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Healthy Minds at Work


The workplace can have a significant impact on individuals' health, safety and overall well-being. More than ever the traditional view of workplace health and safety has been replaced with a comprehensive approach to include the total well-being and mental health of employees, also referred to as psychological health and safety.

Healthy Minds at Work provides information and links to credible resources that can help workplaces increase their understanding and recognition of mental health issues at work, address existing issues, develop and implement effective approaches to promoting mental health at work, and find quality resources and tools on a range of related topics.

For Employers

Guarding Minds at Work: A workplace Guide to Psychological Health and Safety

Guarding Minds @ Work (GM@W) is a unique and free, comprehensive set of resources designed to protect and promote psychological health and safety in the workplace. GM@W resources allow employers to effectively assess and address the 13 psychosocial factors known to have a powerful impact on organizational health, the health of individual employees, and the financial bottom line.


How do psychosocial risk factors in the workplace affect employee health?

Workplaces have traditionally looked at workplace health from a strictly occupational health and safety perspective. To have a complete or comprehensive approach, workplaces should also consider measures that may impact the mental health of worker.

There is strong evidence that certain features of the workplace can affect employees' mental and physical health. These factors include demoralization, depressed mood, anxiety, burnout, etc. These factors increase the likelihood that an individual will experience increased stress, which in turn increases the likelihood of developing or worsening a mental disorder.

Psychological health problems can range widely, from mild psychological difficulties such as low mood, sleep difficulties, or excessive worry to severe psychological disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression. Because milder psychological health problems are far more common in the workplace, they account for a larger percentage of the negative impacts on employees and employers.

Mental distress that has not reached the level of a diagnosable mental disorder can still be a source of considerable suffering. It is possible that workplace factors may increase the likelihood of the occurrence of a mental disorder, make an existing disorder worse, and impede effective treatment and rehabilitation. On the other hand, a supportive work environment can reduce the onset, severity, impact and duration of a mental health disorder.

What is mental health?

Mental health is a state of well-being in which a person understands his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

Both physical and mental health are the result of a complex interplay between many individual and environmental factors, including:

  • family history of illness and disease/genetics
  • lifestyle and health behaviours (e.g., smoking, exercise, substance use)
  • levels of personal and workplace stress
  • exposure to toxins
  • exposure to trauma
  • personal life circumstances and history
  • access to supports (e.g., timely healthcare, social supports)
  • coping skills

When the demands placed on someone exceed their resources and coping abilities, their mental health will be negatively affected. Two examples of common demands are: i) working long hours under difficult circumstances, and ii) caring for a chronically ill relative. Economic hardship, unemployment, underemployment and poverty also have the potential to harm mental health.

What is mental illness?

Mental illness is a recognized, medically diagnosable illness that results in the significant impairment of an individual's cognitive, affective or relational abilities. Mental disorders result from biological, developmental and/or psychosocial factors and can be managed using approaches comparable to those applied to physical disease (i.e., prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation).

Why should employers be concerned about mental health?

Including mental health in your business model is important to a healthy workplace. Poor mental health not only hurts the individual, it also reduces corporate profits. It's important that all levels of the workplace - including the Board of Directors, management, finance, and human resources departments - get involved to incorporate mental health at your workplace.

There is no one "right way" to create a mentally healthy workplace because every workplace is different - from the people doing the work, to the work that needs to be done, to the leaders running the organization, the size of the organization, the external environment that influences the community, and the external resources the company draws. All of these factors play a role in employee mental health.

There is also a legislative requirement for employers to protect the mental and physical health of their employees. Many provincial occupational health and safety acts have been expanded to include harm to psychological well-being in the definition of harassment. In jurisdictions that do not have explicit legislation dealing with psychological health in the workplace, the general duty clause would apply.

The Issues

Thirteen psychosocial risk (PSR) factors

Thirteen psychosocial risk (PSR) factors have been identified by researchers at Simon Fraser University "based on extensive research and review of empirical data from national and international best practices. The factors were also determined based on existing and emerging Canadian case law and legislation."

