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Psychological Health and Safety

The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the workplace is a voluntary set of guidelines, tools and resources designed to promote workplace employees’ psychological health and to prevent psychological harm due to workplace factors. The Standard was prepared by the Canadian Standards Association and the Bureau de normalization du Quebec and was commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and approved by the Standards Council of Canada.

Mental health and safety are just as important as physical health and safety… let’s face it… there is no health without mental health.

What is a psychologically safe workplace?  A psychologically healthy and safe workplace has been defined in the National Standard as “A workplace that promotes workers’ psychological well-being and actively works to prevent harm to worker psychological health, including neglect, reckless, or intentional ways.”

Why do we need to focus on supporting a psychologically safe workplace?  Nearly 47% of working Canadians agree that their work and place of work is the most stressful part of their day and life. With most adults spending most of their working hours at work, addressing psychological health within workplaces is vitally important for all Canadians. Therefore, it is important to focus on both physical and mental health and safety to ensure a workplace that helps to keep workers safe, engaged and productive.

Steps for introducing the 13 Factors and Psychological Health and Safety (PHS) to your team:

  1. Contact Deb Garland to set up an introductory session on Psychological Health and Safety for senior leaders in your department.  (approximately 2 hours)
  2. After the introductory session leaders introduce Psychological Health and Safety to their teams by:
    1. Reviewing the content of this Psychological Health and Safety web page.
    2. Including 5-10 minute discussions on PHS at team meetings – introducing 1 to 2 Factors at a time.  This may take up to a year, depending on how often you meet and include PHS on the agenda.
      1. Rachael Byrne or Deb Garland can support you at your first team meeting to introduce the idea.
      2. At subsequent meetings, the supervisor or leader can:
        1. Introduce and review the video with the team (3-4 min)
        2. Use the discussion handout to facilitate a team discussion (5 min)
  3. When the team has reviewed each of the 13 factors, Action Planning with the team can begin.
    1. Reach out to Rachael Byrne or Deb Garland to facilitate the action planning process.
    2. Your team will complete an assessment to determine the current state of Psychological Health and Safety in all 13 areas.
    3. Rachael and Deb will facilitate an action planning session with your team based on the priority areas and to support best practices in Psychological Health and Safety.
    4. Follow up support and review of action planning will be scheduled as needed.

Supporting a Psychologically Healthy and Safe Workplace

This information is geared towards senior leaders, managers and professionals to act as a support for the introduction of the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety. Evidence shows that there are thirteen factors that affect the mental health of individuals in the workplace. The factors include the way work is carried out, relationships and interactions with managers, supervisors, leaders, co-workers, clients and customers. These psychosocial factors impact workers’ psychological responses to work and work conditions. This can cause mental health concerns.

The supports includes short videos that introduce each of the thirteen factors and shows an example of how the factor can affect employees and the workplace. Steps leaders can take to educate and implement the Standard with their team are included below.

The Thirteen Risk Factors are as Follows:

“Psychological and social support are present in an environment where co-workers and supervisors are supportive of employees’ psychological and mental health concerns and would respond appropriately as needed.”

To introduce and implement the National Standard with your team, review the following handout and video for further information.

By providing psychological and social support to your team, you will observe:
  • Improved overall psychological health of employees
  • Sustainable/successful return to work
  • Reasonable workplace support during times of emotional distress, crisis or upset
  • Understanding and awareness of mental health
  • Employees who feel safe to talk about mental health and are not confronted with stigma
  • Employees who are supported to stay productive and maintain healthy relationships
  • Greater job attachment, job commitment, job satisfaction, and positive work mood
  • Employees distressed at work will be more likely to seek and receive help
Lack of psychological support results in:
  • Greater turnover rates
  • Absenteeism
  • Strain
  • Loss of productivity in the workplace
To maintain psychological and social support:
  • Take steps to eliminate stigma
  • Shift workplace culture
  • Provide employees with knowledge and resources – websites, workshops, team meetings
  • Update employees about health and wellness supports – EFAPCommunity Mental Health Agencies
  • Maintain regular communication with off-work employees

Organizational culture is “the degree to which a work environment is characterized by trust, honesty and fairness”.

