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The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2018 winners of the award at

Register now for the 2019 Employee Recommended Workplace Awards at Get feedback from your staff and get recognized for your excellence in health and wellness.

You are invited to participate in our study to evaluate how prepared the average employee, HR leader, OHS professional, manager and senior leader believes their organization is to create a psychologically safe workplace. We ask you to take a few minutes to complete the short Rapid Psychological Health and Safety Gap Analysis. Over the next several weeks we will be collecting data and reporting our findings so that you can benchmark where you are against your peers.

How does an organization create a psychologically safe workplace?

Once you ask this question, it’s interesting to listen carefully to the response. For example, listen for not only what is being done but how success is being defined and objectively measured (for example, through annual psychological health and safety audits by an independent third party).

Management expert Peter Drucker has been famously quoted as saying that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” While it’s true that culture can transform an organization into a winner, it’s perhaps more interesting to explore how an organization fosters the culture that senior leaders want. Clearly, it doesn’t just happen from wishful thinking, simply posting a set of values on the wall, or a one-time passionate decree from a senior leader.


Culture takes work and discipline. Just observe any safety-driven culture that has made physical safety its number one core value and, as a result, has become a safety leader. To achieve this result, every day each employee had to hold themselves accountable for their own safety and act to protect others’ safety. However, over time, through a disciplined occupational health and safety (OHS) system, an organization can achieve its desired safety records and results.

Culture is defined not by words but by actions based on what senior leaders have authorized in order to achieve the desired culture. One common path to improving physical safety outcomes is to implement an evidence-based OHS strategy with trained professionals to facilitate early detection, intervention, education, proper policies and procedures, continuous improvement and audits that collectively define the OHS management system and a path to success.

A safety culture happens because of senior leadership’s decision to put the necessary resources and dollars in place to make it happen. Culture is ultimately an outcome of what the average employee believes and does.


When it comes to facilitating psychological safety, the same logic applies. Having professionals who understand psychological health, know how to reduce mental injuries and promote mental health is not a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have.

Facilitating a psychologically safe workplace begins with senior leadership making it a priority and understanding its benefits. They must ensure that a trained professional is overseeing how to best support the organization’s psychological health and leveraging OHS management systems.

An excellent place to begin is to conduct a baseline audit regardless if the organization is committed to adopting the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.

The Rapid Psychological Health and Safety Gap Analysis can help decision makers get their bearings about where to start and the next steps needed to create a psychologically safe workplace.

One important step when designing a full psychological workplace audit is to include a method to obtain employees’ perspectives on what they think are some factors that could be hindering or supporting a psychologically safe workplace.

Organizations can leverage the free online tools for the 13 psychological health and safety factors such as Guarding Minds at Work in order to get input from their employees. Another is the Howatt HR 13 PHS factors tool typically used by mental health committees that want to obtain a quick baseline and to compare notes as to where they believe their organizations currently stand. This can be a first step before doing the Guarding Minds at Work survey with the entire work force.


One challenge to building a psychologically safe workplace is that mental injuries and mental health are not as easy to observe in the workplace as a physical safety risk factor.

Obtaining a 13 PHS baseline is helpful and important. However, a downside is that it only provides employees’ perceptions of what they’re experiencing within the workplace. It doesn’t offer any insight into how well employees are managing stress, nor current levels of mental health, coping skills and resiliency.

Morneau Shepell’s total health index provides employers a 13 PHS baseline, along with insight on the average employee’s total health (physical, mental, workplace experience and life).

To create a psychologically safe workplace and a culture that supports this mission requires two-way accountability. Programs alone are not enough. It’s necessary for every employee to learn to take the best care they can of their mental health and total health. At the same time, employers should be removing risk factors that can negatively impact employees’ psychological health.

Regardless of the size of the organization, the above imperatives are required. One reason we created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award (ERWA) was to provide a platform for small, medium and large employers to access the Total Health Index to obtain a baseline of their work force’s total health.

Employers looking for a proven, effective way to obtain a baseline of their employees’ total health and to use this information as part of their audit can leverage the ERWA. It’s easy to use, economical and provides every employee real-time feedback upon completion of the survey of what action they can take, and the employer obtains a baseline to benchmark against their peers.

Glyn Jones is a Professional Engineer, a consulting occupational health and safety professional, and a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

You can find all the stories in this series at