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HR POLICIES & PRACTICES
Apr 26, 2016

Managing psychological health and safety in the workplace

Employers can help safeguard employees’ mental health and wellbeing
    

By Brian Kreissl 

Perhaps it is cruel irony that I’ve already committed to doing a blog post this week on managing psychological health and safety in the workplace at a time when my own mental health isn’t the greatest. 

That’s because we just lost our beloved Bailey, an 11-and-a-half-year-old yellow Labrador retriever. My whole family is absolutely devastated. We lost a friend, a faithful companion and a loving member of our family. 

Thankfully, I had the weekend to recover somewhat and I worked from home on Monday. I also have an understanding employer and a boss who is a “dog person” and completely gets it. Over the past few days, I also got a lot of comfort from my wife and daughter and our other dog — a nine-month-old chocolate Lab puppy named Bella — as well as our families and friends. 

People and employers are definitely starting to understand that pets are part of people’s families and pet bereavement causes many people very real psychological pain. Even people who aren’t animal lovers can surely see that. 

Nevertheless, I was an emotional wreck for a while there and I don’t know what I would do if my employer wasn’t so understanding. Without that support, I could easily have had an emotional meltdown over the past few days. Some people can be cruel and insensitive, and it would have been difficult for me if I was expected to simply “suck it up” at work. 

Having said all that, I’m not going to devote an entire post to pet bereavement because my colleague Jeff Smith did such a good job covering that topic last year (ironically, I actually commented on that post and mentioned Bailey). And there's a story on the topic in the latest issue of Canadian HR Reporter.

Safeguarding psychological health and safety in the workplace 

Perhaps some people might think discussing pet bereavement is a bit of a stretch in the context of safeguarding psychological health and safety in the workplace, but I see it as relevant because people cannot simply separate their work and personal lives. What affects people’s frame of mind at home also affects them in the workplace and vice versa. 

Because of that, employers have a legal and moral obligation to help protect employees’ mental health, even if their specific challenges were caused outside the workplace. It isn’t just about safeguarding their mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, but also accommodating people’s needs from a mental health perspective and ensuring that the workplace doesn’t add to people’s stresses and psychological health challenges, regardless of where they originated. 

Psychological health and safety has received a lot of press recently both in Canada and elsewhere — particularly in the wake of the implementation of the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Standard CSA Z1003/BNQ 9700-803 on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace in 2013. This voluntary standard seeks to eliminate negligent, reckless or intentional harm to workers’ mental and emotional health, safety and wellness in the workplace. 

The standard, which was developed in consultation with numerous stakeholders by the CSA and the Bureau de normalisation du Quebec (BNQ), essentially goes further than the current law by expanding the scope of duty of care with respect to the provision of a safe and healthy workplace to include greater consideration of workers’ mental health. 

Although the standard currently lacks the force of law, several commentators have suggested it is highly likely it will be referenced by courts, tribunals and arbitrators across Canada and/or be expressly incorporated into the law of one or more jurisdictions by legislative provisions. For this reason — and because many employers care about the health, safety and wellbeing of workers and simply want to do the right thing — implementing the standard is a good idea. 

According to the Neighbour @Work Centre, the benefits of implementation also include potential cost savings, improved employee retention and engagement, enhanced innovation and creativity and an expanded commitment to corporate social responsibility. 

Carswell has several resources that can help employers implement the Standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, including Preventing Workplace Meltdown: An Employer's Guide to Maintaining a Psychologically Safe Workplace, by Martin Shain and Mary Ann Baynton. While that book was written prior to the standard being implemented, we also have a new book coming out on the subject, also by Martin Shain, entitled The Careful Workplace: Seeking Psychological Safety at Work in the Era of Canada's National Standard.


    
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