On January 16, 2013 (5 years ago), the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard) was launched. There are many reasons to celebrate the Standard and to make this the year to begin implementation or continue to support it in your organization.
For many years, the psychological health and safety of employees was focused primarily on employees claiming mental health related disability. However, as public knowledge of mental health and mental illness has grown, so has the importance and business value of protecting and promoting the positive mental health of all employees.
The Standard was born out of a need to provide employers with a set of guidelines and strategies that could help promote employees' psychological well-being and actively work to prevent harm to their psychological health. With over 30,000 downloads of the Standard worldwide so far, it is likely that thousands of organizations across Canada are using the guidelines to help keep their employees psychologically healthy and safe.
The Standard isn't about evaluating or monitoring individual employee mental health; rather, the Standard is used to assess how organizational policies, processes and interactions in the workplace might impact the psychological health and safety of all employees. It focuses on the factors that are within the influence and responsibility of the employer.
Applying the Standard in a workplace can help maximize employee potential and contribute to a healthy bottom line. It is can also help prevent or reduce the impact of psychological injuries to the entire workforce, just like occupational health and safety systems are preventative for physical injuries.
There is much that can be accomplished once commitment within the organization has been gained. Psychological health and safety is not, however, the exclusive responsibility of senior leaders. Every person within a workplace has the potential to impact the psychological safety of every other person. We see this especially with critical situations such as bullying or harassment, but it can also manifest in more routine situations such as conflict, shunning, or disrespect. Organizations of any size can raise employee awareness of the impact on others in the workplace.
It is not necessary to be an expert in mental health to discuss and develop psychologically healthy and safe workplace solutions. In fact, just asking the question, "How might this impact psychological health and safety in our workplace?" whenever discussing a change or challenges to policies and procedures can fundamentally improve decision-making and dialogue in a way that supports a more positive work environment.
Leaders are also critical to sustaining a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. Dr. Joti Samra is finalizing a new resource through the University of Fredericton that will help leaders assess and improve the impact they have on the psychological health and safety of their staff. If you are interested in learning more about this, subscribe to the Centre's email newsletter and you will be notified when it is released later this year.
As the Standard continues to guide workplaces into a decade of awareness and action, the Honourable Michael Kirby, author of the seminal Senate Report Out of the Shadows at Last: Transforming Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addictions in Canada, former chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and founding chair of Partners for Mental Health, imparts these words: "The next step is to have the Standard implemented by more and more companies. Workplace mental health really is out of the shadows – and it's never going back."
The Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace (the Centre) offers free, step-by-step practical tools and resources for those who wish to implement the Standard. Lack of budget does not need to be a reason to delay taking action toward a psychologically healthier and safer workplace.