Canada is the first country to have a national standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace. Learn the history of how this came to be.
Psychological health and safety helps ensure your organization is effective in managing human resources. It can also contribute to a healthy bottom line. The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard) states, “Psychological health and safety is embedded in the way people interact with one another on a daily basis and is part of the way working conditions and management practices are structured and the way decisions are made and communicated.”
Putting the Standard into action is much more than checking boxes. It is a “plan, do, check, act” process of continual improvement, similar to occupational health and safety. These resources can help you reduce the time and effort needed to get started.
Guiding principles of the Standard
Clause 1.3 of the Standard outlines the guiding principles. The following is a brief synopsis:
- Following legislation and regulation is a minimum requirement
- Responsibility for psychological health and safety is shared by management, employees and union where applicable
- Mutually respectful relationships are foundational
- Everyone has a responsibility for their own behaviour and choices
- Senior management must walk the talk
- Employees at all levels should be involved in planning and implementation
- How might this impact psychological health and safety of employees? – This is a question that should be asked of every plan, policy, decision and process.
- Those in leadership positions should be competent to lead in a psychologically safe way
Employees at all levels should be involved in planning and implementation
Resources to help
To align with the principles outlined in the Standard, consider looking at psychological health and safety as an integral part of all your operations. For example, embed psychological health and safety protocols at every stage in the employment life cycle such as hiring, training, promoting and redeploying employees. Policy recommendations for psychological health and safety can help you with this.
The Standard includes clauses 4.2 Commitment, leadership and participation, 4.3 Planning, 4.4 Implementation, 4.5 Evaluation and corrective action and 5.0 Management review and continual improvement. The free resources and approaches provided in each section below can help you with:
- Commitment, leadership and participation. Ensure your approach to psychological health and safety is communicated throughout the organization. Specific messages for leaders, unions, middle management and employees are included.
- Identifying existing workplace initiatives. You don’t have to start from scratch. Strengthen and build on existing initiatives to improve psychological health and safety in the workplace. Identify existing policies, programs, procedures and opportunities for improvement.
- Planning. Resources and strategies to help set a baseline and develop a plan for action. Align your plans with organizational goals and objectives to get the broadest buy-in.
- Implementation. Based on your plan of action, you can choose among the many ideas and resources offered to meet your goals.
- Evaluating outcomes. Thinking about how you will measure success in advance and embedding evaluation from the beginning will allow you to track your progress and make adjustments along the way.
- Management review and continual improvement. Consider strategies to engage management in reviewing psychological health and safety outcomes and supporting continual improvement. The National Standard recommends a formal review occur at least every two years.
Where should we start?
There are many ways to begin to improve psychological health and safety in your workplace. Where do we start with psychological health and safety? provides evidence, tips and strategies that can help you get on track, even if your resources are limited.
Every organization is unique and the approach to establishing, documenting, and maintaining a psychological health and safety management system should respect its needs and resources. Helpful approaches and strategies are available at no cost and can be modified to the unique nature of your organization.
Use the Psychological health and safety policy development resources to discuss policies and strategies with decision-makers on your team.
Frequently asked questions
The following are some general questions and answers that help explain the value for organizations in implementing the Standard.
Is this about employee mental illness?
No. The adoption of the Standard is not about assessing an individual employee's mental health. It is about considering the impact of workplace processes, policies, and interactions on the psychological health and safety of all employees.
A percentage of the working population will have a diagnosis of a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. Human rights, labour, and employment law speak to workplace obligations and responsibilities for addressing issues concerning this group of employees, including the duty to accommodate. While a psychologically healthy and safe workplace can be helpful for this population, it is primarily intended to be preventive for mental injuries to the entire workforce in the same way that occupational health and safety systems are preventive for physical injuries and illnesses.
Who’s responsible for employee psychological health?
Many factors, including those that are outside of an employer's control, can have an impact on psychological health. These include factors that are not necessarily related to the workplace such as genetics, personal issues, family concerns or financial challenges.
Generally, each person is responsible for their own health and well-being, whether in or out of the workplace. However, organizations should do no harm to employee health.
An analogy can be found in considering exposure to a chemical in the workplace. If the identified physical risk from the chemical is significant enough, that chemical should be eliminated. If the chemical cannot be eliminated, potential risk should be reduced. Safety training or guidelines may be offered to those whose job requires exposure to the chemical, or new procedures may be put in place to help mitigate the risk of exposure. Even with high risk chemicals, it is likely that not every employee will be harmed, but this does not mean that the organization would not take steps to reduce the risk.
It is just as important to identify potential risks to the psychological health and safety of employees, even though all may not be harmed. Taking steps to eliminate or limit those risks for employees is part of the overall psychological health and safety management system.
Will it open up the proverbial "can of worms"?
The reality is that avoiding or denying issues can allow problems to escalate into serious damage to employee health and productivity.
Taking action to consider psychological health and safety issues can help prevent expensive, time-consuming and morale-damaging situations from arising. In his book Preventing Workplace Meltdown, Dr. Martin Shain cites several legal decisions that have held organizations accountable for not ensuring that managers or leaders had the competence to manage people safely. Had psychological health and safety measures been in place, these organizations may not have incurred the costs of legal expenses, court-ordered remedies, and potential damage to reputation.
While management approaches are part of psychological health and safety, so is the way employees interact with each other. By communicating effectively that every employee has a responsibility for psychological health and safety, you can shift focus away from looking to blame anyone, and instead, consider how each employee contributes and resolves potential workplace issues. This can reduce or eliminate the escalation of issues or opening up a “can of worms”.
Will it create more stress for managers?
Some managers may worry that this approach is aimed at uncovering individual manager shortcomings. This is not the point.
Managing employees can be challenging, especially in times of emotional distress or conflict.
Management style is only one of several factors that may impact psychological health and safety in the workplace. Improving professional and organizational effectiveness is part of the overall implementation of the Standard.
Could it violate employee privacy?
The Standard does not focus on any individual employee. Rather, it is intended to help address organizational approaches, strategies, policies, procedures, and interactions that have the potential to impact the psychological health or safety of any employee.
The Standard describes a worker as "a person employed by an organization or a person under the day-to-day control of the organization, whether paid or unpaid, which includes employees, supervisors, managers, leaders, contractors, service providers, volunteers, students, or other stakeholders actively engaged in undertaking activities for benefit to the organization. French: travailleur, travailleuse. [Reference: CAN/CSA-Z1000 (adapted wording) (see Annex G).]" The term "employee" has been used throughout these resources and is intended to include the Standard’s definition of worker.