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HomeCSRP Implementation Questions and Answers

CSRP Implementation Questions and Answers

ON THE NATIONAL STANDARD OF CANADA FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE WORKPLACE

Background

Since the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) championed the release of the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard) in January 2012, there has been a significant interest in its adoption from organizations of different sizes and sectors across Canada.

This document is meant to reflect general answers to some frequently asked questions by Canadian organizations around the four phased approach to implement the Standard: Building the foundation, What is your gap?, What are your objectives?, and work the plan.

Inspiration for this FAQ series arose, in part, from the case study research project, a three-year national study (February 2014 – January 2017) designed to follow more than 40 organizations Canada-wide as they implement the Standard. The purposes of this study are to:

  • document promising practices, gaps, challenges;
  • better understand costs and benefits and;
  • help build a strong business case for Canadian employers

The FAQ series will be updated frequently to address general questions being asked by organizations participating in the case study project and other employers at large.

About the Standard: The free and voluntary National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace is the first of its kind in the world. It is intended to provide systemic voluntary guidelines for Canadian employers that will enable them to develop and continuously improve psychologically healthy and safe work environments for their employees. The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) championed the development of the Standard in collaboration with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and the Bureau de normalization du Québec (BNQ). The Standard can be downloaded, at no cost, from the CSA’s website and BNQ’s website.

DISCLAIMER

This Q&A offers responses of a general nature and thus may or may not be applicable to your organization’s specific situation. We encourage you to review these answers in the same spirit and use the information that best suits your needs. Neither the Mental Health Commission of Canada nor the authors of this document will be responsible for the actions of any organization, based on these responses.

IMPLEMENTATION QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

PHASE 1 – BUILDING THE FOUNDATION

Answer:  Getting buy-in from top level leadership in management within the organization is critical but there is a need to look beyond this as well. Leadership in labour, as an example, is equally important when implementing the Standard. As you are trying to establish buy-in, there is a risk that at times management and other leaders could perceive the proposal to implement the Standard as an avenue to “point fingers” at their leadership skills or to “open up a can of worms” with a fear of unveiling problems that were until now hidden. It is essential, if this occurs, to point out that the Standard is not intended to do any of that but rather it simply allows an organization to assess its areas of strengths and weaknesses in protecting the mental health of its employees, implementing policies/procedures/programs to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement, evaluate the impact of the Standard implementation, and drive continual improvement.

Dr. Martin Shain’s work emphasizes that beneath the profusion of specific rules and doctrines found in several branches of law relevant to the protection of mental health, there is a trend toward a single, implied duty to provide a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. The Standard may prevent organizations from such liability cases as its principles are focused on providing a psychologically safe workplace by considering the exposure to hazards and their related risks that may currently exist in the workplace policies, procedures or interactions.

Answer:  No workplace is isolated and every workplace has an impact on the community, both social and economic. Organizations should seek out community resources and learn about what they have to offer and seek collaboration opportunities to collaborate. Task those that are trained to train people internally within the organization – especially if they have skill related to management system implementation (for example, ISO 14000, OHSAS 18000, CSA Z1000). When people learn to teach, they learn in a different way and engage staff differently. This also applies to senior leaders in the organization, and may provide them the motivation to go from awareness to action.

Answer: Experts completely understand that organizations manage several competing priorities and seek processes that improve overall productivity and the bottom line. With that in mind, it is entirely possible to implement the Standard by starting small. This could take many shapes, for example implementing one program or changing some processes either in the entire organization or part of it. It is important, however, to implement approaches that respond to real workplace and employer needs – not just those approaches that are the “flavour of the month.” It doesn’t have to address a big problem but it has to be something meaningful.

The Standard is a framework based on continual improvement. It is not a program to implement with a start and end date. Organizations must keep reexamining the status of their implementation and the outcomes from this work. In fact, there is clear danger in going too fast. If an organization rushes to implement a policy without putting in place a proper infrastructure it may have a negative impact, even leading to potential legal liabilities.  For example, conducting an employee survey right off the bat may not be the right choice for some organizations. If proper planning hasn’t been done, it could create resentment among employees.

Organizations, especially smaller organizations, should consider first getting senior leadership buy-in and commitment, then focusing and planning for the first year (e.g. education and awareness) and then year two (e.g. change management.)

Answer:  There are many options for employers to consider, e.g. developing your own charter, review the MHCC’s Case Study Research Project web page for suggestions and samples, or request a charter from Mindful Employer Canada Charter that encourages leaders to sign on. Signing the Mindful Employer Charter is free, voluntary and open to any employer in Canada and it signifies an awareness of and public commitment to supporting workplace mental health. One note of caution. Once a commitment has been made in the form of a charter or a policy it could be argued (if someone was so minded) that it becomes part of the contract of employment or collective agreement by reference. For this reason it is best to only commit to policies and practices that can be implemented fully and authentically.

Understanding that the commitment to supporting and promoting workplace mental health is at both the employer and individual level, Mindful Employer Canada also has an initiative known as Mindful Manager. Mindful Manager allows individuals (i.e. union reps, managers, human resources, occupational health professionals, disability management, supervisors, vocational rehabilitation, etc.), in their role of supporting employees with mental illness to signify that they care about positive workplace mental health for all. It is not about being a mental health expert and it is not about being a therapist for staff. It is about striving to learn more within a professional community of practice. 

Answer:  This goes back to embedding change management practices in what we do. It’s a decision process around how we manage change. If the only thing that happens is that all business decisions (Strategic planning, change management, downsizing, rightsizing, performance management, etc.) use the lens of psychological health and safety (PH&S), that could have a substantial impact on how they do things. For example, there was an organization that restructured. They moved people from roles with human interactions to roles with minimal interactions. This restructure didn’t consider the impact of the changes in roles on PH&S. Also, 90 per cent of change management is the management of fear. Fears such as getting it wrong, the complexity or the unknown. This is a cultural change. Change automatically involves learning another way of doing things. Managing this change requires that we consider the impacts on PH&S and put in place structures and tools that can ease the transition and minimize the impacts.

Answer:  The Standard is flexible enough to allow any type of documentation that works. So this can be aligned with how you currently document change management decisions — it could be emails, minutes from meetings, or something more formal. The idea is to use existing systems and processes wherever possible. There is a tradition in this field of assessing both the knowledge and the engagement concerns of employees when faced with a specific change before you implement, and after the desired change has been presented by management, or in some cases generated by consultation among staff. In the latter, engagement is greater and fear may be less overall while greater in some areas of the workplace. The hurdles and the obstacles can be addressed only if they are known. Adjusting the plan based on this assessment is a sure way to show that effort was made to facilitate change and to minimize stress related to the change at hand.

Answer:  Presenteeism is an ongoing issue, it describes employees who show up for work but are not able to perform their duties due a variety of factors. Through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), employees are asked how many days they lost to presenteeism. Using pre- and post-survey data, employers can establish a pattern to determine if the EAP is helping employees work through their issues.

Meeting with staff “one on one” is an excellent way of gauging presenteeism. You can also use Outlook to track tasks (i.e. determine how long a set task should take, who should help etc.) and measure productivity, which can, in turn, be quantified and discussed at future meetings.

It is important to remember when discussing presenteeism that people work in different ways. For instance, some employees work in concentrated bursts and take frequent breaks while others work best at home, as the work environment is not conducive to their work ethic.

PHASE 2 – WHAT IS YOUR GAP?

Answer: When you do your planning break it down by specific levels and roles; don’t create an average that doesn’t make sense at all to your workplace. Also, it is important to ask the employee groups about their concerns and issues as that will ultimately lead to the best solution for your environment.

A good resource to consider is Workplace Strategies for Mental Health where challenges and solutions are broken down by industries and job types. There are ways to break it down by issues on psychological health and safety even in call centres. In situations such as call centres, some organizations are employing unique but effective solutions, such as hand signals, eye contact to ask others to step in and help out. Solutions have to be unique and best suited to your environment.

Answer: It is important to note that the essence of the Standard and the Guarding Minds @ Work tool is to initiate conversations in the workplace about psychological health and safety and make it safe for employees to share their honest opinions. It is also the first step to introduce a language around psychological health and safety in the workplace, i.e. about mental health promotion (primary objective of the Standard) and the prevention of mental illness (secondary objective of the Standard), and set the stage for future conversations. Small organizations are ideally placed to have these conversations.

The Guarding Minds @ Work tool suggests that 10 or more employees are necessary before considering the use of this tool due to several factors, including the protection of privacy and anonymity of employees within the organization. In such cases, where Guarding Minds @ Work is not applicable, organizations can generate data through discussions, focus groups, etc. Organizations could also use the Psychological Risk Factors (PSR) Initial Scan: The SSIX – Stress Satisfaction Index survey within Guarding Minds @ Work, which is a six item employee questionnaire that provides a snapshot of potential risk areas. This initial scan is a precursor to the more comprehensive PSR – 12 Employee Survey. Having said that, when small organizations use SSIX at a team level, wide variations in responses are often observed. This means that in a small organizational environment, it may not be hard to gauge what responses are coming from whom, therefore still creating some issues around confidentiality. Knowing that the original premise of the Standard is to ensure people feel safe to speak up, organizations may also decide to use the free facilitator guides and presentations to initiate a conversation. These are available for each of the 13 psychosocial risk factors. As long as employees are comfortable to provide honest opinions and are assured that their privacy will be protected, such tools will generate quality data. 

It is equally important to note that, at times, jumping to an employee assessment could do more harm than good if proper planning is not considered. Organizations could start by asking the question, “where am I with respect to the Standard?” This question is best answered by looking into the organization’s existing policies, procedures, and practices. One way to do this comprehensively could be to use the audit tool provided within the Standard. The audit tool can be found in an online format. The next step would be to look at the needs in your workplace, e.g. Guarding Minds @ Work, focus groups, individual interviews (employee and managers), EAP usage, health data (such as absenteeism, disability and workers compensation trends etc.), benefits data (such as drugs utilization and paramedic/psychologist) and complaints related to harassment, conflicts in the workplace, etc. 

Other resources:

Answer: It is important to be setting the stage with a common base and understanding of psychological health and safety. One way to circumvent the push-back experienced in some organizations is to shift the focus from individual to environmental. Stepping back and talking about how teams are impacted on the whole, e.g. “let’s find out how you affect my mental health and how I affect your mental health” is a good way to start. Another aspect that is always good to remember and communicate is that the idea of the Standard is health and safety and mental health and not merely mental illness. 

Answer: As already mentioned, it is important for organizations to not rush into a survey before doing appropriate planning and introducing the “language” of psychological health and safety in the workplace. Conversations about the topic, setting clear expectations, and encouraging an environment of safe and honest opinion sharing will be important.

This could be done through an effective communication strategy to support the psychological health and safety initiative and outlining the objectives. The communication strategy tells the story and facilitates change. It is the cement that will hold everything together and will ultimately help make this initiative a success. Once a survey is implemented, the spirit of the Standard is to engage as many employees as possible. Unless you are in a specific scientific culture, sampling is a risky proposition. If, however, it is considered as an appropriate route, one could consider using the following resources here or here for appropriate sampling. Sampling could lead issues around “why him/her and not me”—an outcome that goes against the essence and spirit of the Standard’s employee inclusivity. That said, even the best of surveys struggle to get a 100% response rate. The acceptable response rate varies between organizations and depends on the total sample size.