These 13 factors are discussed in detail on the Guarding Minds at Work (GM@W) website ( GM@W is a free, evidence-based strategy that helps employers protect and promote psychological safety and health in their workplace.

The thirteen organizational factors that impact organizational health, the health of individual employees and the financial bottom line, including the way work is carried out and the context in which work occurs, are:

  1. Psychological Support
  2. Organizational Culture
  3. Clear Leadership & Expectations
  4. Civility & Respect
  5. Psychological Job Fit
  6. Growth & Development
  7. Recognition & Reward
  8. Involvement & Influence
  9. Workload Management
  10. Engagement
  11. Balance
  12. Psychological Protection
  13. Protection of Physical Safety

1. Psychological Support

A workplace where co-workers and supervisors are supportive of employees' psychological and mental health concerns, and respond appropriately as needed. For some organizations, the most important aspect of psychological support may be to protect against traumatic stressors at work.

Why it is important: Employees that feel they have psychological support have greater job attachment, job commitment, job satisfaction, job involvement, positive work moods, desire to remain with the organization, organizational citizenship behaviours (behaviours of personal choice that benefit the organization), and job performance.

What happens when it is lacking: Employee perceptions of a lack of psychological support from their organization can lead to:

  • increased absenteeism
  • withdrawal behaviours
  • conflict
  • strain - which can lead to fatigue, headaches, burnout and anxiety
  • turnover
  • loss of productivity
  • increased costs
  • greater risk of accidents, incidents and injuries

2. Organizational Culture

A workplace characterized by trust, honesty and fairness. Organizational culture, in general, are basic assumptions held by a particular group. These assumptions are a mix of values, beliefs, meanings and expectations that group members hold in common and that they use as cues to what is considered acceptable behaviour and how to solve problems.

Why it is important: Organizational trust is essential for any positive and productive social processes within any workplace. Trust is a predictor of cooperative behaviour, organizational citizenship behaviours (behaviours of personal choice that benefit the organization), organizational commitment, and employee loyalty. An organization that has a health-focused culture enhances employee well-being, job satisfaction and organizational commitment, which helps to retain and attract employees. A work culture with social support also enhances employee well-being by providing a positive environment for employees who may be experiencing psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety.

What happens when it is lacking: Culture "sets the tone" for an organization - a negative culture can undermine the effectiveness of the best programs, policies and services intended to support the workforce. An unhealthy culture creates more stress, which lowers employee well-being. A culture of "profit at all costs" and constant chaotic urgency can create an environment in which burnout is the norm.

3. Clear Leadership & Expectations

A workplace where there is effective leadership and support that helps employees know what they need to do, how their work contributes to the organization and whether there are impending changes.

Why it is important: Effective leadership increases employee morale, resiliency and trust, and decreases employee frustration and conflict. Good leadership results in employees with higher job well-being, reduced sick leave, and reduced early retirements with disability pensions. A leader who demonstrates a commitment to maintaining his or her own physical and psychological health can influence the health of employees (sickness, presenteeism, absenteeism) as well as the health of the organization as a whole (vigour, vitality, productivity).

What happens when it is lacking: Leaders who are more "instrumental" in their approach (focusing on producing outcomes, with little attention paid to the "big picture," the psychosocial dynamics within the organization, and the individual employees) are more likely to hear staff health complaints including general feelings of malaise, irritability and nervousness. Similarly, leaders who do not demonstrate visible concern for their own physical and psychological health set a negative example for their staff and can undermine the legitimacy of any organizational program, policy and/or service intended to support employees. Middle managers are at greater risk because they must be leaders and be led simultaneously. This role conflict can lead to feelings of powerlessness and stress.

4. Civility and Respect

A workplace where employees are respectful and considerate in their interactions with one another, as well as with customers, clients and the public. Civility and respect are based on showing esteem, care and consideration for others, and acknowledging their dignity.

