A step forward for mental health? The new Standard for Psychological Health of a Workplace

Workers’ mental health and wellbeing will be the new thrust for employers thanks to a new CSA standard on protecting the psychological health of employees.

Due out this fall, the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety sets out goals and processes to help employers establish a strong and comprehensive program, and addresses the needs of millions of Canadians touched by mental illness.

An estimated 1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives, while a survey of 1056 Canadian employees (2000), revealed 62 per cent were “very stressed” at work.

The cost to employers is huge, with the economy losing $51 billion in terms of health care and lost productivity (Dewa, CS et al). On any given week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental illness (Statistics Canada), and according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (2007) 74 per cent of employees off work due to mental health issues do not return.

With one third of our lives spent at work, it’s important for employees to feel safe, encouraged and supported.

That’s where the new, voluntary standard fits in. The standard not only mitigates employers’ costs, but contributes to the overall health of an organization.

For example, as depression and anxiety become the main cause of disability in developed countries, the cost to the employer includes increased disability insurance premiums, rising health and benefits costs, and the expenses associated with replacing absent employees.

In contrast, looking after workers’ mental health benefits productivity, focus and morale and leads to engaged, enthusiastic employees. The standard will also help employers recruit and retain employees by making them feel valued and respected.

Championed by The Mental Health Commission of Canada and developed by the Canadian Standards Agency (CSA) and Bureau de normalization du Quebec (BNQ), the standard offers specific steps to help employers create a psychologically safe and healthy workplace, educating staff about stigma, and ensuring regular audits on policies and procedures.

The standard urges organizations to:

  • Develop a policy committed to the development, implementation, funding, continuous improvement and review of  psychological safety
  • Promote workers’ wellbeing and engage workers in the process
  • Review psychological health and safety system objectives every three years
  • Provide risk assessment with investigation of all incidents
  • Monitor, audit and improve psychological health and safety systems

Offering far more scope than the obligations currently imposed on employers by health and safety and human rights legislation, the CSA standard is seen as a positive step forward in that it will assist employers to develop a strong and robust program.

Mental Health at Work – The Facts:

  • 1 in 5 Canadians will have a mental illness in their lifetime – 1 in 4 will have a friend, family member or colleague with one
  • Canadians in the lowest income group are 3-4 times more likely to report fair to poor mental health than those in the highest income group
  • 43% of Canadians have a colleague with a mental health issue
  • 74% of employees off work with a mental health issue do not return
  • Work-related mental health problems can stem from an employee’s private life, workplace or society
  • Health care employees take the most time off work for illness or disability