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.

At halfway point, case study researchers weigh in with results

October 2015

This month, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) released the Early Findings Interim Report of the Case Study Research Project. The report documents the progress, as of fall 2015, of over 40 organizations' journey to implement the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard).

The Standard is a voluntary set of guidelines, tools and resources focused on promoting employee psychological health and preventing psychological harm due to workplace factors.

As a stakeholder in both the implementation of the Standard and the mental health of Canadians, the MHCC launched the case study in 2014 to better understand how workplaces are implementing the Standard.

The organizations that are currently participating in the study represent unionized and non-unionized, public and private, and small, medium and primarily large employers in seven provinces. The majority of participants are from healthcare, government and education sectors.

The report notes that the case study includes a disproportionately low number of small organizations that may be reflective of the challenges these employers face in addressing workplace mental health. Participation is also lower in sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, construction, retail and natural resources. 

Throughout the case study, which wraps up in early 2017, approximately 250,000 employees from the participating organizations may be impacted by implementation of the Standard.

The Standard is a map, not a destination, emphasized one of the lead researchers on the project, Dr. Merv Gilbert of the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA), Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University. “Most of the participants were already engaged in psychological health and safety activities of some kind,” said Gilbert. “Participating in the case study has helped these employers in charting their route for implementation of the Standard.”

Their participation, he added, provides invaluable benefit to other organizations that are at earlier stages or perhaps haven’t started. “All of the case study organizations have led the way by the actions they have already taken. Now we can begin to assess, through their shared experiences, what has worked and what hasn’t,” he said. This information will continue to be made available throughout the case study project. The Final Report will be released by the MHCC in March 2017. 

The high-level results at this halfway mark indicate that the majority of employers care about doing the right thing to protect the psychological health and safety of their workforces. “While still important, we found that the business case for implementation of the Standard rests on more than just dollars and cents,” said Gilbert.

Case study interim findings

  • Participating organizations have achieved 65% of the specified elements in the Standard
  • 90% of the participating organizations noted “Protecting the psychological health of employees” as the top reason for implementing the Standard, followed by “Right thing to do”, cited by 85% of the organizations
  • “Manage costs” and “Reduce liability” were lower in the list of reasons given by organizations for implementing the Standard
  • Organizations increasingly use sources of data such as absenteeism rates (74%), employee assistance program utilization (85%), and short- and long-term disability rates (72%), etc., to assess employee psychological health
  • 80% of participating organizations have reviewed/updated their policies to include psychological health and safety in the workplace and 67% report having a policy statement focused on psychological health and safety
  • More than 60% of the participating organizations are taking actions to create respectful workplaces, enhance psychological health and safety knowledge among workers, support work-life balance, provide stress management training, and build resilience among workers.

Facilitators of success

Circumstances or factors that have acted as a catalyst for some organizations to manage positive change related to implementation of the Standard include:

  • Leadership support and involvement
  • Adequate structures (e.g. Occupational Health and Safety or Wellness Committees) and resources
  • Size of organization
  • Large organizations are more likely to have existing internal resources, infrastructure, and key data
  • Small organizations may lack resources, relevant data and infrastructure, however are typically more in touch with the workforce and able to respond more quickly
  • Awareness of the importance of mental health
  • Existing processes, policies and programs to support employee psychological health and safety
  • Previous experience with implementation of corporate initiatives similar to the Standard
  • Connection with other organizations with similar interests and experiences related to workplace psychological health and safety.

One employer quoted in the report said, “If we achieve a real cultural change in [our] organization, this will become integral to who we are.”

According to Gilbert, this isn’t a one shot approach and some organizations have encountered some barriers along the way to implementation. “This included such hindrances as significant organizational change or mergers, inconsistent leadership support, lack of evidence regarding employee knowledge about psychological health and safety, inconsistent data, and inadequate resources,” he said.

Promising practices others can use

Other Canadian organizations can learn from what the case study participants have discovered, such as the value of:

  • Communicating to employers and other stakeholders the organization’s motivations for implementing the Standard and their commitment to workplace psychological health and safety
  • Establishing sustainable leadership commitment
  • Establishing clear protocols for identifying and managing psychological hazards
  • Partnering with relevant stakeholders
  • Incorporating evidence from research and industry best practices into action planning
  • Evaluating employee knowledge about psychological health and safety
  • Considering psychological health and safety in preparation for organizational change
  • Building organizational capacity for evaluation of psychological health and safety initiatives.

Gilbert said that there were some surprises. “Some of the concepts and language, such as excessive stress and critical instances for example, were interpreted or understood differently by some people,” he said. This underlined the need for clear communication as well as education for all employees throughout an organization. 

A surprise for participants, he said, was that many found that they were doing a lot better than they had thought when it came to protecting the psychological health and safety of their employees. “What’s really exciting is that many of these employers are still striving to do more and do better,” he said.

The Canadian experience in implementing the Standard has received a lot of international attention from countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., Sweden and others. “The world is watching us,” said Gilbert.

Source: Case Study Research Project: Early Findings Interim Report. Mental Health Commission of Canada (2015). Ottawa, ON: Mental Health Commission of Canada. Retrieved from: mentalhealthcommission.ca.

Additional Information

Promising Results of Using the Standard - Now at its midpoint, the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC) three-year Workplace Case Study Research Project provides some interesting early results of the over 40 organizations’ journey to implement the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. Download the presentation

Watch the webinar video Features Dr. Merv Gilbert, Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA), Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, and Jen Gorman, Employee Benefits Coordinator-Marketing, Belmont Health & Wealth.