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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters



Safeguard Magazine

From Canada to the world

NITIKA REWARI offers a made-in-Canada method to address workplace mental health in New Zealand and around the world – with evidence that it works.

The World Health Organization estimates that depression will be a global leader in disease burden by 2030. Some signs of this are already evident in the workplace.

In Canada, for instance, 7.5 million people—almost 21 per cent of the population—experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year. As a result, 500,000 Canadians miss work each week. Quantifying the human toll of mental health problems and illnesses is difficult, but the economic impact is pegged at CDN$50 billion annually. Of that, a staggering $20 billion stems from workplace losses.

These challenges are not exclusive to Canada. However, while progressive employers worldwide understand the consequences of ignoring workplace mental health, until recently many lacked the means to tackle it.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) recently released the results of its three-year Case Study Research Project (CSRP) to assess the progress of over 40 organisations as they implemented the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard). They confirm that the Standard is the tool employers have been looking for to help them address workplace mental health.

Launched in 2013, the Standard is a voluntary set of guidelines, tools and resources to help organisations prevent psychological harm and promote good mental health for every employee. Championed by the MHCC and developed in partnership with private sector and non-governmental organizations, it can be adapted to the needs of workplaces around the world.

TESTING THE STANDARD

In 2014, the Case Study Research Project on the Standard set out to:

  • • 
    Define promising practices, gaps and challenges related to implementation.
  • • 
    Better understand costs and benefits related to adopting the Standard.
  • • 
    Help build a strong business case for the adoption of the Standard by Canadian employers.

At its conclusion in 2017, the CSRP identified promising practices and lessons learned from the 40 organizations – representing 250,000 employees – which began implementing the Standard three years earlier.

Key findings include:

  • • 
    91% of the organisations implemented the Standard because it is “the right thing to do”.
  • • 
    Other reasons included “to protect the psychological health of employees” (84%) and “increase employee engagement” (72%).
  • • 
    78% implemented respectful workplace policies and educated employees about them.
  • • 
    70% provided employee assistance programs and other services addressing mental health.
  • • 
    66% enhanced mental health knowledge and awareness among employees.
  • • 
    Participating organizations achieved on average 72% compliance with the five elements (commitment and policy, planning, implementation, evaluation and corrective action, management review) in the Standard, a remarkable improvement from 55% compliance at the baseline stage.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The CRSP recommended that organisations aiming to successfully implement the Standard consider the following promising practices:

  • • 
    Define a unique business case for your organisation and working environment.
  • • 
    Ensure there is commitment throughout the organisation. This includes a commitment to protect and promote mental health among all employee groups and departments.
  • • 
    Communicate widely and effectively. Communication efforts should be genuine and continuous, starting from the business case for implementation and obtaining employee feedback, to selecting actions to achieve success and evaluating results along the journey of implementation.
  • • 
    Select actions best suited for the organisation.
  • • 
    Shift workplace culture to embed psychological health and safety in the way business is done. Mental health and safety is just as important as physical health and safety and needs to be considered in all organisational decisions.
  • • 
    Ensure adequate resources are available and provided to implement the Standard. This includes both human and financial resources.
  • • 
    Consider the impact of psychological health and safety on employees in times of change as that is when their mental health is most vulnerable.
  • • 
    Measure the impact of implementation to ensure that the results you want are being achieved.
  • • 
    Sustain such efforts. Implementing the Standard is not a time-limited endeavour. As long as employers hire individuals to carry out work, mental health and safety will continue to be an integral part of an organisation and considered alongside physical health and safety.

HEAD-START FACTORS

The project also identified several factors that give organisations a head start and/or maintain positive changes:

  • • 
    Ensuring leadership is committed to implementing the Standard.
  • • 
    Building relationships with like-minded organisations for continued learning and sharing opportunities.
  • • 
    Providing adequate structure and resources.
  • • 
    Utilising the size of the organisation as a facilitator. For example, large organisations tend to have more resources to dedicate but tend to be slower in their progress, while smaller organisations are more nimble and have more of a pulse on the needs of their employees but have fewer resources.
  • • 
    Raising employee awareness of psychological health and safety in the workplace.
  • • 
    Updating existing processes, policies and programmes to embed principles that support psychological health and safety in the workplace.
  • • 
    Using the expertise of individuals who have previously implemented other workplace standards.

BARRIERS TO BEWARE OF

Conversely, the CSRP lays out eight barriers to implementation that may hinder the progress of an organisation on their journey:

  • • 
    Insufficient resources.
  • • 
    Limited access to psychological health data.
  • • 
    Inconsistent data collection.
  • • 
    Inconsistent leadership support.
  • • 
    Significant organisational change.
  • • 
    Lack of employee knowledge about psychological health and safety.
  • • 
    Uncertainty in defining and reporting “excessive stress”.
  • • 
    Uncertainty in defining and reporting “critical events”.

APPLICABLE EVERYWHERE

Every workplace can adopt the Standard. It is being successfully used in every corner of Canada, from large public organisations to small private companies, by unionised and non-unionised groups, and in a wide variety of workplaces.

Given that two-thirds of Canadian adults spend 60 percent of their waking hours at work, it is no surprise that a positive, supportive workplace results in emotional benefits. On the flip side, a persistently troublesome or negative workplace can create mental health problems or worsen existing conditions.

Recognising the critical role the workplace can have on individuals’ mental health is one of the foundations of the Standard. It is also grounded in the understanding that mental illness is one of the most common forms of illness in modern society, often striking young adults during their peak productive years and potentially persisting for a lifetime if left untreated.

Similar in spirit to how physical health and safety is managed, the Standard addresses mental wellness at work by making every practical effort to protect mental health and avoid injury. It is based on the premise that businesses and non-governmental organisations have a corporate and social responsibility to ensure the mental health of their employees is protected. Implementing the Standard can help to fulfill these responsibilities while improving the organisation’s productivity, financial performance, risk management, recruitment and retention.

EMBRACING THE STANDARD

The Standard addresses 13 key factors known to potentially affect employee mental health. Examples of these factors include organisational culture (norms, values, beliefs, etc) and workload management, which many Canadians say is their biggest workplace stressor.

Taking steps to implement each of these success factors translates to improved work psychological safety, which has a positive impact on productivity and bottom line results.

Corporate Canada has begun to embrace a cultural shift that is both pragmatic and compassionate. Creating and maintaining a psychologically healthy and safe workplace is more than just “a nice thing to do”. Given the economic costs and rising liability potential for employers, it has become a “must do”.

While Canada and New Zealand may be half a world apart, they share a desire to see mental health and wellness initiatives take root and flourish. This pioneering spirit in mental health leadership led New Zealand to break ground with the creation of the world’s first mental health commission in 1996. Twenty years later and half a world away, the Canadian federal government, the country’s largest employer, has committed to exploring how the federal public service can best align with the Standard. Many federal organisations are already using the Standard to develop action plans, conduct gap analyses and determine areas for action.

As the stigma lessens and more people are come forward to seek treatment and support, sharing innovations like the Standard and the lessons learned from research like the Case Study Research Project is more important than ever before.

Nitika Rewari is Manager, Workplace Mental Health, with the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

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