able to determine relatively straightforward solutions to reduce or eliminate hazards. In addition, the owner might find resources to support employees with mental health concerns in his community or online and make these available to staff.

ABC may conduct the needs assessments in a variety of ways such as using any of the tools suggested by the Standard, consulting with an expert or reviewing existing data sources (absenteeism and attrition rates, Employee Assistance Plan use, disability claims, opinion survey engagement results, investigation outcomes, employee ombudsman reports, and so on). Once ABC has identified gaps or barriers, it may determine appropriate and realistic goals for change. For example, if ABC finds high levels of mental health concerns in its workplace, it could develop and implement training programs, tools, and resources for managing mental health issues in the workplace.

Similarities

Differences

  • Establish needs
  • Set baseline data
  • Determine appropriate and realistic goals for change
  • Establish or enhance employee benefits
  • Small business: Seek low to no cost solutions
  • Large organization: More complex assessment and baseline data collection


Implementation

The repair shop owner should consider communicating the implementation plan to his staff in a way that reinforces employee participation and provides staff with an opportunity to become actively involved. He'll need to be careful to protect employee privacy related to any personal or medical information, which can be a concern due to the small number of employees. He can look at engaging staff in selecting specific goals and working together to determine solutions.

ABC must also communicate the assessment findings to its employees. It may use its usual communication channels or develop a specific communication resource for this purpose. If multiple gaps were identified during the assessment process, ABC and its employees will need to consider specific goals to prioritize to address and develop an implementation plan.

Similarities

Differences

  • Involve employees in implementation plans
  • Small business: Faster to implement, limited controls and resources and employee privacy concerns
  • Large organization: More rigorous controls and support mechanisms


Evaluation and corrective action

A review of the program's success in the repair shop may be achieved by asking staff their perception of the plan including successes and areas for improvement, tracking baseline numbers, or using a staff suggestion box to further support employee participation.  

A review of the program's success in ABC may include employee opinion survey results, and all baseline data trends including disability claim statistics, complaint or investigation outcomes, and so on. ABC's internal audit group could be engaged to develop an audit program consistent with the requirements of the Standard.

Similarities

Differences

  • Review and measure results
  • Elicit employee feedback

 

  • Small business: Less reliance on objective baseline data and more reliance on employee feedback and owner observation
  • Large organization: More evidence-based data required to get an objective measure, and more likely to audit or align with entire framework of the Standard


Management review

The repair shop owner will want to consider regular meetings with his committee or employee liaison to discuss suggestions, incidents and receive feedback. He can also commit to an action plan with annual review, based on meeting results.

ABC could ensure appropriate management review by including a summary of the program and its results in existing workplace reporting.

Similarities

Differences

  • Management accountability
  • Large organization: Embedded processes for accountability


Additional resources available to support small businesses:

Strategies for small business owners provides links to tools and resources to help small business owners more effectively address mental health issues in the workplace. 

The Sample Audit tool is a free resource that can help organizations determine current strengths and improvements they can make to support psychological health and safety in their workplaces.

Larger organizations might benefit from reviewing:

How to Use Guarding Minds at Work More Effectively. This free resource can help achieve buy-in and commitment from workplace stakeholders through thoughtful preparation and a plan for assessing and acting on the results. Guarding Minds @ Work consists of a set of self-serve tools to assess and address factors known to impact employee psychological health and safety and evaluate the effectiveness of these efforts.