Why it is important: A civil and respectful workplace is related to greater job satisfaction, greater perceptions of fairness, a more positive attitude, improved morale, better teamwork, greater interest in personal development, engagement in problem resolution, enhanced supervisor-staff relationships, and reduction in sick leave and turnover. Organizations characterized by civility and respect create a positive atmosphere marked by high spirits and work satisfaction. This allows people to enjoy the environment, whether they are staff, clients or customers.

What happens when it is lacking: A workplace that lacks civility and respect can lead to emotional exhaustion amongst staff, greater conflicts, and job withdrawal. A work environment that is uncivil and disrespectful also exposes organizations to the threat of more grievances and legal risks.

One example of disrespectful behaviour is bullying. Exposure to workplace bullying is associated with psychological complaints, depression, burnout, anxiety, aggression, psychosomatic complaints and musculoskeletal health complaints. Bullying not only affects those directly involved, but also affects bystanders, as they too experience higher levels of stress. A number of provinces currently have legislation to address such behaviours.

5. Psychological Job Fit

A workplace where there is a good fit between employees' interpersonal and emotional competencies, their job skills and the position they hold. A good fit means that the employees possess the technical skills and knowledge for a particular position as well as the psychological skills and emotional intelligence (self-awareness, impulse control, persistence, self-motivation, empathy and social deftness) to do the job. Note that a subjective job fit (when employees feel they fit their job) can be more important than an objective job fit (when the employee is assessed and matched to the job).

Why it is important: A good job fit is associated with:

  • fewer health complaints
  • lower levels of depression
  • greater self-esteem
  • a more positive self-concept
  • enhanced performance
  • job satisfaction
  • employee retention

What happens when it is lacking: When there is a poor job fit, employees can experience job strain, which can be expressed as emotional distress and provocation, excessive dwelling on thoughts, defensiveness, energy depletion and lower mood levels. Organizationally, job misfit is linked to fewer applicants in the recruitment and training process, lack of enjoyment and engagement, poor productivity, conflict, and greater voluntary turnover.

6. Growth & Development

A workplace where employees receive encouragement and support in the development of their interpersonal, emotional and job skills. This type of workplace provides a range of internal and external opportunities for employees to build their repertoire of competencies. It helps employees with their current jobs as well as prepares them for possible future positions.

Why it is important: Employee development increases goal commitment, organizational commitment and job satisfaction. Employees feel that organizations care when the organization supports growth and development. Skill acquisition and career development directly enhance employee well-being. It is important to ensure that opportunities go beyond learning specific technical skills, and also include opportunities to learn personal and interpersonal skills that are critical to successfully caring for oneself and relating to others.

What happens when it is lacking: Employees who are not challenged by their work will grow bored, their well-being will suffer, and their performance will drop. When staff do not have opportunities to learn and improve their interpersonal and psychological skills, the result can be conflict, disengagement and distress.

7. Recognition and Reward

A workplace where there is appropriate acknowledgement and appreciation of employees' efforts in a fair and timely manner. This includes appropriate and regular financial compensation as well as employee or team celebrations, recognition of years served, and/or milestones reached.

Why it is important: Recognition and reward:
  • motivates employees
  • fuels the desire to excel
  • builds self-esteem
  • encourages employees to exceed expectations
  • enhances team success

Employees receiving appropriate recognition and reward have more energy and enthusiasm, a greater sense of pride and participation in their work, and are more likely to treat colleagues and customers with courtesy, respect and understanding.

What happens when it is lacking: Lack of recognition and reward undermines employee confidence in their work and trust in the organization. Employees may feel demoralized or they may quit. An imbalance between effort and reward is a significant contributor to burnout and emotional distress leading to a range of psychological and physical disorders.

8. Involvement and Influence

A workplace where employees are included in discussions about how their work is done and how important decisions are made. Opportunities for involvement can relate to an employee's specific job, the activities of a team or department, or issues involving the organization as a whole.