It is important to note is that any survey on the topic of workplace psychological health and safety will ultimately lead to a bigger and better discussion within the organization on psychological health and safety. Results gathered from a survey should be followed up with a validation exercise, e.g. face to face discussions. Results presented at a departmental level provide an opportunity for organizations to identify areas requiring immediate attention.

It is also understandable that some organizations are survey fatigued and getting a good response rate and participation is a challenge. Therefore, it becomes even more important that organizations not jump to another survey before establishing a common language and conversation platform.

Answer: Many organizations already carry out job demand analyses where they look at the physical demands of the jobs. The next step is also to look at the psychological demands associated with a position.  On June 5, 2014, Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace is launching a free resource/tool called, Supporting Employee Success. This tool will be launched at the Ontario Occupational Health Association Conference. It tool helps describe job expectations that may have an impact on the psychological wellbeing of employees and facilitates a conversation between the employee and their health professional to look for solutions that can better enable them to do their job, even while experiencing a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. These accommodations support employees’ success and help sustain wellness on the job. A free webinar will allow you to hear more about the tool. Register for this webinar

Answer: Think of the factors that are impacting the workplace. Based on those conclusions, we can decide if something possesses a significant risk. This may be related to organizational factors that impact the workplace. You can find information regarding these factors on page 8 of the Standard, section 4.3.4.2. The Standard suggests that we need to identify factors that are impacting the workplace. It’s also about going back to the data (accidents, incidents, rates of benefits usage, etc.). To a certain extent, the analysis of these data also helps us measure the risks to the organization. Look at factors, engage employees, and ask them how they would address risks. For example, some employees would say shift work is a problem and others would say it is preferred. Therefore, speak to your employees. The engagement is key because employees have the insights into where the wiggle room exists and that’s when you should be able to articulate the current problems or risks. Once we know the impact, this would help us determine if any of those factors represent a risk to the organization.

Answer: We need to reframe the question. Many organizations have asked what is meant by a “validated” assessment of risks in the context of the Standard. Risks, within the framework of the Standard, refer primarily to conditions of work known to be implicated in the occurrence of mental injury and in the precipitation of mental disability. A valid measure of risk in this context would be one that had been shown scientifically to be directly and indirectly associated with such outcomes at statistically significant levels. Yes, the psychosocial factor (PF) 13 in Guarding Minds @ Work survey does measure what it’s supposed to be measuring. The PF 13 has what is known as “face validity” (questions derive from scientific research) and “predictive validity” (refers to the relationship between answers to the questions and relevant outcomes such as mental health and job performance). That being said, all 13 factors are derived from scientific research that has an impact on mental health (e.g. depression and anxiety). The survey questions all relate back to the factors. [Incidentally, similar claims of validity can be made for the Stress Satisfaction Index Survey (SSIX) which is the short six item survey used in Guarding Minds @ Work and referred to as the Initial Scan. In fact, correlations between scores on the Stress Satisfaction Offset Score survey (SSOS) (a four item predecessor of the SSIX) and self-reported symptoms of mental distress are even higher than those reported for the five factors derived from the PF13.]

The question still arises, valid in comparison to what? Few if any other instruments cover the breadth of variables in the PF 13. The Copenhagen Inventory is one contender and it is being used by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) amongst others. The survey is just a starting point and its results should always be validated in person. That is, check out what you think the results mean with the people who completed the survey and particularly with those who did not. In that way you become your own validator of the survey. This is not, after all, a research project that you are undertaking so intuitive methods make sense in this context. Ask the employees where the problem is and if the data make sense. Verify what the research means by speaking with the researchers.

Answer: The Standard sets out a number of ideas for data sets on page 9, section 4.3.5. These data sets are trying to define the impact of mental health in the workplace. We’re not looking at individual data but rather aggregated data that can show a broader picture of the workforce. Look at data such as the reasons for visits to the site’s Occupational Health Centre (if you have one), accident and incident reports, rates of benefits usage, and results of health risks assessments — which often include measures of depression in the workplace. In other words, analyze the data. You may also find that there are particular trends in a specific area of your workforce. For example, a certain group uses more antidepressants than another. The key is analyzing the data.

Answer: Start small. There are only nine questions in the audit tool related to the commitment to leadership. A place to start is to look at the first set of questions and determine where you think you fit. You do not have to look at the whole audit tool at once. The goal of the tool is really to help you determine where the organization sits. Even if you don’t have all of the information, the information that you do have provides you with a list of opportunities for improvement. As one person, it does take time to do, but it is doable. It gives you a list of opportunities and ideas on where you can start.

Answer: You need to ask the staff. No one will have a better idea than those exposed to the risk. There are two issues: the actual risk and the perception of risk. For example, some of the work around Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) shows that expectation of risk or anticipation of risk can actually be a protective mechanism against PTSD. By providing practical training for potential traumatic scenarios, we can manage expectations. If we have clear guidelines, we can reduce the impact. Therefore, properly manage training and expectations.

Answer: First, it’s important to try to understand what we mean by “the kinds of risk” we are trying to assess in the context of the Standard. The simple answer is that we are looking at the kinds of risk that arise from the way work is organized and designed, as well as the ways that people are managed and supervised, and interact with each other on a daily basis. Knowing what we are looking for, the question becomes “How do we spot it?”

There are several ways to spot those risks, including surveys, which are the most common method. Guarding Minds @ Work is referenced in the Standard as an optimal choice for that type of risk assessment, and goes into the 13 factors (or “hazards”) that are known to influence mental health in the workplace. Also, the initial scan in Guarding Minds @Work, which is a shorter questionnaire, asks questions related to what international literature has identified as the six major areas that are likely to lead to psycho-social risk and the lack of psychological safety (if not properly managed). The six areas are: Demand, Control, Effort, Reward, Fairness and Support. The 13 Psychosocial Factors goes into greater detail.

Two other surveys that may be useful include: (1) The Copenhagen Psycho-Social Questionnaire (It is currently being used by a large union in Ontario and is approximately the same length as the Guarding Minds @Work) (2) The Karasek job content questionnaire (JCQ). All questionnaires should be followed up by live means i.e. validate the results with the people within the organization that have (or haven’t) answered the questionnaire.

Some organizations have been doing engagement surveys for many years and don’t want to lose that historical data, therefore, they look at previously tracked factors as well as those identified by the Standard they may be missing. Compare the questions found in Guarding Minds @ Work with your existing questions and consider any gaps. Some organizations may not be able to use the online Guarding Minds @Work survey if some or all employees in their organization do not have access to computers. An alternative to this is printing the questions. In this case, it is up to the employer to ensure confidentiality of individual responses instead of relying on the online system to aggregate results.

Another option for assessment is the Organizational Review survey (also available on the Guarding Minds @ Work website). This is more of a conversation among stakeholders rather than a formal assessment, but can still help inform an organization of potential risks and opportunities for improvement. This can also be helpful for small businesses where surveys may be impractical due to the low number of employees or where there is lack of access to computers during working hours.

If we consider workplaces that have evolved to the point of developing preventive and mitigating programs, they have often used case studies to compare to what may be happening in their own workplace. They may look at what contributed to illness, absenteeism, and other factors in the case study examples and decide if this may also point to a problem in their own organization.

Regardless of the type of initial assessment your organization chooses, to comply with the Standard requires participation of all stakeholders. To help facilitate this, there is a free resource, On the Agenda, which provides a framework that guides the discussion with employees and helps keep the focus on low-cost or no-cost initiatives that are known to make a positive difference in the workplace.

Other useful sources of aggregated data include short-term disability, long-term disability, and reasons employees have consulted an EAP. This data may show if there are any trends within an organization in terms of workplace factors, grievances, or complaints, etc.

PHASE 3 – WHAT ARE YOUR OBJECTIVES?

Answer: This concept is surprising for the experts as the Standard was created with a deliberate attempt to ensure that it also drives mental health promotion. Other standards talk about “trips and falls and lighting” etc. They do not address prevention or improving health, only preventing injury. The National Standard is meant to focus on not only preventing harm but also improving health. It attempts to help organizations move positively along a mental health continuum and closer to the more ideal side.

The Standard is not about preventing mental illness, but more about preventing mental injury in the workplace (i.e. serious harm that is being done to workers that could be prevented or significantly reduced). When we talk about 500,000 people away from work each week, part of it is that 25-33% who are off work because of perceived or real interpersonal issues in the workplace. The issues are causing so much stress that the workers don’t want to be in their workplace. This Standard is about safety first—let’s prevent mental health injury first and then tackle the need for mental health promotion. The experts who developed the Standard wanted to prevent the workplace from creating risky and hazardous situations that could lead to social disruption and greater production costs.

The Standard is 100% focused on mental health and the thirteen organizational factors that help organizations identify the hazards and assess and control the risks while also reducing the stigma around psychological health and safety in the workplace.

Answer: One way to address this is to build more training on psychological health and safety in the general practitioner’s curriculum. For example, there could be opportunities to build more awareness by speaking at physician conferences. Within the organizations, when available, representatives of the medical staff should be part of the advisory committee. Another way to look at this would be to ask physicians about their opinions on workplace psychological health and safety. If team meetings are a current practice, 15 minutes in each meeting could be taken to openly discuss psychological health and safety and the impact it is having and the role physicians could play.

Answer: The Standard provides a new language, a new “currency”, which enables organizations to have the kind of conversations we need in the workplace. Psychological safety is a characteristic of the psychosocial environment at work. This term was purposefully created within the Standard so that it had no preconceived notions and explains how we interact and treat each other in the workplace. Psychological safety includes freedom from undue distress, harassment, aggression, or fear of speaking up. The Standard aligns with this concept through the 13 factors, also in Guarding Minds @ Work. Psychological risks are risks that impact the mental health of employees, arising from the way work is organized and people are managed. The same 13 factors (these may be considered as hazards) can become risk factors when mismanaged in the workplace. For example, emergency medical personnel, working in a health care environment, deal with life and death scenarios daily. There may be psychosocial safety issues in their workplace environment where they don’t feel safe to discuss their emotional reactions to the traumatic instances and events they have witnessed. Identifying those factors that may lead to indicators of psychological injury or illness, e.g. taking a leave, missing work, changes in behaviour, and then intervening when these factors are identified would be an appropriate action to take to address these risk factors.

Answer: We’re seeing many government leaders adopt and apply the Standard in their workplace. Many more in both the federal and provincial governments are aware of the Standard. It can be difficult for them to formally implement the Standard with all of their competing priorities, but we can align with their current goals and mandates with psychological health and safety. In other words, the objective should be to help governments implement the Standard or parts of the Standard in a way that fits their current goals and priorities. The scope of this standard is much wider than typical standards and therefore has a chance of yielding broader positive results. Although it is not the only reason, Return on Investment (ROI) in terms of performance excellence, makes a compelling case for implementation. Especially when also considering potential cost savings related to long-term disability, absenteeism, etc. There is also a population health value. In other words, the good or harm created in the workplace doesn’t stay there. It represents a social gain or social loss. For more on how this health transfer takes place, there is a document that Dr. Martin Shain and Dr. Ian Arnold wrote: The Road to Psychological Safety.

Answer: Ask the staff what matters to them. Ask them questions such as: What do you most value about working here? What activities support team dynamics? What work events are more important to you? It is all about asking questions to various workers to develop ideas that will truly engage their various interests. For example, some may enjoy a video game marathon or brainstorming sessions to encourage innovation at work or charitable activities. If we rely on stereotypes, we may think introverts don’t want to be engaged in group activities, but in many cases we may be wrong. However, if you find your employees prefer one-on-one activities, then consider opportunities to pair people for brainstorming or other activities. Explore different ways to engage different types of personalities rather than make assumptions. The primary objective is to engage workers in telling you what matters to them. This begs the question about how to support a positive and collaborative workplace culture. You may benefit from providing education and training focused on emotional intelligence and basic interpersonal skills.

Answer: The first step may be to ensure the employee has the capacity, competency, resources, and knowledge to do their job. Sometimes what may appear to be a mental health concern is actually a management or training problem.

Once you have ensured the employee is equipped to do their job, there are several options that may be helpful. Mental Health training programs (such as Mental Health First Aid and The Working Mind) for both managers and employees can improve employee resilience and mental health awareness as well as provide information to help identify the early signs of stress, anxiety, and depression. You could also offer a Peer Support Program. Another positive option would be offering access to an Employee Assistance Program or an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP). When an employee goes on disability management, it helps to have experience or expertise in dealing with mental health as it can support the employee to avoid relapse, help them better understand the root cause and help them when they return to work. There are many programs that can help for prevention and support.

Most workplaces in Canada that are medium to large size know of EFAP but there are some smaller organizations that may not be aware or may be hesitant. A good resource to learn more would be EASNA, the Employee Assistance Trade Association. This North American EAP trade association has basic information and research notes on the impact of EAPs. They also offer a purchaser’s guide for those looking to purchase an EAP from an outside provider. The guide gives you information regarding what you should be looking for, including quality assurance.

“Supporting Employee Success” is another tool that has been developed to help employees, health professionals, and employers work together to find successful workplace accommodations. (see the next section for more information).

The “raison d’être” (reason for existence) of the National Standard is mainly to identify things that are happening in the workplace that may cause psychological harm. If these identifiable factors are reduced or controlled in a more effective fashion, it will reduce the stress of employees. We would therefore see a reduction in ill health for employees, including depression and anxiety. However, we know that a lot of employees are dealing with situations where they may be a witness or victim of violence, assault, or threats, and intimidation by customers or other colleagues at work. This is what we call critical incident stress or traumatic stress, and the Standard recommends making sure you can offer those employees access to a peer or professional that has been trained in the area of critical incident stress management.

The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) is another website where you can find information on critical incident stress. EAPs often have professionals that have been trained in trauma response and they can go into the workplace and have sessions with employees, sometimes in a confidential group process. This allows people to vent and express their thoughts and feelings with regards to an event early on so that the impact of that trauma will not reside with them for a long period of time and may not contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Depression and anxiety are disorders that can be diagnosed, and EAPs can be a good bridge of support in identifying resources in the community that can solidify the diagnoses and/or begin treatment. It is very important for workplaces to de-stigmatize depression and anxiety. Some of the training currently being offered and supported by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, such as Mental Health First Aid, does that very effectively. Employees that participate in that two-day training session can easily support each other through peer support. Some EAPs also offer depression care, a specialized psychotherapy for employees facing depression. Many EAP providers also have various programs to support employees and managers.

Sometimes a good work-life balance program can help reduce stress with employees. This particularly helps when there is a conflict between workload and family life requirements.

To summarize, there are organizational and strategic approaches offered in the Standard. There are also outside experts that you can use, such as EAP peer supports. Ultimately, the experience of a worker comes down to the relationship with their manager or supervisor. An emotionally intelligent manager can have a big and positive impact on his/her relationship with his/her team. In many cases, employees with depression and anxiety are not disabled; they merely have conditions that need to be managed so they can stay productive. The point is not to eliminate mental health problems and mental illnesses, but to manage them. This is why you should really look at all angles to get the best approach.

Answer: Supporting Employee Success is a recently developed tool that helps assess work-related triggers for emotional and cognitive issues. It supports a thoughtful approach to finding accommodations that support success and it is based on discussions between the various players involved. This tool facilitates employee wellbeing while meeting requirements for safe and productive workplaces. Either an individual or an organization can initiate the use of Supporting Employee Success. The forms get passed back and forth between the employer, the employee, and an appropriate healthcare professional in an effort to find reasonable accommodation by exploring job expectations. It also considers the workplace factors that can have an impact on psychological wellbeing, and speaks to the practical work related issues rather than the illness and diagnosis. Anyone can use this tool because you do not have to be an expert in mental health in order to have this conversation. Time off from work may be necessary, but in some cases it may not be the most supportive approach for employee well-being. For example, an illness that makes you feel isolated may benefit more from having people around you rather than being alone at home. That being said, there may also be times where a person with a mental illness may be unable to function due to the severity of his or her condition. In this case time off for intensive treatment is required. For others, however, it may come down to changing the stressors in the workplace to support recovery while continuing to work. A study done by the Ontario Medical Association suggests that the longer an employee is away from work, the more difficult it is for them to successfully return to work. Encouraging employees to take time off may sometimes be warranted, but we should also keep in mind that support at work (i.e., finding solutions, accommodating when possible, engaging in conversation, and showing interest in helping an employee succeed) can contribute to recovery as well. Organizations should consider a more flexible work arrangement with employees facing difficulties as an alternative to an employee going on full-time disability (e.g., reduced hours per day or reduced workload). There is an old attitude that employees have to be 100 per cent fit or they should not bother coming to work. This mindset needs to change. For example, in regards to back injuries, 90 to 95 per cent of people can be accommodated back to work with appropriate treatment almost immediately, instead of being off for weeks. Tools such as the Mindful Manager and Mindful Employer, may help in switching attitudes.

Answer: Both testimonials and research data suggest that individuals who leave work due to depression and anxiety disorders, as well as mental illness in general, rarely get a call from colleagues and are not invited to social events in the workplace. Some report feeling isolated and rejected by their peers. It is more common for employees experiencing cancer or other illnesses to be continuously in contact with their colleagues.

Managers may worry that they will be accused of harassment if they call an employee who is off on leave, or that the employee will think they are checking up on them. This is why it is important to manage expectations upfront; for example, you can simply inform all employees to expect calls to check in while they are off on any leave. These calls are not about checking up on employees, but simply to keep in touch and see if there is anything that they may need. Also, the approach doesn’t have to be a phone call. It can be an email, a greeting card, sending flowers, etc. The goal is to convey to the employee that they haven’t been forgotten, they do belong with the organization, and that they are still part of the group.

Answer:  The following can touch on all of the factors identified:

  1. Organizational Culture

  2. Clear Leadership and Expectations

  3. Psychological Competencies and Requirements

  4. Growth and Development

  5. Recognition and Reward

  6. Involvement and Influence

  7. Workload Management

  8. Engagement

  9. Protection of Physical Safety

Planning Process: All employees with the same or similar positions are brought together to discuss the following questions:

  1. 1. What is good about this job?

  2. What are potential or actual stressors related to this job?

  3. How do those most successful in this job manage stressors?

  4. What are some ideas for how this job could be more effective?

  5. What are some ideas for how this job could be more fulfilling?

  6. What skills and abilities are essential for this job?

  7. What skills and abilities are not essential, but would help someone in this job excel?

  8. What tools, information and resources are most helpful?

  9. What strategies and processes do the most effective people in this job use?

  10. What is a reasonable expectation of what can be accomplished in a day/week/month?

  11. What is the minimum expectation of what should be accomplished in a day/week/month?

  12. What does the highest achiever accomplish in a day/week/month?

  13. How does this job contribute to the success of the organization and other employees’ jobs?

  14. Please write an ideal job description – include the characteristics and skillset of the ideal person in the role, the best tools and resources, the best processes, the stressors, the best coping strategies, etc.

This can be a series of discussions. The answers should be reviewed by management with an eye to improving job satisfaction and effectiveness. If only one person is in the role, you can host an interactive discussion among those who work together on a team or who interact at work on a regular basis. It could also be a roundtable where each person shares answers to a question as it applies to their role. This can also provide information about the value others bring and help to build a healthy team environment.

This process would not be recommended unless the employer is prepared to act on the information gathered in the planning process and employees understand that not everything they discuss will be possible or practical. This process helps organization consider improvements that improve job satisfaction and effectiveness in a psychologically safe environment. It is critical that employees hear what has been done with the information provided.

It is also critical that before embarking on the process, the organization prioritizes the information based on needs identified in the planning process.

Implementation Process:

  1. It is important that all employees are made aware of the intention to move forward, the process that will be followed to do so, and the outcome.

  2. Organizations would ideally start off the work by providing all employees with the results of the planning process (i.e. “We have identified several factors in our planning process that we will be working on with you over the next year in an effort to continually improve how these factors impact the workforce and the workplace.”)

  3. The next step would be to indicate how the organization plans to proceed, e.g. perhaps they want to address one factor a month by relating the factor to the relevant questions and processes noted above.

  4. If there is an issue related to scheduling, one approach would be to ask the areas affected to nominate a small group of their co-workers to undertake this work and to provide the rest of the group with feedback. While not engaging all employees directly, this would be better than not following up on the planning process.

  5. At the end of the process, it would be valuable to use the working committees to communicate the results to all their co-workers.

PHASE 4 – WORK THE PLAN

Answer: When bringing in new initiatives, psychological health and safety should be built in into the planning process. For example, if the organization is implementing a new IT system, it is important to understand the psychological impacts of the new system and build those results into the implementation process for the new system. It is important to also seek opinions and ideas from all employee stakeholders to ensure that their psychological health and safety is best managed in the way they see as appropriate. This is a collaborative effort. The act of merely asking for input will almost immediately reduce the stress while focusing people on the solutions and not just complaints. Also pay close attention to what staff are already doing to cope and mitigate the risks related to psychological health and safety.

Specifically to comment around LEAN management processes, these processes are about increasing efficiency and mitigating risks – elements central to the Standard itself.

Answer: Trying to do it all immediately would have a negative effect on everyone’s psychological health and safety. Efforts need to be sustainable and should slowly be embedded in the way the organization thinks, makes decisions, and reviews policies. Think about how to engage your staff. Look at the Standard’s framework and use the audit tool to determine what is already in place and where the gaps lie with respect to the Standard itself. The other planning processes within the Standard are key to understanding the impact of psychological health and safety on the workers and on the organization. Once it is understood where the issues lie, one idea would be to pick something that aligns with your current strategic goals and pay attention to that. However, if something urgent and serious is identified (e.g. bullying), then it must be carefully and immediately addressed.

It is also important to remember that you are not likely to be the first in your organization to tackle implementation of a Standard. Rally people within the organization who have implemented processes and policies related to other Standards (e.g.  ISO 9000). Make use of them as they know the challenges and processes involved in implementing a Standard, even though they may not be a content expert on psychological health and safety. Their experience will benefit the implementation process greatly.

The essence of the Standard is identifying hazards and addressing their related risks. Organizations will benefit from starting to do the obvious, such as looking for the areas in need of immediate attention by reviewing the leading indicators. These indicators include EAP consultations, drugs utilization, complaints/grievance, increase in Health & Safety incidences, short-and long-term disability, turnover, engagement survey, and customer satisfaction.

