Published in The Vancouver Sun, Opinion Editorial. January 21, 2013
On Wednesday, January 16, 2013, a new national Standard on psychological health and safety will enter the Canadian workplace. The Standard, developed under the leadership of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Standards Association, outlines a structure and a process to transform the way employers and labour leaders approach psychological health. We have no doubt it will offer a new pathway to increased productivity and employee well-being.
The goals of the standard are to prevent psychological harm and promote psychological health in the workplace. It exists for all working Canadians—their families and communities. The Standard is timely and necessary: A 2012 Conference Board of Canada survey found that 44% of employees reported experiencing mental health issues. As you may imagine this is just the tip of the iceberg. We live and work in a time of volatile economic conditions and rapidly changing technology. Rising absenteeism and disability rates due to mental illness are two of the factors that contribute to loss of productivity.
The Standard offers organizations a clear, systematic, and sustainable approach to changing how psychological health and mental illnesses are approached in the workplace. This approach will be similar to how physical health and safety are now managed in workplaces. Recognizing that organizations’ size and needs will vary, the Standard will include a wealth of resources, including sample implementation models, case studies, a sample audit tool and many references. This information will help employers develop appropriate approaches to implementation of the Standard, whether starting with corporate policies or training. No matter where one starts, the key is commitment from all leaders in the workplace.
The Standard has been in development since 2009 when various experts and interested parties, including the BC Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, were brought together by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It is based on research and was informed by extensive public consultation to ensure a practical approach. It offers a great opportunity for Canada to step onto a stage that recognizes the inherent value, equality and interconnectivity of mental and physical health. We foresee a day when working Canadians look to their employer and labour leadership to ensure their safety and promote both their physical and psychological well-being. This Standard will give workplaces the means to meet that expectation.
The path to psychological safety and health will be a process of continuous improvement and may, at times, be challenging. Employers and labour leaders need to set a new course for themselves, so they can continue to be relevant and appeal to the generations ahead.
For some, the first step may be reading this article; for others it may involve a conversation with their team; for others it might involve inviting the Canadian Mental Health Association for a training session with leaders and supervisors. It’s worth noting that more than 40% of managers reported having no training on how to manage employees with mental health issues. Others still might want to get out there and hear from the experts at our upcoming conference that will focus on the new national Standard. Our 10th annual Bottom Line Conference is aptly titled Celebrating a New Era in Workplace Mental Health: Putting National Standards into Practice.
While it is almost trendy to talk about psychological health in the workplace, it is so much more than the latest business buzz word; it’s something we all need to address. We hope you will be inspired by this new Standard and will set a 2013 resolution about how you can positively contribute to the positive psychological health of your workplace.
To access the new National Standard at no cost, visit www.bottomlineconference.ca
Chair, Steering Committee, Bottom Line Conference
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division