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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

Can a business of any size, in any sector, leverage the National Standard of Canada of Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard) to protect and promote employee mental health?

Both the short and long answer to this question is "yes." Of course, every organization will use it differently. A three year Case Study Research Project undertaken by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) released findings in March, 2017, which point to the Standard's adaptability among 40 Canadian organizations of diverse sizes and sectors.

It was found that the Standard could be equally applied by multinational corporations like Bell Canada, and by small organizations with fewer than 10 employees. And while the Standard is designed to be flexible enough to meet the needs of all businesses, the Case Study clearly identified best practices around effectively leveraging the Standard.

This article examines some of those best practices.


The Standard is not a prescriptive and unbending framework. Rather it's a set of tools and resources that can be tailored to the specific needs of your organization. The concept of the Standard will likely be familiar to those who have previously implemented the Deming Cycle, otherwise known as Plan-Do-Check-Act. In short, the Standard is a form of management methodology that allows organizations to continuously improve processes. This is especially relevant when referring to building psychologically healthy workplaces, because there is no "finish line."


It's not surprising that employees perform well when their psychological health is optimized. Psychological health at work involves identifying risks and hazards that may impact the mental health of employees and proactively working to mitigate or eliminate the impact of such hazards. Just as an employer that allows window-washers to ascend 15 stories high without safety equipment would be deemed irresponsible and legally liable in the case of an accident, we are starting to recognize that bullying, harassment and poor management practices are psychological hazards an employer has a responsibility to mitigate.

In a recent case in Prince Edward Island, a widow was awarded damages after her husband's fatal heart attack was tied to workplace stress and bullying. This sets a new benchmark for employer responsibility when it comes to taking steps to address workplace mental health.

The results of the Case Study tell a story of common efforts taken across these 40 organizations, which have resulted in 72 per cent compliance with the Standard after only three years.


The following actions have translated to measureable success in implementation of the Standard among the Case Study Participants:

1. Plan. Assess your work environment.

Use available data sources to tell the story of your workplace environment's psychological safety hazards and risks. Among Case Study organizations, the top three data sources mined for information included the use of employee assistance programs, return to work and accommodation data and long- and short-term disability. Other sources of valuable information include incident reports, and psychological health risk assessments, like Morneau Shepell's Total Health Index (THI), the Guarding Minds @ Work employee survey by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, which is sensitive to relevant psychosocial risk factors, and the 13 PHS factors on-line resource published online The Globe and Mail.

2. Do. Take action and build awareness.

Over the course of the three year evaluation, 78 per cent of organizations implemented respectful workplace policies and educated their employees about them; 70 per cent of organizations provided employee assistance programs and services; and 66 per cent worked to enhance mental health knowledge and awareness among employees. Other important actions included training managers to identify and intervene when an employee may be showing signs of a mental health problem or illness and supporting stay-at-work programs that provide ongoing support for employees with psychological health issues.

3. Check. Measure the impact.

It's critical to measure the effect of implementing the Standard. And the Case Study tells us that this was the most challenging component across organizations.

Tips for implementing a targeted evaluation strategy include:

1. Determine at the start what is going to be measured, and how frequently.

2. Identify new and existing indicators specific to psychological health and safety.

3. Match preventative interventions, like resilience training, with early indicators, such as improved attendance or decreased short-term disability claims. Conversely, match reactive interventions, like a disability management programs, with the right key performance indicators, like average case duration until return to work.

4. When considering the design of your strategy, ensure your organization determines the key performance it will use to measure success and has the ability to access the data for analysis. In short, the personnel responsible for evaluation must have access to information across the organization and be able to compare with previous years and among similar sectors.

4. Act. Find ways to make improvements.

The Standard is based on continuous improvement. Effective evaluation will allow your organization to measure change with respect to the programs in place and address priorities identified in the planning process. These efforts will drive further planning, implementation and change.

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.

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