Answer: Implementing the Standard is a journey and not something an organization should do as a “flavour of the month.” Keeping this ideology in mind, it is important to be aware that the champion, leading the implementation, within in the organization show visible commitment to improving psychological health and safety in the workplace. This may be shown by acting upon the set principles and policies, “walking the talk” is especially important here.

Once there is clear commitment, it is important to prepare the organizational leaders before embarking further on this implementation journey. This change management may include changing behaviour, expectations, management style, culture, and other factors. One suggestion is to have a “challenge meeting” where management can openly talk with each other about a challenge they had related to psychological health and safety, brainstorm on ideas around a solution, and/or learn from another leader’s experience. It is important through this process to remember, workplace psychological health and safety is an important component that improves productivity.

Answer: The definition of an employee/worker in the standard is clear: “a person employed by an organization or a person under the day-to-day control of the organization, whether paid or unpaid, which includes employees, supervisors, managers, leaders, contractors, service providers, volunteers, students or other stakeholders actively engaged in undertaking activities for the benefit to the organization.” Management needs to make decisions around whom to provide benefits, as well as consider the psychological impact of whether or not to provide benefits.

Having said that, some policies should be applicable to all types of employees (e.g. policies on harassment and bullying). An employer may or may not choose to provide employment and/ or family assistance programs (EAP/EFAPs), for example, to all employee types though the intent of the Standard was to offer all to all employees.

It is also important to note that there are many resources available, at no cost, in the community. An employer can always look into making those services/resources available to employees that otherwise would not get benefits.

No matter what benefits/programs are provided. It is important to recognize that unmet employee needs could turn into risks. Therefore employers must consider all possible ways to prevent worsening the risks for workers by fulfilling their duty of care. 

Answer: “Doing the Standard” means implementing the Psychological Health and Safety Management System (PHSMS). It is important, therefore, to look at various system indicators that provide evidence that the organization is implementing the Standard. The sample audit tool provided within the Standard, is designed to assess where an organization is in relation to the requirements of the Standard. Another method is to create an inventory of the programs and policies that might be related to human capital or health and safety, within the organization. Organizations could also gauge where they stand by reviewing the “shall” statements within the Standard.

Answer: When implementing the Standard, as with organizational change of any kind, there are two different aspects to change management: individual change management; and organizational change management, specifically in this case – change related to the psychological health and safety management system.  While change management can be one of the biggest challenges for an organization when implementing the Standard, it is important to remember that the end goal is to achieve a change towards a culture of psychological health and safety. It is important to reduce the fear and stigma around psychological health and safety and move forward towards a common language organization-wide.

Some free resources to consider around change management.

These resources address questions for employers, such as “what is it that we should say?”

It is also important to provide training to the management team, as well as resources for change management. It is equally important for senior leaders in an organization to communicate their engagement on the proposed changes and keep the channels of communication open while encouraging feedback. As well as providing support (such as training) to the management team to apply appropriate change management principles and therefore be able to adequately support employees in times of change. Strong senior level buy-in at all levels has been seen to be extremely effective for change management. 

Answer: Primarily focus on solutions: what needs to change going forward?, how do you support this change?, what will happen if these changes are not sustained? Ask what employees need to feel safe and avoid victim stories being repeated over and over.  A free resource on crisis planning is available by Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health.

Answer: The Standard is a process of continual improvement; therefore, you can’t get it wrong. In a sense you don’t have to implement the entire Standard to get on the road to improving PH&S. Wellness may focus exclusively on personal responsibility for individual health. To expand to include essential elements of the Standard, you should pay attention to the way the organization impacts employee wellness. A list of factors that can be measured to help identify potential impacts are included in the Standard. Research shows that traditional wellness strategies implemented in toxic environments may actually cause more harm than good. Expanding your approach to include improvements to PH&S can help protect against this.

Answer: Many organizations already have mechanisms in place that could be used to help communicate their commitment to PH&S. While challenging, organizations need to explore all possibilities such as newsletters, letters to employees, include handouts with pay slips, etc. You can also have discussions within scheduled meetings. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy conversations. It can simply be tips or strategies shared with foremen or supervisors to pass on to their direct reports. In other words, think of your existing communication tools and utilize other avenues beyond internet or computer.

Answer: The beauty of the Standard is that it’s not a workshop or program that can be implemented or not (fail or pass). It’s an ongoing framework for continual improvement. It’s not about getting it right. It is not an add on but rather something that should be integrated in how you do business so that if you need to focus on other priorities you don’t lose what you’ve worked on. The framework provides measures that help you improve year upon year. Simply put, the Standard is a framework and you can’t get it wrong, you can only get better.

Answer: If the question is whether you need a specific committee or structure to run the implementation of the Standard, compliance with the Standard is only required for those aspects that use the word “shall”. [Note: In the Standard, “shall” is used to express a requirement]. Since it’s a continual improvement process, we do not expect you to comply right away with every “shall.” The goal is to integrate and engage. When engaging people, it need not necessarily be as a committee or subcommittee. We would encourage organizations to embed engagement within existing structures while ensuring you have a broad representation of all stakeholders. The more integrated, the more likely it is to be sustainable. Please see section 4.2.4.1 for more information.