Why it is important: When employees feel they have meaningful input into their work they are more likely to be engaged, to have higher morale, and to take pride in their organization. This, in turn, increases the willingness to make extra effort when required. Job involvement is associated with increased psychological well-being, enhanced innovation, and organizational commitment.

What happens when it is lacking: If employees do not believe they have a voice in the affairs of the organization, they tend to feel a sense of indifference or helplessness. Job alienation or non-involvement is associated with cynicism and distress, greater turnover, and burnout.

9. Workload Management

A workplace where tasks and responsibilities can be accomplished successfully within the time available. A large workload is often described by employees as being the biggest workplace stressor (i.e., having too much to do and not enough time to do it). It is not only the amount of work that makes a difference but also the extent to which employees have the resources (time, equipment, support) to do the work well.

Why it is important: Most employees willingly work hard and feel a "good day's work" is fulfilling and rewarding. Workload management is important because there is a unique relationship between job demands, intellectual demands and job satisfaction. Job demands reduce job satisfaction, while intellectual demands or decision-making latitude, increase job satisfaction. Even when there are high demands, if employees also have high decision-making ability, they will be able to thrive. Having high decision-making latitude also allows for positive coping behaviours to be learned and experienced.

What happens when it is lacking: Any system subject to excess load without reprieve will break. This is as true for people as it is for equipment. Increased demands, without opportunities for control, result in physical, psychological and emotional fatigue, and increase stress and strain. Emotionally fatigued individuals also have a diminished sense of personal accomplishment and an increased sense of inadequacy. Excessive workload is one of the main reasons employees are negative about their jobs and their employers.

10. Engagement

Employees enjoy and feel connected to their work and where they feel motivated to do their job well. Employee engagement can be physical (energy exerted), emotional (positive job outlook and passionate about their work) or cognitive (devote more attention to their work and be absorbed in their job).

Engaged employees feel connected to their work because they can relate to, and are committed to, the overall success and mission of their company. Engagement is similar to, but should not be mistaken for job satisfaction, job involvement, organizational commitment, psychological empowerment, and intrinsic motivation.

Why it is important: Engagement is important for individual satisfaction and psychological health, and leads to:

  • increased profitability for company
  • greater customer satisfaction
  • enhanced task performance
  • greater morale
  • greater motivation
  • increased organizational citizenship behaviours (behaviours of personal choice that benefit the organization)

What happens when it is lacking: Organizations that do not promote engagement can see:

  • negative economic impact in productivity losses
  • psychological and medical consequences
  • have greater employee turnover
  • workplace deviance (in the form of withholding effort)
  • counterproductive behaviour
  • withdrawal behaviours

11. Balance

Present in a workplace where there is recognition of the need for balance between the demands of work, family and personal life. This factor reflects the fact that everyone has multiple roles employees, parents, partners, etc. These multiple roles can be enriching and allow for fulfillment of individual strengths and responsibilities, but conflicting responsibilities can lead to role conflict or overload. Greater workplace flexibility enables employees to minimize work-life conflict by allowing them to accomplish the tasks necessary in their daily lives.

Work-life balance is a state of well-being that allows a person to effectively manage multiple responsibilities at work, at home and in their community. Work-life balance is different for everyone and it supports physical, emotional, family and community health and does so without grief, stress or negative impact.

Why it is important: Recognizing the need for work-life balance:

  • makes employees feel valued and happier both at work and at home
  • reduces stress and the possibility that home issues will spill over into work, or vice versa
  • allows staff to maintain their concentration, confidence, responsibility, and sense of control at work
  • results in enhanced employee well-being, commitment, job satisfaction, organizational citizenship behaviours (behaviours of personal choice that benefit the organization), job performance and reduced stress

What happens when it is lacking: When work-family role conflict occurs (that is, roles within the workplace and outside it are overwhelming to a person or interfering with one another), health and well-being are undermined by accumulating home and job stress. This imbalance can lead to:

  • constant tiredness
  • bad temper
  • inability to progress
  • high job stress resulting in dissatisfaction with work and being absent either physically or mentally

These effects can then lead to additional stress-related illness, as well as higher cholesterol, depressive symptoms, and overall decreased health. The impact on the organization can include increased costs due to benefit payouts, absenteeism, disability, and turnover.

Not all employees will have the same work-life balance issues. Age, cultural, gender, family and marital status, care-giver demands, socioeconomic status and many other factors affect an employee's work-life balance. Organizations will benefit from having flexible arrangements to address this issue.

12. Psychological Protection
Workplace psychological safety is demonstrated when employees feel able to put themselves on the line, ask questions, seek feedback, report mistakes and problems, or propose a new idea without fearing negative consequences to themselves, their job or their career. A psychologically safe and healthy workplace actively promotes emotional well-being among employees while taking all reasonable steps to minimize threats to employee mental health.

Why it is important: When employees are psychologically protected they demonstrate greater job satisfaction, enhanced team learning behaviour and improved performance. Employees are more likely to speak up and become involved. They show increased morale and engagement and are less likely to experience stress-related illness. Psychologically protected workplaces also experience fewer grievances, conflicts and liability risks.

What happens when it is lacking: When employees are not psychologically safe, they experience demoralization, a sense of threat, disengagement, and strain. They perceive workplace conditions as ambiguous and unpredictable. This can, in turn, undermine shareholder, consumer, and public confidence in the organization.

13. Protection of Physical Safety

This factor includes the work environment itself. Steps can be taken by management to protect the physical safety of employees. Examples include policies, training, appropriate response to incidents or situations identified as risks, and a demonstrated concern for employees' physical safety.

Why is it important: Employees who work in an environment that is perceived as physically safe will feel more secure and engaged. Higher levels in the confidence of the safety protection at work results in lower rates of psychological distress and mental health issues. Safety is enhanced through minimizing hazards, training, response to incidents, and the opportunity to have meaningful input into the workplace policies and practices. The concept of 'safety climate' is linked to this factor as they both relate to the larger culture or climate of the organization.

What happens when it is lacking: Failure to protect physical safety results in workplaces that are likely to be more dangerous. Not only could employees be injured or develop illnesses, those who do not see their workplace as physically safe will feel less secure an less engaged.

Are there any specific issues in the workplace that affect employee mental health?

Several key issues have been shown to have a significant effect on employee mental health. Organizations need to consider all of these in their efforts to create a mentally healthy workplace.

What are other issues in the workplace that may affect mental health?

Along with the 13 PSRs listed here, there several other key issues in the workplace that affect employee mental health. Within each issue are various factors that organizations need to consider in their efforts to create a mentally healthy workplace. The following is adapted from "Workplace Mental Health Promotion, A How-To Guide" from The Health Communication Unit at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, and the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario available at: Workplace Mental Health: Core Concepts & Issues

Stigma and Discrimination

Stigma is a personal attitude and belief that negatively labels a group of people, such as those with mental illness. Stigma creates fear and consequently results in discrimination which discourages individuals and their families from getting the help they need.


Stress refers to potentially negative physical or mental tensions experienced by a person. A stressor is any event or situation that an individual perceives as a threat; precipitates either adaptation or the stress response. Stress can come from both good and bad experiences, so the effects of stress can be positive or negative. Stress is not all bad - without stress, there would be no productivity or engagement. Stress becomes a problem when individuals are not able to handle an event or situation and become overwhelmed.

Demand/control and effort/reward relationships

Major causes of job stress come from problems with conflicts in demand vs. control as well as effort vs. reward. When the demand and control an employee has at work changes, stress results if either factor is not increased or decreased proportionately. The same is true for the relationship between effort and reward. Changes to the organization can make for a more mentally healthy workplace, especially when employees feel appropriately rewarded for their effort and in control of their work.


Presenteeism is the action of employees coming to work despite having a sickness that justifies an absence, therefore they are performing their work under sub-optimal conditions. When employees come to work not mentally present due to an illness, extreme family/life pressures or stress, they are not giving themselves adequate time to get better. Presenteeism can occur because employees feel

  • they cannot afford to take the day off
  • there is no back-up plan for tasks the individual is responsible for
  • when they return to work, there would be even more to do
  • committed to personally attending meetings or events
  • concerned about job insecurity related to downsizing or restructuring

Job Burnout

Job burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to demanding work situations. Burnout is the cumulative result of stress. Anyone can experience job burnout. However, professions with high job demands and few supports can increase the prevalence of burnout and reduce engagement. Helping professions, such as jobs in health care, teaching or counseling, often have high rates of burnout.

Burnout has three main characteristics:
  1. exhaustion (i.e. the depletion or draining of mental resources)
  2. cynicism (i.e. indifference or a distant attitude towards one's job)
  3. lack of professional efficacy (i.e. the tendency to evaluate one's work performance negatively, resulting in feelings of insufficiency and poor job-related self-esteem)

Harassment, Violence, Bullying and Mobbing

Most people think of violence as a physical assault. However, workplace violence is a much broader problem. It is any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted in his or her employment. Workplace violence includes:

  • threatening behaviour - such as shaking fists, destroying property or throwing objects
  • verbal or written threats - any expression of an intent to inflict harm
  • harassment - any behaviour that demeans, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, alarms or verbally abuses a person and that is known or would be expected to be unwelcome. This includes words, gestures, intimidation, bullying, or other inappropriate activities.
  • verbal abuse - swearing, insults or condescending language
  • physical attacks - hitting, shoving, pushing or kicking
  • bullying - repeated, unreasonable or inappropriate behaviour directed towards an employee (or group of employees) that creates a risk to health and safety
  • mobbing - ongoing, systematic bullying of an individual by his or her co-workers - this includes rudeness and physical intimidation, as well as more subtle and possibly unintentional behaviour involving social ostracism and exclusion

Many provincial occupational health and safety acts have been expanded to include harm to psychological well-being. Organizations should not tolerate any violent behaviour including aggression, harassment or threats of violence. Violent or aggressive behaviour hurts the mental health of everyone in the organization and creates a psychologically unsafe work environment filled with fear and anxiety.

Substance Use, Misuse and Abuse at Work

Substance use, misuse, abuse and coping strategies can have a significant impact on mental health at work. Addictions and mental health conditions are often coupled (called a concurrent disorder). However, it is often the addiction that first gets noticed, especially in the workplace. Generally, substance use becomes a problem when an individual has lost control over their use and/or continues to use despite experiencing negative consequences. Employers should look for warning signs that indicate an employee may be struggling with substance abuse. Some signs of substance abuse are similar to those caused by increased stress, lack of sleep and physical or mental illness. Don't assume that an employee has a substance abuse problem; however, ignoring warning signs will only make the problem worse if someone is indeed struggling.

Promoting Mental Health

What are the components of a CWHS Program?

A Comprehensive Workplace Health and Safety Program has four main components:

  1. Occupational health and safety (the physical work environment)
  2. Psychosocial work environment (organizational culture and the organization of work)
  3. Workplace health promotion (wellness)
  4. Organizational community involvement

Note that these are not four distinct or separate areas. They overlap and must be integrated within the CWHS Program, and not addressed in isolation. Mental health should be incorporated into each of these categories for effective workplace health promotion programs. Comprehensive programs must have multiple avenues of influence and integrate a combination of approaches to impact and reach employees at various stages of readiness.

We will look at each of these components in more detail below:

1. Occupational health and safety
Occupational health and safety (the physical work environment) encompasses the promotion and maintenance of the physical, mental and social well-being of workers. It includes reducing work-related injury, illness and disability by addressing the hazards and risks of the physical environment. Reducing physical job hazards can also reduce stress employees may feel in the workplace.

2. Psychosocial work environment
Psychosocial work environment (organizational culture and the organization of work) A process to identify the real and potential hazards and risks in the psychosocial environment in the workplace must be developed, implemented and maintained in the Comprehensive Workplace Health and Safety Program. The psychosocial environment covers two major groups of issues:
  • organizational culture
  • organization of work

Organizational culture is defined as the attitudes, values and beliefs that guide workplace behaviours and influence the work environment on a daily basis, affecting the mental and physical well-being of employees. Organizational culture focuses on factors that affect the interaction between people, their work and the organization. This element is the most interconnected with the protection and promotion of employee mental health and overall health.

Some key examples are:

  • civility and respect shown by co-workers and managers
  • fairness in the way people are treated
  • appreciation and recognition
  • honesty and transparency shown by management and workers
  • support for work-life balance
  • trust between management and workers

Organization of work covers aspects of the way work is designed, such as:

  • demands or workload
  • communication quality and quantity
  • control, decision latitude or influence over how the work is done
  • fairness in the way work is distributed
  • clarity of roles and expectations
  • support provided in terms of resources
  • how organizational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organization
  • psychological fit between the employee's interpersonal and emotional competencies, their job skills, and the position they hold
  • opportunities for growth and development

When these factors are absent or handled poorly in the workplace, they become sources of stress, or "stressors", for employees. There is evidence showing many of these factors create two to three times greater risk of injuries, workplace conflict and violence, back pain, heart disease, some forms of cancer, depression and anxiety.

3. Workplace health promotion (wellness)

Workplace Health Promotion programs, also referred to as Wellness programs, provide a proactive approach to healthy living for all employees at the workplace and cover a broad range of health issues.

Examples of wellness programs include, but are not limited to, environmental, cultural and policy support for:

  • active living
  • healthy eating
  • smoking cessation
  • fitness
  • immunization against influenza and other infectious disease

Evidence shows that the most effective wellness programs are those that incorporate the stages of change model (personal readiness to make lifestyle changes), address various levels of learning (awareness, knowledge and skills development, behaviour change), and make supportive environmental modifications.

Unlike health and safety programs, employee participation in wellness programs must always be completely voluntary. Through needs assessments, the employer should determine what workers' health needs and preferences are, and then plan programs and policies in response, but it is still the worker's choice whether to participate or not.

4. Organizational community involvement

Corporate involvement in the community is voluntary. Some of these interventions are considered to be "Corporate Social Responsibility" activities and typically address aspects of an organization's behaviour with respect to health and safety, environmental protection, human resource management practices, community development, consumer protection, business ethics, and stakeholder rights.

Within the community, a business may decide to support local charity events by sponsoring an employee team in a local fund-raising health event; allowing family members to attend employee flu clinics, or encouraging employees to volunteer in the community.

How do I conduct a hazard analysis for mental health?

A process to identify, assess and control psychosocial hazards proactively and on an ongoing basis must be established in the workplace. Employees must also be trained to report unhealthy psychosocial situations to their supervisor/manager, who will investigate and take corrective action, if required. The results of the assessments will help to set objectives and targets when developing programs or policies.

Sources of information for hazard and risk evaluation for the psychosocial work environment include:

  • health and safety committee reports, minutes and/or recommendations
  • workplace health committee reports, minutes and/or recommendations
  • worker concerns and complaints during workplace inspections or other times
  • worker exit interviews
  • previous workplace risk assessments
  • incident investigations (if investigation probes deeply enough into root causes)
  • absenteeism, short- and long-term disability claim data
  • employee surveys such as perception surveys, employee engagement surveys
  • data regarding the nature of health benefit claims and EAP usage if available

Note: Because psychosocial hazards are non-physical, they generally cannot be seen during inspections or audits. It is necessary to ask employees about the stressors they experience at work. The process must be confidential and anonymous whenever possible.

What else can employers do?

Below are eight strategies that employers can use to encourage positive mental health:

  1. Encourage active employee participation and decision making
  2. Clearly define employees' duties and responsibilities
  3. Promote work-life balance
  4. Encourage respectful and non-derogatory behaviours
  5. Manage workloads
  6. Allow continuous learning
  7. Have conflict resolution practices in place
  8. Recognize employees' contributions effectively

(Adapted from Workplace Mental Health Promotion, A How-To Guide.)

