Commitment, leadership and participation for psychological health and safety

How to ensure the approach to psychological health and safety is documented and communicated throughout the organization. Specific messages for leaders, unions, middle management and employees are included. 

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The section Commitment, Leadership and Participation (4.2) in the National Standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace asks that “Management shall ensure that the responsibilities and authorities related to the [Psychological Health and Management System] are defined and communicated throughout the organization”. The following can help with this.

Participation and engagement

People are more likely to be committed to participating in psychological health and safety initiatives if:

  • They understand what's in it for them.
  • Their fears about potential changes or required effort are addressed.

Effective communications can help engage both labour and management in supporting psychological health and safety in the workplace.

Examples of messages to adapt for your organization:

  • Our organization is committed to protecting the health and safety of all employees. This includes psychological health and safety. We are embarking on a new initiative to improve our health and safety management approach and consider the psychological health and safety of all employees in every facet of our operations.
  • This is an organization-wide program, involving all employees. Everyone has a role to play and we’ll be asking for your help. This might include: 
    • Assisting us in identifying approaches, policies, or processes that can support psychological health and safety in our workplace
    • Providing your input with respect to areas of improvement
    • Commenting on areas where we are already doing well
  • Rather than focusing on individual mental health, this initiative focuses on how our organizational policies, processes, procedures, and interactions affect our employees' psychological health and safety. For those who have specific mental health needs, please access resources through our (insert specific resources – e.g. occupational health, wellness, human resources, Employee Assistance Program).
  • Senior management and the union (if appropriate) are committed to building psychological health and safety into all aspects of the organization's operation.
  • This initiative is a priority for the organization, and accountability will be built into the process at all levels. This will be a thoughtful and measured approach to ensure that the outcomes improve the psychological health and safety of all employees.

If possible, begin by obtaining commitment from the most senior leadership in the form of strategic policy direction. A written directive from a senior leader that supports the development of a psychological health and safety management system can help ensure that all stakeholders recognize the commitment to the initiative.

An example of a detailed policy statement

Psychological Health and Safety in Canadian Healthcare Settings

Provided with permission of the Canadian Healthcare Association.

Senior leaders

Ensure all senior leaders are aware of the legal, ethical and economic benefits of a psychological health and safety management system.

Review Psychological health and safety cost benefits for more information.

Sample key message to senior leaders

According to Dr. Martin Shain, an academic lawyer (see Additional resources below for some of his work), emerging case law is increasingly holding employers responsible for providing a psychologically safe workplace. In addition, research shows that a psychologically healthy workplace can be, on average, more profitable and have higher rates of employee loyalty.

Psychological health and safety statistics are also available.

Reviewing 20 Questions for leaders about psychological health and safety is one way of helping senior leaders to become aware of the issues and potential solutions.

Union representatives

Where a union exists within an organization, it is important to have their engagement and meaningful participation early on in the process as they will be pivotal to the ongoing success of psychological health and safety in the workplace. Also, see Union and management cooperation.

  • Recognize that worker well-being is a shared responsibility between unions and management.
  • Strengthen union/management relationships by taking a collaborative, positive approach to psychological health and safety.
  • Leverage union involvement to help sustain a psychologically healthy and safe workplace.
  • If you are complying with the Standard, ensure union buy-in and participation as part of the implementation.
Sample key message to union representatives

The primary goal of implementing a Psychological Health and Safety Management System is to help protect worker psychological health and safety by addressing organizational and environmental factors. Union participation is critical to its success. We encourage union leadership in our organization to play an active role in the planning, implementation and evaluation of this initiative.

Employees

Obtain commitment from employees through participation in a collaborative process. This is critical because psychological health and safety is impacted by the way employees interact on a day-to-day basis. Things to consider when creating a key message to share with employees:

  • Address employee skepticism. Were there past initiatives that failed? Are there challenges with relationships between managers and employees?
  • Be clear the approach is about improving the organization’s health and safety management system, not about addressing their personal health concerns. Ensure employees know this is not about obtaining private medical information or assessing their mental health.
  • If there are issues, turn the focus toward solutions rather than blame. One way to achieve this is to ask leaders to step up and take responsibility for any existing or recent challenges, even if they were not involved in the conflict or the cause of the problem.
  • Get employees involved. An entire series of workshop materials is available to explore each of the psychosocial factors with your team.
Sample key message to employees
  • This initiative is not about your personal health status. It is about our organization's impact on the health and well-being of all employees.
  • To help ensure our policies reflect our unique dynamic, we’ll be examining our existing processes and how they support positive organizational culture. This will include how employees best work together and support one another. If you had an experience of being supported by a fellow employee that you are willing to share, please email that to (insert contact information).

Middle management

  • Recognize the day-to-day efforts of middle management that are necessary to ensure a healthy and safe workplace.
    • The Psychologically Safe Leader Assessment helps leaders learn strategies to address psychological health and safety at work. It also helps leaders with communication, social intelligence, fairness, and problem-solving.
  • Provide support and resources to help motivate leaders to participate and contribute.
  • Recognize leaders' concerns about engaging their employees in discussions about psychological health and safety. This may include worries about pushback, negativity, time commitment, unreasonable demands, or concern that the discussion is outside their expertise.
    • On the agenda is a series of free workshop materials and facilitator tools to address psychosocial factors. Create an action plan with your team to improve psychological health and safety.
Sample key messages to middle management
  • Managing employees can be challenging, especially in times of high demand, emotional distress, conflict or trauma. An effective psychological health and safety management system can provide information and support to help you address these issues. This has the intent and potential to reduce your own workplace stress.
  • Our managers have done their best to resolve workplace issues, including conflict, performance, productivity, accommodation, and employee distress. We now have new information that can help support a new way of addressing these issues. Over time we’re hoping this will improve the comfort level of our managers while reducing their stress and increasing effectiveness. This is all part of initiating a psychological health and safety management system. We look forward to collaborating with all of you as we strive towards supporting you in providing a psychologically healthier and safer workplace.

Additional resources

Weathering the Perfect Legal Storm – A Bird's Eye View by Martin Shain, S.J.D. | PDF

Weathering the Perfect Legal Storm – Analysis and Commentary by Martin Shain, S.J.D. | PDF

An update to the seminal Tracking the Perfect Legal Storm report, Weathering the Perfect Legal Storm describes the evolving legal duty for employers to provide a psychologically safe system of work in the context of the voluntary National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.

Contributors include.articlesDr. Martin ShainMary Ann Baynton

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