Answer: “Robust” is subjective to whether or not the ROI methodology matters to the people that make decisions. The short answer is to link your return on investment methodology to the core values of your organization. Some of the impacts that organizations look for will include reputation, branding, time to market, customer service, quality control, compliance risks, etc. Profitability and productivity are important factors but the challenge is that there are many influences on these two factors. From a practical point of view, there is a relevant research report “The ROI of EHS: Practical Strategies to Demonstrate the Business Value of Environmental, Health, and Safety Functions”. It describes how to do ROI for environmental management systems. They give three practical ideas:

  • The Baldrige Performance Excellence Model
    The Baldrige model developed categories that include the following:
    • Leadership
    • Strategic planning
    • Customer focus
    • Measurement and Knowledge management
    • Human resource focus
    • Process Management
    • Business results
  • The Six SIGMA model
    The Six SIGMA quality improvement model was originally created to eliminate operational defects but they now use it to measure quality, satisfaction, and enhancing business value.
  • The balanced organizational scorecard
    The balanced organization scorecard looks at how PH&S scorecards can be worked into a management and organizational system.

There is also a report from Australia that brought forth two factors that could be relevant:

  1. Much better to report back based on teams or groups and their level of engagement because the most critical success factor is employee engagement.
  2. Implementing actions are unlikely to be effective unless there is leadership and management support for improving the culture and mental health in workplace. If you can link the measurable leadership and management support actions to the interventions and activities, you’ll be able to show success linked to those two factors.

While the ROI is often brought up as a key consideration, the duty to invest is a very important reason to keep in mind. ROI must be balanced with a duty to invest.In the end, ROI is only one of the reasons for adopting and implementing the Standard in the workplace but you should look at all the reasons to adopt the Standard.

Answer: Dealing with performance is critical to a psychologically safe workplace. It could be chaos if organizations allowed all employees to do whatever they want. The issue is how to manage performance in a psychologically safe way, which means focusing on the intended outcome rather than the personal failure of an individual. Example 1: If an employee is negative at meetings, rather than telling them “You are so miserable and negative in meetings and you are bringing everyone else down,” you might state “I would like these meetings to be positive, productive, and constructive.” You can then discuss what needs to be done to achieve this goal and include how success can be supported and measured. Example 2: If an employee has been known to miss deadlines, rather than expressing your frustration with them, you might state, “Here is the deadline for this project. What do you need to meet this deadline? What are the milestones? What are the knowledge and skills required? How can we measure that you are able to attain this deadline and what will we put in place if you are unable to?” A neutral and clear approach in talking with an employee can make a huge difference in stress levels, but it can also be more effective. The most important time to support effective performance may be when someone is struggling with emotional distress or mental illness. Failing at work may damage their working relationships and reputation and could exacerbate their symptoms and their stress.

The above is reasonable within the context of the Standard. The law draws a line in the sand regarding the types of things employees can raise concerns about. One of the things they cannot complain about is managerial action that is carried out in a reasonable way; the Supreme Court has commented on this issue as it pertains to workers compensation. For example, there was an Alberta case that went to the Supreme Court where a worker was complaining about chronic stress and claiming compensation. One of the exclusions for compensation would be that in addition to the duties reasonably expected by the nature of the worker’s occupation, normal pressures and tensions include, for example, interpersonal relations and conflicts, health and safety concerns, union issues, routine labour relations actions taken by the employer including workloads and deadlines, work evaluations, performance management (discipline), transfers, changes in job duties, layoffs, demotions, terminations and reorganizations, to which all workers may be subject from time to time. The law is basically trying to establish a norm of conduct. It sets a framework for what the Standard is trying to build on, which it does in the ways/examples described above.

Some organizations become rigid when talking about performance management and send double messages to employees. For example, they may set up certain performance requirements at the beginning of the year and then add more important things to do throughout the year. However, there needs to be some flexibility with respect to performance requirements, and organizations and employees need to be able to talk regularly about performance objectives. Being able to replace objectives that drop off during the year with others that become more important helps prevent stress for employees.

Managers need to take into consideration if there is any significant duty change or behaviour change required from the employee’s perspective. While it is important to talk about reaching objectives or not meeting objectives, the most important thing is looking at the employee’s behaviour, noting the differences between wellness, motivation, stress, anxiety, or signs of depression.

The first things is making sure that managers have the knowledge and/or training to develop these skills. Some managers may have great technical competencies but lack effective communication skills, especially in terms of emotionally distressing situations. These managers should be supported, coached, or trained improve their effectiveness and organizations should consider adding these skills to hiring and promotion criteria.

There are three practical approaches to help managers identify and respond to employee behavioural changes: (1) Improving emotional intelligence (i.e., being able to better recognize and manage their own emotional reactions and being able to recognize and respond to the emotional reactions of others), (2) Appreciative inquiry is a technique which involves asking questions in a manner that doesn’t feel like an interrogation or accusation. This skill allows you to draw information from people in a non-judgmental and conversational way. (3) When dealing with an employee that you know is dealing with mental illness, there are two books that can be useful: (A) Keeping Well at Work (a book to give to an employee) and (B) Being a Mindful Manager (to help managers have a conversation with employees).

Everyone is aware of the big traumas but many people have minor traumas as well. When in the workplace, it is imperative to speak to employees and help them through their minor traumas in a way that does not pass judgment. Judgments can be made not only verbally, but also non-verbally such as through a raised eyebrow, a nod, or even passing someone a tissue. For example, a tissue might be interpreted as “you need to stop crying.” We are constantly learning more about emotional intelligence and how to respond to people in an effective way. That being said, focusing on improving your emotional intelligence is one of the most critical things you can do to help employees in distress and help motivate people.

Answer:  With many staff members and locations it is crucial to engage all levels of employees. Although difficult, organizations must embed the importance of psychological health and safety into their overarching principals and guidelines. They must stress the overall organizational identity and support staff, placing an emphasis on dedication to workplace mental health and safety.

In terms of dissemination, organizations have used a number of different communication strategies including email, workplace huddles with front line staff, safety moments (brief team discussions), as well as ongoing communications from a Board of Directors. Key leaders and champions can also help to create greater awareness and make these strategies instrumental in improving the safety of their workplaces.