Organizational culture depends on the mix of values, beliefs, meanings and expectations of the group members within the organization and according to their behavioral and problem-solving cues.

To introduce and implement the National Standard with your team, review the following handout and video for further information.

With positive organizational culture, workplaces will benefit from:
  • Higher job satisfaction and morale
  • Enhanced employee retention and recruitment
  • Organizational commitment
  • Enhanced productivity
  • Strong communication at all levels
  • A positive public and community image
Without organizational culture workplaces will be affected by:
  • Decreased employee well-being
  • Increased absenteeism and increased burden
  • Increased burnout
  • Employees expressing dislike about coming to work
  • Employees undermining policies and practices to assist them
To improve organizational culture:
  • Leadership should acknowledge and accept responsibility of the present status
  • All employees should be engaged in becoming a part of the solution
To move forward and to bring about positive change, leaders should:
  • Be transparent about processes
  • Participate in conflict resolution and communication training
  • Conduct more in-person communication
Click Here to learn more about how you can help your team build a positive organizational culture.

Clear leadership and expectations are present in an environment in which leadership is effective and there is support that helps employees know what they need to do, what is expected of them, how their work contributes to the organization and whether there are impending changes.

To introduce and implement the National Standard with your team, review the following handout and video for further information.

When effective leadership and support are present:
  • Employee morale is positive and resiliency is high even during times of stress
  • Frustration and conflict are minimized among employees
  • Employees have clear expectations regarding job responsibility and roles
  • Employees have trust in management
Leaders should:
  • Be committed to maintaining their own physical and psychological health in order to influence the health of employees, as well as the health of the entire organization.
  • Be consistent in their approach and provide clear direction to their employees. Lack of clarity affects mental health in the workplace.
Click Here to learn more about leadership development and resources.

Civility and respect is about showing care and consideration for others, whether through interactions within staff, customers, clients or the public. “A civil and respectful workplace ensures a work environment where employees are respectful and considerate in their interactions with one another, as well as with customers, clients, and the public”.

A civil and respectful workplace creates a positive work environment marked by high spirits and higher work satisfaction, this positive environment allows people who interact; staff, clients, and customers, to enjoy the environment.

To introduce and implement the National Standard with your team, review the following handout and video for further information.

With civility and respect in our workplace we will experience:
  • Greater job satisfaction among employees
  • Increased interest for personal growth
  • Effective teamwork with positive morale
  • Reduced sick leave and turnover
  • Reduced conflicts among colleagues
  • Effective resolution of conflicts that arise
  • Respectful leadership at all levels
Without civility and respect in our workplace we will experience:
  • Emotional exhaustion among staff
  • Greater job withdrawal
  • More grievances and conflict
  • Bullying or harassment
  • Exposure to more legal risks and grievances

Visit this website to learn how the University is building an inclusive community and ensuring that the University is safe and respectful through the work of the Equity and Inclusion Office, PACBIC and other internal and external partners.

Psychological competencies and demands are found in a workplace that constantly finds or creates a good fit between employees’ interpersonal and emotional competencies and what is needed for the job role. These psychological demands should be clear to both the leader and the employee.

To introduce and implement the National Standard with your team, review the following handout and video for further information.

With recognition of psychological demands, the following will occur:
  • Enhanced job performance and overall productivity
  • Greater job satisfaction
  • Increase in retention of employees
  • Attraction of skilled employees
Without psychological competencies and demands, we will experience:
  • Job strain
  • Emotional distress
  • Defensiveness of employees
  • Lower mood levels
  • Increased turnover
Click Here to learn more about screening, assessing, and recruiting the right candidates.

Growth and Development is present in a workplace where employees receive encouragement and support for their interpersonal, emotional and job skills development by providing them with internal and external opportunities to build their competencies.

To introduce and implement the National Standard with your team, review the following handout and video for further information.

With support and opportunities for employee growth and development, we may experience:
  • Increased employee competency
  • Retention of skilled staff
  • Effective succession planning/internal promotions
  • Goal commitment and organizational commitment
  • Job satisfaction
Without opportunities for growth and development in a workplace:
  • Employees do not feel challenged and can begin to feel disengaged
  • Employee performance will drop
  • Increased co-worker conflict can increase
  • Employees may become stressed
To Explore resources which can help you or your team plan and work toward meaningful career goals, click here.

Recognition and Reward is present in a work environment that acknowledges and appreciates employees for their efforts in a fair and timely manner.  It doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be praised for every action they take.

It’s important to remember that people like to be recognized in different ways.  As a leader, it’s good to ask how your employees would like to be recognized. Perhaps they prefer not to be recognized publicly. Maybe they feel an award would be too much. Having criteria or explaining what an employee did to deserve recognition may help co-workers understand how they too can be recognized.

To introduce and implement the National Standard with your team, review the following handout and video for further information.

Employees who are acknowledged and rewarded will:
  • Be motivated to perform better
  • Have higher self-esteem and enhanced team success
  • Increase employee satisfaction, motivation, and loyalty
  • Improve teamwork and positive morale
  • Have enhanced employee and/or labor relations
  • Treat their colleagues, customers, and clients with courtesy, respect and understanding
Employees who do not receive fair and timely recognition:
  • Feel demoralized and disengaged
  • Are more likely to find a new job
  • Can become distressed and burned out
Recognition tips for leaders:

Most of us want to feel like what we do matters and is valued. Whether you are a manager or an employee, it’s important to be sincere and consistent with feedback.  If you see someone (whether it’s a colleague, manager, or your own employee) do something great; take the time to tell them. It can go a long way. There are many ways to recognize others, including:

  • Having a team get-together for special milestones…either for work or for a personal accomplishment
  • Recognizing the process as well as the result… sometimes people put a lot of work into a project that was not a huge success… it’s important to recognize the hard work and time people invested
  • Start a peer recognition board where anyone, not just a manager, can share how someone did something extra
  • Show kindness for a co-worker to make them feel special
Click Here to learn more about recognition programs and supports at McMaster.

Involvement and influence refers to involving employees in discussions on how their work is done and how important decisions are made.

Key decisions need to be made in all work environments.  Decisions about a specific job, about a team, or about a workplace as a whole.  When people have influence in the decision-making process and they have the chance to be involved in a meaningful way, they are usually more committed to their work.

To introduce and implement the National Standard with your team, review the following handout and video for further information.

When employees are encouraged to have meaningful input:
  • It increases their willingness to make an extra effort
  • Employee engagement and morale are increased
  • Psychological well-being is improved
  • Innovation and organizational commitment are enhanced
  • Job satisfaction and positive engagement are improved
Job alienation and lack of involvement results in:
  • Employee distress
  • Increased turnover and burnout
  • Greater cynicism and lack of trust
How leaders can help their employees feel involved:
  • Ask employees to provide feedback instead of merely informing them about the changes that affect how their work is done. Employees often come up with solutions that are creative and agreeable.  This process allows employees to stand behind the decisions that are being made. Leaders are usually responsible for what is being done; but workers can give input about how that work is being done.
  • Ensure employees feel their contributions are valued.
  • Be transparent about processes and final decisions that are made.  Not all ideas can be implemented, explain why in a timely manner.
  • When suggestions cannot be incorporated into what the decision is, allow them to make suggestions on how to roll out the plan so they continue to feel involved.
  • Have regular communication touchpoints or a suggestion box for ongoing feedback. Offer an open door policy to hear directly from employees.
  • Involvement and influence do not need to focus on big changes, it can also happen with day to day tasks.

Workload management is present in a work environment where tasks and responsibilities can be accomplished successfully within the time available.

The relationship between job demands, intellectual demands and job satisfaction determines the amount of stress on the employee. Having high decision-making ability allows employees to thrive even with high demands.

To introduce and implement the National Standard with your team, review the following handout and video for further information.

With effective workload management, we would see:
  • Reduced stress and burnout
  • Fewer job-related injuries and accidents
  • Increased employee retention
Increased demands with less opportunity for control leads to:
  • Physical, psychological and emotional fatigue
  • Increased stress and strain which ultimately affects performance
  • Diminished sense of personal accomplishment
  • Negativity about the workplace and job

Engagement is present in a work environment where employees feel connected to their work and are motivated to do their job well.

Employee engagement can be physical, emotional, and/or cognitive. Physical engagement is based on the amount of exertion an employee puts into his or her job. Physically engaged employees view work as a source of energy. Emotionally engaged employees have a positive job outlook and are passionate about their work. Cognitively engaged employees devote more attention to their work and are absorbed in their job. Whatever the source, engaged employees feel connected to their work because they can relate to, and are committed to, the overall success and mission of their organization.

To introduce and implement the National Standard with your team, review the following handout and video for further information.

When positive employee engagement is present, we will witness:
  • high employee morale and motivation
  • enhanced recruitment and retention of skilled employees
  • improved customer and client relations
  • enhanced task performance
  • greater customer satisfaction
  • increased organizational citizenship behaviour
  • Increased employee productivity
With low employee engagement, we will witness:
  • greater employee turnover
  • workplace deviance (by employees)
  • counterproductive behaviour
  • loss of productivity
Click here to learn more about employee engagement at McMaster.

Work/Life balance is present in an environment where there is recognition of the need for balance between the demands of work, family and personal life.

It is important to note that everyone has multiple roles to handle. This complexity allows fulfillment of individual strengths and responsibilities, but if not handled properly may lead to role conflict and overload.

Balance is about being able to balance in the moment; being supported at work to concentrate on tasks and being left with some energy to deal with family demands after work.

To introduce and implement the National Standard with your team, review the following handout and video for further information.

When the need for work-life balance is recognized, we will witness:
  • Greater staff satisfaction and morale
  • Reduced staff stress and burnout
  • Reduced absenteeism and disability
  • The ability to concentrate, take responsibility and have a sense of work control
  • Employees who feel valued and happier both at work and at home
  • Job satisfaction and employee commitment
When balance is not recognized, we will witness:
  • Employees who are likely to be absent from work either physically or mentally
  • Employees who begin to feel increased conflict at home and at work
  • Employees who complain of feeling persistent fatigue
  • Increased cost to the organization due to benefit payouts, absenteeism, disability and turnover
To support balance among employees, managers/leaders should:
  • Be more accepting of the need for balance, such as instituting flexible work schedules
  • Consider working overtime on a project as an exception
  • Set limits before burnout; especially for overachievers
  • Be proactive when there is work-life conflict or overload
  • Refer employees to additional supports like our EFAP

Psychological Protection is present in a work environment where employees’ psychological safety is ensured. Workplace psychological safety is demonstrated when workers feel able to safely ask questions, seek feedback, report mistakes and problems, or propose a new idea without fearing negative consequences to themselves, their job or their careers.

To introduce and implement the National Standard with your team, review the following handout and video for further information.

When employees are ensured that they are psychologically protected they demonstrate:
  • Greater job satisfaction
  • Enhanced team behaviour
  • Improved performance
  • Increased morale and engagement
  • Reduced conflict
  • Fewer job-related errors, incidents, accidents and injuries
  • Enhanced compliance with legal and regulatory requirements
Employees who feel psychologically unsafe experience:
  • Feelings of demoralization
  • A sense of threat
  • Disengagement
  • Mental fatigue
Supports related to Psychological Protection at McMaster:

Physical safety is present in a workplace where management takes appropriate action to protect the physical safety of employees. Employees who perceive their workplace to be physically safe feel more secure and engaged at work.

To introduce and implement the National Standard with your team, review the following handout and video for further information.

When physical safety in the workplace is present:
  • A policy is in place to protect workers’ physical safety
  • Training in safety-related protocols takes place
  • Concern for employees’ physical safety is clearly demonstrated
  • There is a rapid and appropriate response to physical accidents or situation identified as risky
  • A safety culture is consistent with and part of the larger culture or climate of the organization
  • There is a shared and enduring belief in and commitment to the importance of promoting and protecting the physical safety of all employees by taking actions to identify and address risks
In a workplace without the protection of physical safety, we will see:
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Strain
  • Workplace conflict
  • Turnover
  • Greater risk of accidents, incidents, and injuries
Click here to learn more about McMaster’s culture of safety.

Information Box Group

Rachael Byrne

Occupational Health Nurse

deb garland

Deb Garland

Manager, Workplace Health & Well-being Strategies