Additionally, employers can:

  • Assess psychological safety in your workplace and develop a plan to address it. See Guarding Minds @ Work ( ) for more information.
  • Develop a policy statement reflecting your organization's commitment to making workplace mental health a priority. A policy demonstrates leadership and commitment.
  • Explicitly include mental health and psychological safety in your occupational health and safety (H&S) committee mandate.
  • Develop policies and practices for workplace harassment, violence and bullying. Review your current policies and procedures and consider how they might be positively or negatively contributing to issues of violence and harassment.
  • Provide education and training that ensures managers and employees know how to recognize hazards such as harassment, bullying, and psychologically unhealthy work conditions. This training provides concrete ways for co-workers to recognize and talk about mental health issues in general. Managers can additionally contribute to a positive work environment if they have the skills and knowledge to identify and respond to issues before they escalate.
  • Educate all health and safety (H&S) committee members about the importance of mental health in the workplace.
  • Ask the worker representative(s) on the H&S Committee to bring forward general workplace mental health issues that affect their workforce rather than any individual's particular situation. Require that individual privacy and confidentiality be respected at all times.
  • Develop substance abuse policies (i.e., use of illicit drugs at work, alcohol consumption at work, inappropriate Internet use, etc.) and make sure that all employees are aware of them.

How do I establish a CWHS Program that supports mental health?

To develop and maintain your Comprehensive Workplace Health & Safety Program and the continual improvement process for your organization:

  • Lead (management leadership and commitment)
  • Plan (organize)
  • Do (implement)
  • Check (evaluate)
  • Act (improve)

For example, the steps for your workplace could include:

  1. Obtain Management Support - In order to begin the process of healthy workplace planning, all levels of the organization must support the concept
  2. Establish a Healthy Workplace Committee -- Get staff involved
  3. Conduct a Situational Assessment -- Get to the root of the problem
  4. Develop a Healthy Workplace Plan -- Plan what to do with situational assessment results
  5. Develop a Program Plan (detailed work plan) and Evaluation Plan
  6. Confirm Management Support -- to implement the workplace mental health promotion plan
  7. Implement the Plan -- put the proposed program into practice
  8. Evaluate your CWHS Program's Efforts
  9. Continuously improve your CWHS Program based on the results of your evaluations

What can workplaces do to support mental health?

A psychologically safe and healthy workplace is one that promotes workers' mental well-being and does not harm employee mental health through negligent, reckless or intentional ways. For example, a psychologically safe workplace would be free of excessive fear or chronic anxiety. An organization's commitment has to start at the top.

One way to achieve a psychologically safe workplace is to create and implement a Comprehensive Workplace Health and Safety (CWHS) Program. This program is a series of strategies and related activities, initiatives and policies developed by the employer, in consultation with employees, to continually improve or maintain the quality of working life, health, and the well-being of the workforce. These activities are developed as part of a continual improvement process to improve the work environment (physical, psychosocial, organizational, economic), and to increase personal empowerment and personal growth.

Benefits of a CWHS Program

  • creativity
  • employee co-operation
  • employee engagement
  • employee retention
  • loyalty to organization
  • morale and employee satisfaction
  • productivity, and
  • recruitment

  • absenteeism
  • employee turnover (means reduced recruitment and retraining costs)
  • grievances
  • health costs
  • medical leave/disability
  • presenteeism
  • workplace injuries and accidents, and
  • work time lost

Key Links
Managing mental health matters New
Resource Type(s): Key link, Tool/toolkit, Training and workshops
Source: Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace
Mental health works
Resource Type(s): Key link, Program/service
Working through it
Resource Type(s): Key link, Video
Source: Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace
Workplace mental health promotion: a how-to guide
Resource Type(s): Key link, Tool/toolkit
Source: The Health Communication Unit, and the Candian Mental Health Association
Workplace strategies for mental health
Resource Type(s): Key link, Tool/toolkit
Source: Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace