Skip to main content
workplace health

This is part of a series examining the mental health experience in Canada's workplaces. Take part in our short survey ( and add your voice to this important conversation. This article provides employers insights to help them better support employees with mental health issues. This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award, which honours companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Winners for 2017 will be announced at a HR summit on June 21 in Toronto. Register for the 2018 Award

Thirteen psychological health and safety factors underpin the National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, a voluntary set of guidelines, tools and resources to promote employee mental health and prevent psychological harm at work. While the 13 factors are optional to implementing the Standard, they offer a valuable roadmap.

Addressing the 13 factors may seem daunting, but it doesn't need to be.

Certainly, it's a worthwhile endeavour considering that businesses that adopt policies and programs to address psychological health and safety incur between 15 to 33 per cent fewer costs related to psychological health issues.

This article examines how to tackle the 13 factors systematically, one bite at a time.

Read more: How any business can improve employee mental health


The 13 factors are grounded in a large body of research on psychological and social risk. Many are interrelated and influence one another.

Some factors are tied to how work is carried out rather than to the nature of the work itself. Is the workload reasonable? Are deadlines realistic? Do employees have sufficient control over their work?

Other factors are anchored in the context in which work occurs and can mitigate risks like heavy workloads. Are your employees supported by their leadership with advice, direction and planning? Do they have the information, practical resources and training they need to succeed? More broadly, are your policies and practices fair? Do they support psychological health and safety?

Most organizations already have a solid foundation in place. Your organization likely has adopted important elements, such as an employee assistance program or anti-harassment policies. But the key is to resist one-off action in favour of a holistic and systematic plan that tackles all 13 factors in order of priority.


In addition to the health and business case for addressing psychological health and safety in the workplace, there is also a legal argument.

Ten years ago, typically only egregious acts of harassment and bullying resulting in catastrophic psychological harm could give rise to legal actions for mental injury. Now even the negligent and chronic infliction of excessive work demands can be the subject of such claims under certain conditions. In his discussion paper, Tracking the Perfect Legal Storm, Martin Shain outlines the seven major trends in the law.

And while employee participation in psychological safety is vital, it is the employer who is ultimately accountable for monitoring and creating a work environment that supports employee mental health. People who are typically mentally healthy and resilient can be brought to the brink of mental distress – and sometimes pushed over – by work conditions over which employers have significant control and employees have little influence. Employees who have physical or mental health conditions are also due protection.


Any organization can use the 13 factors to build a mental health action plan.

1. Create an action plan founded on the 13 factors.

a. Take a temperature check. The six-question Guarding Minds @ Work initial scan scores how your employees perceive their basic work conditions in terms of demand, control, effort and reward. This is often enough to identify high, medium and low risk zones in your workplace. The role of perceived fairness and supervisor support as mitigating factors to employee satisfaction or stress is also measured.

b. Delve deeper. Validate these initial findings and pinpoint more precise areas for action through interviews, feedback/focus groups or assessment tools like the Morneau Shepell Total Health Index or the Guarding Minds @ Work Employee Survey, both aligned with the 13 factors. The Guarding Minds survey report assembles a complete profile of your organization, ranking each factor as a significant, moderate or minimal concern or a relative strength.

c. Rank your priorities. Begin with areas of significant concern. Remember, not all factors are created equal – psychological protection and psychological support should be a priority within each category of concern. Pay particular attention to discrimination, harassment and unfair treatment due to mental illness. Reflect on what's happening in your organization. If there's a change in leadership, consider prioritizing the clear leadership and expectations factor. Or maybe another has a disproportionate effect on your organization's finances.

d. Execute your plan in small bites. Tackle one factor at a time and limit your actions to three per factor. This will focus your efforts and increase the prospect of success. The Guarding Minds @ Work suggested responses web resource includes a quality framework to help organizations weigh the benefits, risks and anticipated difficulties of actions. This resource also offers a menu of possible evidence-based actions.

2. Engage employees.

Educate, communicate and actively engage employees of all levels on the 13 factors. Short whiteboard animation videos developed by Ottawa Public Health and the Mental Health Commission of Canada, help stimulate small group discussions on how both the organization and the individual can address the 13 factors. The video series is especially useful to organizations with limited resources, and are accompanied by a detailed guide to facilitate conversations.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto and creator of an online Pathway to Coping course offered through the University of New Brunswick.

Louise Bradley is CEO and President of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Add your voice and take part in our short mental health survey: (

Learn who the finalists are for the 2017 Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

Buy tickets to the HR Summit on June 21, Solving Workplace Challenges in the Modern Economy at The Globe's new headquarters in Toronto, where the grand prize winners of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award will be announced.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe