The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace

May 3, 2017

Prevention, promotion and guidance to staged implementation

The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s 2012 report Changing Directions-Changing Lives: the Mental Health Strategy for Canada recommended the wide adoption of psychological health and safety standards in Canadian workplaces.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) worked with the CSA and the Bureau de normalization du Québec (BNQ) to develop The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace in 2013. The Commission describes it as “a set of voluntary guidelines, tools and resources intended to guide organizations in promoting mental health and preventing psychological harm at work.”

Employers, governments and regulatory authorities, service providers, policy and legal specialists, and unions were involved in the development of the National Standard. Over time and with training, the National Standard could be a very important tool for unions in advocating for better mental health practices in the workplace.

What is happening with implementation?

The MHCC is encouraging workplaces to implement the National Standard. Employers in both the public and private sectors have begun the process of implementing the Standard. Employers who comply with the Standard will:

  • take measures to prevent and protect workers from psychological harm;
  • provide training and education to promote psychological health and safety;
  • involve a diversity of workers in identifying problems and solutions;
  • develop a clear process for reporting, investigating, and monitoring psychological health and safety concerns;
  • be encouraged to conduct regular internal audits; and
  • collect data and develop a plan to control risks related to the 13 factors affecting psychological health and safety in the workplace.

What are psychosocial factors?

There are 14 workplace psychosocial factors known to positively impact an employee’s mental health, psychological safety, participation, and productivity. If these factors effectively exist in the workplace, they have the potential to prevent psychological harm. The first 13 of these workplace factors were adapted from Guarding Minds @ Work and used for the purposes of the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. The 14th factor is particularly important to unions in assessing psychological health and safety in the workplace.

  1. Psychological support: A workplace where co-workers and supervisors are supportive of employees’ psychological and mental health concerns, and respond appropriately as needed.
  2. Organizational culture: A workplace characterized by trust, honesty and fairness.
  3. Clear leadership and expectations: A workplace where there is effective leadership and support that helps employees know what they need to do, how their work contributes to the organization, and whether there are impending changes.
  4. Civility and respect: A workplace where employees are respectful and considerate in their interactions with one another, as well as with customers, clients and the public. Civility and respect are based on showing esteem, care and consideration for others, and acknowledging their dignity.
  5. Psychological demands: A workplace where the psychological demands of any given job are documented and assessed in conjunction with the physical demands of the job. Psychological demands of the job will allow organizations to determine whether any given activity of the job might be a hazard to the worker’s health and well-being.
  6. Growth and development: A workplace where employees receive encouragement and support in the development of their interpersonal, emotional and job skills.
  7. Recognition and reward: A workplace where there is appropriate acknowledgement and appreciation of employees’ efforts in a fair and timely manner.
  8. Involvement and influence: A workplace where employees are included in discussions about how their work is done and how important decisions are made.
  9. Workload management: A workplace where tasks and responsibilities can be accomplished successfully within the time available.
  10. Engagement: A workplace where employees enjoy and feel connected to their work and where they feel motivated to do their job well.
  11. Balance: A workplace where there is recognition of the need for balance between the demands of work, family and personal life.
  12. Psychological protection: A workplace where psychological safety is demonstrated when employees feel able to put themselves on the line, ask questions, seek feedback, report mistakes and problems, or propose a new idea without fearing negative consequences to themselves, their job or their career.
  13. Protection of physical safety: A workplace in which employees’ psychological, as well as physical safety is protected from hazards and risks related to the worker’s physical environment.
  14. Any other chronic stressor that may be identified by workers

Addressing and monitoring these factors over time could dramatically improve mental health and psychological health and safety in the workplace. As unions become familiar with the National Standard, we can begin to put it into practice with our members and with employers. What these factors will look like and mean to workers in the workplace every day will take time to realize and develop. As we do that, we will have another tool to help improve mental health and psychological health and safety for our members.

The National Standard is a starting point. It’s important to note that the full range of workplace mental health issues cannot be addressed by meeting the Standard alone.

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