Voluntary standards for mental health in the workplace: What do they mean?

Voluntary standards for mental health in the workplace: What do they mean?Workplace mental health is one of the leading concerns for employers today; according to a report in the Toronto Star, “it’s one of the top reasons for disability claims, absenteeism and lost productivity.” (http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2013/01/16/canada_launches_workplace_standards_for_mental_health_and_safety.html) And trying to minimize the impact of poor mental health in the workplace can be a daunting undertaking for many employers, who often don’t know where to start.

However, the Canadian government has stepped in to aid employers in improving employee mental health. In January, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), alongside the Bureau de normalisation du Québec and the CSA Group, released Canada’s first national standard designed to help organizations and their employees improve psychological health and safety.

The standard, entitled Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace – Prevention, promotion and guidance to staged implementation (http://www-es.criq.qc.ca/pls/owa_es/bnqw_norme.detail_norme?p_lang=en&p_id_norm=12697&p_code_menu=NORME) offers a systemic approach for employers to develop and sustain a psychologically healthy workplace. The standard provides guidance on steps such as identifying psychological hazards, assessing hazards that cannot be eliminated (such as organizational changes), implementing practices that support and promote psychological health, and implementing measurement and review systems to ensure the sustainability of a psychological program in the workplace.

It should be noted that the standard is strictly voluntary and will not be adopted into any federal or provincial/territorial employment legislation. However, the MHCC recommends that employers acknowledge the issue of mental health and use the standard as a starting point to improving the workplace.

“One in five Canadians experience a mental health problem or mental illness in any given year and many of the most at risk individuals are in their early working years. Canadians spend more waking hours at work than anywhere else,” said Louise Bradley, MHCC president and CEO, in a statement. “It’s time to start thinking about mental well-being in the same way as we consider physical well-being, and the standard offers the framework needed to help make this happen in the workplace.”