Protecting the mental health of isolated workers

Learn strategies you can put in place to protect the mental health of isolated workers. 

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Employees that work alone in isolated areas can be at greater risk for mental health concerns and loneliness due to their limited contact with colleagues and separation from their family and friends for periods of time. 

While there are specific regulations to protect the physical safety of isolated and remote workers, it’s equally important for employers to protect the psychological safety of these employees.

Definition of an isolated worker

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) defines an isolated worker as a person who is at work, where they are on their own, or when they cannot be seen or heard by another person. This could include people who work alone, separate of others, or unsupervised. For example, those who:

  • Physically work alone or away from co-workers by enough of a distance that they could not be heard. An example could be shop attendants and security guards. 
  • Work from home or work unsupervised with little to no interaction with co-workers, leaders, or their personal community. An example could be independent contractors. 
  • Travel as part of their jobs or travel long distances. An example could be truckers, sales workers, executives, and social workers. 
  • Work in geographical isolation. An example could be researchers, lighthouse workers, park rangers, mining, and oil and gas workers. 

The CCOHS lays out specific health and safety standards and recommendations for all of these types of workers.

Protecting psychological safety

Geographically isolated workers can be at a higher risk for mental health concerns, then those who return home after work. It’s important to put in place specific strategies to protect the psychological health and safety of these workers.

During hiring process

  • Ensure the psychological demands of the job are accurately detailed in the job description.
  • Ask specific questions in the interviews about coping with isolation – for example, their past experiences, strategies they’ve used and what supports they feel they need. Continue to check in regularly with employees to see how their answers to these questions might have evolved so you can modify the supports provided. 
  • Outline the maximum number of hours, days or time-periods employees are expected to be alone, and what the processes and minimum expectations for maintaining connection with their manager and co-workers.


  • Outline and provide training for all physical and psychological safety protocols and procedures.
  • Ensure the employee has the training, information, tools, equipment, personal protective equipment, and first aid resources they need to feel physically and psychologically safe and able to do their job.
  • Provide training on topics related to wellbeing. For example, on building resilience and social connection, as well as information on the mental health continuum and signs of mental health struggle that signify when it’s time to reach out for support from a manager or mental health professional.
  • Outline supports available to them through any benefits package, including an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP).

Ongoing strategies

  • Train all supervisors in how to recognize signs of mental health concerns and illness, and how they can respond and support employees who are struggling.
  • Schedule regular check-ins that are a mix of voice, virtual and in-person connection. Supervisors should make a point of asking about how employees are doing in terms of coping with stress. Where possible, have employees share coping strategies.
  • Provide ongoing education and training about coping with stress, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, resilience and related topics. Include how and when to reach out for support. Explain and encourage the use of benefits and Employee and Family Assistance Program resources.
  • Create opportunities for connection. Such as, online or in-person social activities, recreation, volunteer initiatives, clubs, networking or mentoring opportunities. 

You may also provide employees with the link to the Perceived Isolation Loneliness Effect measurement tool so they can self-assess how they are doing.

Remember: Employers have a Duty to Inquire when a manager or supervisor notices signs that an employee may be struggling with their mental health.

Additional resources

Contributors include.articlesAlex Kollo Coaching and ToolsMary Ann BayntonSarah JennerWorkplace Strategies team 2022 to present

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