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Mental Health at Work

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.


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.

Psychosocial Risk Factors (PSRs) are 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:

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

Workplace issues that affect mental health include:

  • stigma and discrimination
  • demand/control and effort/reward relationships
  • presenteeism
  • job burnout
  • harassment, violence, bullying and mobbing
  • substance use, misuse and abuse at work

For more information about these issues, please see the OSH Answers Mental Health - Psychosocial Risk Factors.


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.


What are the benefits of CWHS Program?

Improved:

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

Reduced:

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

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 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.

Does CCOHS have any other resources to help?

Document last updated on September 21, 2012

Disclaimer

Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.