April 7th 2020
By: Marie-Christine Drouin | Vicki-Anne Rodrigue

Does your organization prioritize your employees’ psychological health and safety?

Increasingly, for many organizations, employee psychological health and safety represent a major challenge. Mental illness is in fact, the leading cause of disability in Canada. In addition to causing significant organizational impacts (e.g., absenteeism, presentism, workforce turnover, loss of expertise), the human costs associated with mental health problems demonstrate the need to take action. Prevention is, now more than ever, key for any organization.

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 voluntary standard designed to promote the psychological health of employees and prevent psychological harm related to workplace factors. As a result, the Standard identifies thirteen (13) organizational factors that have an impact on the health of the organization and its employees. These factors include:

  1. Psychological support
  2. Organizational culture
  3. Clear leadership and expectations
  4. Civility and respect
  5. Psychological competencies and requirements
  6. Growth and development
  7. Recognition and reward
  8. Involvement and influence
  9. Workload management
  10. Engagement
  11. Balance
  12. Psychological protection
  13. Protection of physical safety.
Why is the Standard so Important?

A strong psychological health and safety strategy benefits employers by ensuring that their workforce is stable and productive. As a result, there is a significant reduction of insurance costs, risks of legal or regulatory sanctions and poor financial consequences. The Standard provides a framework for all organizations, whether in the public or private sector. It guides them in the proper implementation of a mental health and wellness strategy that ensures a physical and psychological safe and healthy workplace. By implementing the Standard and ensuring that the thirteen psychosocial factors are at the heart of an organization, the employer improves workforce engagement and retention. Employees will feel more protected (physically, socially, psychologically), valued and appreciated. Consequently, they will be more productive. They will perceive that their employer has confidence in them and their abilities. Implementing the Standard shows that the organization is choosing to invest in employee potential to ensure their development. This goes hand in hand with succession planning and long-term organizational growth.

The 13 Psychosocial Factors

1. Psychological Support

When psychological support is present in the workplace, concerns related to the psychological safety and mental health of employees are taken seriously and adequately addressed by their supervisors or co-workers. The more employees feel psychologically supported, the more committed, satisfied, positive, loyal and successful they are! Conversely, employees’ perceived lack of psychological support from their organization can lead to increased absenteeism, higher staff turnover, loss of productivity, increased costs and a higher risk of accidents, incidents and injuries.

2. Organizational Culture

Organizational culture is the degree of trust, honesty and fairness that characterizes the work culture. More specifically, organizational trust is a good predictor of collaboration, commitment to the organization and employee loyalty. When an organization’s culture focuses on health and employee wellness, satisfaction, attraction and retention are enhanced. Conversely, a negative workplace culture can undermine the best programs, policies and services to support staff and will increase the level of stress in the workplace.

3. Clear Leadership and Expectations

Clear leadership and expectations help employees identify what they need to do, how their work contributes to their organization, and whether change is imminent. Effective leadership improves employee morale, resilience and confidence, while reducing frustration and conflict. A manager who demonstrates a willingness to take care of his or her own physical and psychological health can also have a positive influence on the health of employees and the organization as a whole. Conversely, leaders who focus strictly on a results-oriented, rather than a holistic, individual and health-oriented approach are more likely to deal with complaints about employee health, including general feelings of discomfort, irritability and nervousness.

4. Civility and Respect

A courteous work environment is characterized by employees who are respectful and caring towards their colleagues, clients and the public. It is associated with greater job satisfaction, increased perception of fairness, improved work climate, fostered team spirit, and reduced sick leave and turnover. Conversely, a work environment that is devoid of courtesy and respect fosters emotional exhaustion, a high rate of conflict and the threat of numerous grievances and legal risks. Bullying and intimidation are one example. Exposure to workplace bullying has been shown to be linked to psychological complaints, depression, anxiety, aggression, burnout and musculoskeletal pain and discomfort.

5. Psychological Competencies and Requirements

Psychological competencies and requirements means there is a good match between employees’ interpersonal and emotional skills, their professional abilities, their technical knowledge and skills and the position they occupy. Psychological job fit is associated with, among other things, fewer somatic complaints, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression, improved performance, greater job satisfaction and better employee retention. Conversely, psychological incompatibility with work can lead to job strain that can manifest itself in the form of psychological distress, decreased energy, and defensive and negative moods. At the organizational level, this incompatibility can result in the inability to recruit and retain candidates. Of those candidates who are retained, they are likely to experience a lack of enjoyment and commitment to the organization, low productivity, conflict, and higher attrition rates.

6. Growth and Development

A workplace that fosters growth and development encourages and supports its employees in the development of their interpersonal, emotional and professional skills. Development enhances employee engagement, organizational commitment, job satisfaction and well-being. Conversely, employees who lack stimulation end up bored, their well-being suffers and their performance declines, which can lead to an increased risk of conflict, disengagement and distress.

7. Recognition and Reward

Recognition and reward include any appreciation that an organization shows to its workforce for continuous effort and superior performance. An organization that takes the time to recognize and reward the work of their employees motivates, inspires a drive towards excellence, helps build employees’ self-esteem and encourages them to surpass themselves and the organization’s expectations. Conversely, employees who are not recognized for their contribution will not feel appreciated and may lose confidence in their ability to do the work in the organization, resulting in a lower level of performance.

8. Involvement and Influence

Involvement and influence refer to any discussion that employees have with their employer to address how their work is done and how important decisions are made. When employees are asked for their opinions about their work or about important decisions to be made for the organization, they will feel that they play a useful role in the organization, will be more likely to be fully engaged in their work, will have higher morale and will be proud of their organization. Conversely, employees who do not perceive that they have an opportunity to have a say in the organization’s affairs will generally tend to feel indifferent, powerless, which in turn may lead to a form of professional alienation, non-participation in the organization’s activities, cynicism and distress.

9. Workload Management

Healthy workload management is the ability of employees to carry out their duties and responsibilities effectively and within a given period and to have the necessary tools and resources to do so. Employees who benefit from healthy workload management will not only be willing to work hard, but also will have a sense of accomplishment and reward for being productive at work. Conversely, a heavy, unrealistic workload can lead to general dissatisfaction. Employees will feel that they cannot control their workload, which will eventually lead to physical, psychological and emotional fatigue and increased stress and tension. For those who are psychologically or emotionally exhausted, the sense of accomplishment fades and often leads to a feeling of incompetence.

10. Engagement

Engagement refers to a sense of satisfaction and belonging with work. When employees are committed and engaged, they maintain a general willingness to do their jobs well. In addition, engaged employees generally produce better results for their organization and are much more productive, which can significantly increase revenues for a given organization. In addition to profitability, employee engagement is associated with higher customer satisfaction, better task performance, improved morale, higher motivation, and increased organizational leadership behaviours. Conversely, disengaged employees cost billions of dollars in lost productivity per year, often face medical concerns (physical, psychological), tend to change jobs frequently, and even engage in some form of workplace deviance.

11. Balance

Balance is the ability to manage work demands with those of family and personal life. Organizations that are flexible and recognize the value of work-life balance result in happier employees, thereby reducing the incidence of workplace conflict. Balance also reduces stress and the potential for problems experienced at home to spill over into work. Work-life balance helps maintain employees’ focus, confidence, sense of civic responsibility and sense of control. Conversely, organizations that do not provide a healthy work-life balance will find themselves managing dissatisfied employees, which will inevitably result in high risks of chronic fatigue, depressive symptoms, higher levels of bad cholesterol, and general deterioration in health status. As a result, these organizations will see higher absenteeism rates, additional costs for disability leave (short and long term) and higher turnover.

12. Psychological Protection

Psychological protection refers to an organization that ensures that employees feel psychologically safe. This translates into an organization’s ability to welcome and address the interests of employees, ask questions, seek feedback, and report errors and problems without imposing negative consequences, such as reprisals. When employees’ psychological safety is protected, they are more likely to participate in the life of the organization, have higher morale, are more engaged and are less likely to develop stress-related illnesses. Conversely, employees whose psychological safety is not protected very often feel demoralized, threatened, disengaged and under stress, largely because their working conditions seem ambiguous and unpredictable.

13. Protection of Physical Safety

Protection of physical safety includes a work environment in which management takes all necessary measures and precautions to protect the physical safety of employees. Employees who feel that their work environment protects their physical well-being and who feel safe and secure will be more engaged in their work. Conversely, employees who perceive their work environment as unsafe or who feel unsafe will be less engaged and will perceive a vulnerability to psychological distress and possibly mental health problems.

Marie-Christine Drouin, M.Ps.

Leader – Talent Assessment, I/O Psychologist, Coach

Vicki-Anne Rodrigue, M.Ed., CCC

Senior Consultant, Leader and Organizational Development at EPSI