Generally when people think about workplace safety they think about the physical safety of workers.
Beginning in 1884, Canada developed extensive standards in protecting the physical safety of workers, but little to nothing has been done to ensure psychological safety. When a work environment is filled with high levels of stressors such as interpersonal conflict, excessive workloads and stress, employees will respond by calling in sick more often and have lower rates of productivity, et cetera.
In 2013, according to a study by the Conference Board of Canada, absenteeism by itself cost the Canadian economy more than $16 billion a year. This number does not include lost productivity or high turnover.
Federal occupational health legislation has now incorporated the concept of mental injury in the workplace and specific workplace accountabilities, with reference to harassment (Bill C-65). Consider that in Canada financial awards for damages caused by mental injury at work have increased over the past five years by as much as 700 per centand litigation over workplace issues related to mental injury is predicted to continue to climb.
However, when businesses adopt policies and programs to address psychological safety and health they incur 15 to 33 per cent fewer costs related to psychological health issues. This cost savings translates to between $2.97 and $11 billion that could be saved annually in Canada if mental injuries caused by the actions of employers were prevented.
In 2013, Canada became the first country in the world to create a standard for psychological safety and mental health in the workplace. The standard creates a framework for organizations to identify policies, procedures and processes in the workplace that have the potential to impact the psychological safety and mental health of employees.
A psychologically healthy and safe workplace is a workplace that promotesworkers’ psychological well-being and actively works to prevent harm to worker psychological health, including in negligent, reckless or intentional ways. The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard), the first of its kind in the world, is a set of voluntary guidelines, tools and resources intended to guide organizations in promoting mental health and preventing psychological harm at work.
Workplaces with a positive approach to psychological health and safety are better able to recruit and retain talent, have improved employee engagement, enhanced productivity, are more creative and innovative, and have higher profit levels. Other benefits include a reduction in several key workplace issues including the risk of conflict, grievances, turnover, disability, injury rates, absenteeism and performance or morale problems.
The Canadian Mental Health Association and Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace have created and made many resources available for free.
Anyone interested in learning more about the standard or about how to assess and implement psychological safety into their work environment, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone/text at 604.414.7058.
Powell River's Sara Mitchell-Banks holds a Master’s in Advanced Nursing Practice and recently completed the Canadian Mental Health Association Certified Psychological Health and Safety Advisor Training program.