Planning for psychological health and safety

Use these resources and strategies to set a baseline and develop a plan to create and maintain a psychologically healthy and safe workplace that supports employee well-being. 

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Learn how to set objectives and guidelines for complying with regulations and requirements. Discover how to establish proactive checks and balances and continually identify goals and measures for accountability at all levels.

Planning (4.3), in the National Standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, states, “The planning process is necessary to establish appropriate objectives and targets, and plans to achieve compliance with legal requirements, relevant regulations, organizational requirements, and a commitment to continual improvement”. The following information can help achieve this.

Role of a health and safety committee

Establishing a psychological health and safety management system is the best way protect your workers from psychological harm. According to the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (The Standard), the first step is to develop a health and safety committee. If you already have a health and safety committee in your organization, you can add the following to their list of responsibilities:

  • Workplace hazard identification
  • Psychological health and safety measures

Some organizations choose to create sub-committees to support these topics. Either way, your health and safety committee will play an important role in your psychological health and safety management system and it will be their responsibility to:

  • Ensure the committee’s mandate includes a focus on psychological health and safety.
  • Become familiar with the factors that impact psychological health and safety in the workplace.
  • Be involved in the assessment of the organization’s baseline measure of psychological health and safety and the planning to address concerns. See Guarding Minds at Work for more information.
  • Establish a process to bring forward general workplace psychological health and safety issues.
  • Establish a process for tracking and communicating the results of psychological health and safety-related activities.
  • Establish a process for bringing committee concerns and issues to senior leadership for resolution.
  • Help reduce stigma related to mental illness by supporting initiatives aimed at improving awareness of all staff.
  • Ensure committee members are trained on how to support an employee with a mental health issue or concern. While the focus of the committee’s work is not to address individual employee situations, employees may turn to members of the committee for help with a specific situation, so committee members should be adequately trained to respond appropriately and effectively. This would include referring employees to appropriate resources and maintaining confidentiality.
  • Focus on overall workplace psychological health and safety issues rather than individual employee mental health concerns.
  • Ask committee members to lead by example in contributing to an environment that is psychologically healthy and safe.

Assessment – Establish a baseline

Baseline assessment involves identifying workplace hazards related to psychological health and safety and can include using existing data. To help you begin, consider the following:

  • Protect the privacy of individuals during data gathering and by using aggregate data, rather than individual statistics for reporting.
    • Consider existing data measurements that may include:
    • Turnover rates
    • Numbers of complaints or grievances
    • Disability, benefit, and Employee and Family Assistance Program data
    • Rates of absenteeism
    • Rates of problematic substance use
    • Return-to-work and accommodation data
    • Principal diagnostic categories for short- and long-term disabilities
    • Review of accident and incident reports, employee complaints, investigations
    • Results of organizational reviews or surveys
  • Assess psychosocial factors in your workplace. To help with this, you can use the free resources available in Guarding Minds at Work, which includes tools and guidelines for Assessment, Action and Evaluation
  • The free Sample audit tool highlights what your organization already has in place and what might be needed to meet the requirements of the Standard. Most organizations are pleasantly surprised by how much they have already contributed to a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. (Note: Save the PDF on your computer before you fill in the form to retain the information you enter.)
  • Psychological health and safety policy recommendations helps you review the potential impacts to psychological health and safety at each stage of the employment life cycle.
  • Review relevant laws related to:
    • Human rights
    • Occupational health and safety
    • Violence and abuse prevention in the workplace
    • Labour and employment
    • Employee compensation
    • Standards, codes and guidelines
    • Accessibility for persons with disabilities
  • Look at best practices for your industry or association.
  • Review your existing Employee and Family Assistance Program to maximize its responsiveness to mental health-related issues. Strategies are discussed in Employee assistance programs and mental health issues.
  • Consider relevant scientific research.

Unable to find what you’re looking for? Don’t worry. No organization is likely to have easy access to all the data suggested above. Start by gathering the data that’s available and consider additional data to collect in the future. Compile a baseline report and use this data to track trends as you implement your Psychological Health and Safety Management System. Use this information to adjust your approach or identify opportunities.

Set targets and objectives

There are many strategies that have the potential to improve psychological health and safety in your organization. These may also help to increase employee morale, reduce accidents, injuries and sick days, and may help improve productivity, innovation and creativity. Choosing what’s most valuable to your organization and employees is an important component of planning. To help you begin, consider the following:

  • Identify how you’ll address any psychological safety concerns that may exist, such as bullyingharassmentviolence, or discrimination.
  • There are a variety of ways to choose which psychosocial factors to address first:
    • Areas of strength – this allows you to build on good work already done. For example, a high rating in the area of psychological support may be an opportunity for employees to share how they have felt supported at work. This information can provide examples for everyone on how to contribute to a psychologically healthy and safe workplace.
    • Areas of concern – this may help you to reduce risks first. For example, a low rating in the area of psychological support may be an opportunity to review your accommodation and return to work policy, specifically taking mental health into account.
    • Areas where perceptions of management and employees differ– this may help you identify opportunities for improved communication and change. For example, if management perceives that psychological support is an area of strength but employees do not, you may wish to host focus groups that can help you understand the different perspectives and take action.
    • Obtaining employee input – this can help provide guidance on the psychosocial factors perceived to be most important and shows a commitment to meaningful employee participation. Some examples of participation can include focus groups, staff or team meetings, or other opportunities for feedback and input.

Develop an implementation plan

Once you have completed your assessment and set targets and objectives, it’s time to develop strategies for your implementation plan.  

Strategies can include:

  • Aligning with stated organizational goals or objectives
  • Meeting identified organizational needs
  • Specific tactics and actions related to the targeted goals and objectives
  • Ideas from key participants including a formal planning committee, if appropriate

Be sure to include a detailed communications plan that outlines how and when employees will be informed and engaged. This should include a formal launch of the initiative, ongoing communication and updates, milestones, etc.

Develop a schedule for the measurement, analysis and sharing of results. Build in an approach to continual improvement that uses results to inform next steps.

Consider potential reactions to your plan: (adapted from Guarding Minds at Work)

  • Appropriateness: Is the plan appropriate given the needs and resources of your organization?
  • Acceptability: Is the plan acceptable to all relevant workplace stakeholders, including management, employees, union and clients?
  • Accessibility: Is the plan available and accessible to all relevant workplace stakeholders (e.g. language, physical location, etc.)?
  • Effectiveness: Is the plan consistent with evidence that indicates the intended consequence is what your organization requires?
  • Efficiency: Can the plan be implemented in a cost-effective and timely fashion?
  • Safety: Could the plan present an unintended health or safety risk?

When your plan is complete, it’ll be time to begin implementation.

Strengthen existing initiatives

Most organizations have existing initiatives that contribute to a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. These include wellness, employee engagement strategies, good management practices, conflict resolution approaches, staff social events, training, development, performance support, benefits, etc. Review what you have and then:

  • Brainstorm opportunities for enhancement of existing initiatives with a representative sample of workplace stakeholders including managers, union representatives, workplace health and safety representatives and employees.
  • Broaden or integrate existing initiatives into other areas of your organization.
  • Embed good practice in policies and procedures to help ensure the sustainability of existing initiatives.
  • Establish measures of effectiveness for each of the existing initiatives and set up a process for continual improvement.
  • Expand the feedback loop so that more workplace stakeholders are engaged in commenting on, participating in, and contributing to these initiatives.

Plan for effective evaluation

As you prepare to implement your psychological health and safety management system, it’s important to decide how and what you’ll measure to determine if your plan is making a difference. See also Evaluation planning for psychological health and safety. To help you begin, consider the following points:

  • Decide the purpose of the evaluation. What are the commitments being measured? These could be accountability, quality improvement, specific outcomes, cost-effectiveness, uptake, or sustainability.
  • Determine how you’ll receive input. This should include relevant stakeholders at all levels: corporate decision-makers, supervisors, union representatives, occupational health representatives and employees.
  • Identify short-term and long-term outcomes. Change takes time. Establishing and sharing early wins (e.g. how many participated, what was accomplished) can help improve morale and commitment to the long-term process which you will measure against baseline data.
  • Use short-term outcome evaluation results to modify the plan. These results may indicate what’s working well and what may need to be reconsidered and possibly changed.
  • Collect long-term outcomes and use them to analyze the overall effectiveness of each part of your plan. Longer term outcomes should compare objectives with results, and use baseline data trends such as reduced absenteeism, turnover and conflict and improved employee engagement to help determine the organizational impact of the initiatives.

Set goals and measures for accountability

Setting measures for accountability helps ensure that all stakeholders are recognized for their contribution to a psychologically healthy and safe workplace.

  • Have senior management provide an organization-wide directive for psychological health and safety to be embedded in strategic decision-making and planning. This can be as simple as always asking the question, “How might this decision impact the psychological health and safety of our employees?”
  • Ensure managers understand their role for the achievement of specific psychological health and safety outcomes as part of each annual performance, management and departmental review.
  • Establish positive incentives for managers who proactively address or resolve workplace issues that can also impact the bottom line:
    • Effectively resolving conflict – e.g., watch for those managers who most effectively resolve conflict and ask them to mentor others.
    • Eliminating bullying and harassment incidents – e.g., praise teams that demonstrate working together in a psychologically safe way.
    • Increasing employee engagement – e.g., recognize or reward those managers with the highest employee engagement scores.
    • Improving return-to-work success – e.g., track and recognize those managers who have the highest percentage of successful and sustainable returns to work.
  • Recognize contribution to psychological health and safety in performance reviews and salary incentives. You could ask everyone to report on how they contributed to psychological health and safety in the past year with specific examples. For those who are exemplary, you could have a senior leader personally thank them, have a manager take them for lunch, or some other form of recognition.
  • Recognize a department or team's contribution in achieving psychological health and safety goals. You could offer a team lunch or add their photo to a newsletter when something positive has been reported (e.g. volunteering, raising funds, supporting an employee who is not well, etc.).

Frequently asked questions

When is the right time to initiate the Psychological Health and Safety Management System?

Like other health and safety approaches, this is an ongoing process, but if this is a new approach in your organization, you may wish to consider the following:

  • Employers who wish to recruit and retain talented staff can use the implementation of a psychological health and safety management system to continue to attract, energize and motivate their workforce.
  • If time pressures are a concern, you may begin with looking at only one psychosocial factor at a time, such as workload management. This can open dialogue, identify solutions, and help create an atmosphere for continued improvement.
  • Leading-edge organizations that already adopt a continual improvement philosophy can integrate psychological health and safety into existing policies and processes as these are reviewed or updated.
  • If you’re in a toxic workplace, it’s important to address existing issues of violence, harassment, bullying, or discrimination to help ensure no further harm is done to the psychological health and safety of employees.
    • Accepting responsibility that the working environment is currently difficult while openly recognizing changes are required, can help reduce the need for people to justify or defend their current behaviours or positions. This isn’t about anyone accepting blame for the current situation, but rather it’s about taking a position of responsibility for change. This opens the door to a new way of doing business.
  • If there has been a traumatic incident in the workplace, you’ll need to be sensitive to the current abilities of those affected by the trauma to engage in this initiative. In most cases, supporting psychological health and safety in the workplace could be helpful to the recovery process.
  • If there are current labour disputes, this may not be the ideal time to begin a process where management and the union are expected to co-operate closely. See Union and management cooperation to begin discussions, even through the collective bargaining process, in supporting psychological health and safety in the workplace.
  • If there are impending difficult business issues such as shutdowns, layoffs, terminations or redeployments, the focus should probably be on limiting the risk related to the impact of these issues on employees, rather than beginning a new initiative.
  • Those who are left in the workplace may face increased workplace demands that can make it more difficult for them to also become involved in the development of a new system. This, however, should not prevent the workplace from zeroing in on how the particular psychological health and safety issues currently impact the workforce (e.g. change management, grief at loss of co-workers, increased workload pressures, etc.).

How do I assess how much time is required?

The size and scope of the initial communication and plan development will be relative to the complexity of your organization and the initiatives you choose to implement.

Some large organizations have two full-time employees dedicated to implementing the National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health and Safety. Some small businesses have a group who meet for an hour, once a week to focus on psychological health and safety.

In both cases, it is expected that the amount of time in the first year will be more than in the second year. This is because you’re spending more time on assessment and planning in the first year. By the second year, you’re implementing and evaluating. In the third year and beyond, the time may be less again as you’ll likely be maintaining rather than developing.

As you’re beginning, create larger blocks of time to gather information and assess your current situation. Once your organization has developed a plan, it can be worked on by dedicating a set amount of time on an ongoing basis, even a minimal amount of time such as one hour each week.

*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 workers, supervisors, managers, leaders, contractors, service providers, volunteers, students, or other stakeholders actively engaged in undertaking activities for benefit to the organization." French: travailleurtravailleuse. [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.

Contributors include.articlesDan BilskerDr. Joti SamraDr. Martin ShainMary Ann BayntonMerv Gilbert

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