Initiating the Change to a Mentally Healthy Workplace

Today in Canada one in five people are living with a mental health problem or illness.  Women, younger workers, and those employed in the services sector are particularly vulnerable and more likely to experience mental health issues.  Supportive workplaces promote the total health and well-being of their employees and offer protection from psychological harm.  Mental health is an integral part of a healthy workplace.

Although it may appear a daunting task, integrating psychological health and safety into your Safety Management System can be done over time, small step by small step.  It is ultimately important however, before you begin, to make sure you are prepared to make the change.  A common cause of failed projects is the lack of planning and preparation before the project even begins.

The first step to creating your Healthy Workplace is to recognize the need.  Why is this important to you?  There may be someone who needs to be “sold” on the idea, and having a firm business case to back up your proposal is the key to getting started.

Some reasons that may be compelling:

  • In Canada, mental illness costs $20.7 billion per year in lost productivity alone. This is without factoring in the health care costs that may be associated.  Add those in and the number skyrockets to over $48 billion.
  • Stress in the workplace can increase physical injuries by two to three times, and contributes to substance abuse, back pain, and other physical illnesses.
  • A healthy workplace can attract new workers, and build diversity in skills and personnel. Morale is boosted, relationships between colleagues are enhanced, workers are more motivated to show initiative, and production and overall satisfaction go up.

Once you have a solid business case established it is time to seek senior management support.  If senior management initiated the process, it may still be beneficial to take your findings back to them.  Senior management support is key to the success of any new initiative, and without it, you may find yourself making promises you are unable to keep.  Although they do not have to be involved in each step, they should be notified and from time-to-time communicate their continued support of the initiative.   More on this will come later in the process, but the key right now is to solidify that support.

The next step is to establish a baseline – see what data you have to work with, and where your gaps are.  To help with this step, 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
    • Benefits and Employee and Family Assistance Program data
    • Rates of absenteeism
    • Rates of substance abuse
    • Modified work and accommodation data
    • Principal diagnostic categories for short- and long-term disabilities
    • Review of incident reports and investigations
    • Results of organizational reviews or surveys
  • Assess psychosocial factors in your workplace. Psychologically healthy and safe workplaces are affected by 13 factors:
    • Psychological and social support
    • Organizational culture
    • Clear leadership and expectations
    • Civility and respect
    • Psychological demands
    • Growth and development
    • Recognition and reward
    • Involvement and influence
    • Workload management
    • Engagement
    • Balance
    • Psychological protection
    • Protection of physical safety

Once you have recognized the need and established a baseline, you are ready to start making your plan.  More information about developing targets and goals, developing an implementation plan, and the real implementation will follow.  For now – focus on doing the groundwork and solidifying a foundation for your plan.

For more information on the first steps, you can visit:

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