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The overall health of a workplace includes both the physical and psychological well-being of its workers. By treating mental health and its psychological component equally with the physical environment, a workplace can support their workers' overall well-being. 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. It is also necessary to engage your health and safety committee and workers – we all have a shared responsibility for health and safety, including mental health.
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.
Research has identified 13 workplace factors – known as psychosocial risk factors (PSR) – that can have an impact on organizational health, the health of individual employees, and the financial bottom line. The way work is carried out and the context in which work occurs can have a significant impact on an employee's mental health – positively or negatively. When employees have a negative exposure to these factors, there is potential for the development of stress, demoralization, depressed mood, anxiety, or burnout.
Organizations need to consider all of these in their efforts to create a mentally healthy workplace. The factors are:
Workplace issues that affect mental health include:
For more information about these issues, please see the OSH Answers Mental Health - Psychosocial Risk Factors.
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.
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:
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.
Below are eight strategies that employers can use to encourage positive mental health:
(Adapted from Workplace Mental Health Promotion, A How-To Guide.)
Additionally, employers can:
Yes! We have several related OSH Answers on health promotion, wellness and psychosocial issues. The following are just a few of the topics that you can find on OSH Answers: