Psychological Health an Increasing Issue in Workplace


By Lindsay Macintosh, CHRP

Psychological health has been a long-standing problem that has greatly impaired productivity of organizations and the well being of workers. There was a time when psychological health problems had a stigma and were simply not talked about. Although psychological health and safety (PH&S) has been identified as a critical issue in recent years, many employers still have not been addressing it.

Responsible to Promote and Maintain Heath
The Workers’ Compensation Amendment Act, known as Bill14—which came into effect in July 2012—and stronger Worksafe BC regulations on the prevention of bullying and harassment in the workplace—which came into effect on November 1, 2013—place uniform demands on employers to take action in promoting and maintaining psychological health and safety.

The workplace can be a stressful environment that can contribute to psychological health problems that hamper workers’ ability to be productive and reach their potential. Psychological health problems have a strong impact on employee engagement, attendance, safety, and retention, and are an increasingly important issue. It is clear they are a major contributor to reduced organizational productivity and, in some cases, the organization’s reputation.

Nearly a Quarter of Canadians Affected
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, one in five Canadians will experience a psychological health problem in any given year. Nearly 25 per cent of Canada’s workforce have psychological health issues that lead to absenteeism, turnover, and decreased productivity that impact the organization’s bottom line.

Psychological health problems are the fastest growing cause of short and long term disability claims. It is expected that more than half the total disability claims will be due to psychological health within the next five years. Recent estimates report that psychological health problems account for $35 billion in costs to the Canadian economy.

Ignoring psychological health and safety in the workplace poses high risks. Dr. Dan Bilsker, Adjunct Professor, Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction, Simon Fraser University, says, “This will lead to rapidly increasing claims in psychological disability, high levels of absenteeism and presenteeism associated with psychological health problems, and organizational vulnerability to regulatory or legal sanctions if seen negligent in preventing psychological harm to its employees”.

A Strategic Approach Required
Currently, there is considerable variability across sectors of the economy and organizations in attention and effort to address psychological health and safety. Some organizations such as Great West Life and Vancity have already developed a strategic and comprehensive approach to addressing their particular PH&S needs.

Dr. Bilsker says, “Others have largely ignored the issue or have off-loaded the issue to an EFAP provider with the flowed belief that they have it all covered.” In response, Bill 14 serves to place uniform demands on organizations to take action in addressing the issue.

Bill 14 allows BC employees to claim Workers’ Compensation for psychological stress conditions resulting from workplace trauma or significant cumulative stress. Significant cumulative stress includes bullying and harassment, or a series of such stresses arising in the workplace. It encourages BC employers to actively promote psychological health in the workplace and support employees with psychological health issues.

Fundamental Employer Commitments
Obligations which employers must take to promote psychological health and safety include:

  • a policy statement saying bullying and harassment is not tolerated;
  • an action plan to prevent and minimize bullying and harassment;
  • communications strategy for management and employees;
  • procedures to report incidents and complaints;
  • procedures on how to deal with incidents, complaints, investigations, and corrective actions;
  • risk assessment dealing with job stressors and environmental, interpersonal, and human resources high risks;
  • incorporate the requirements into the organizational culture and strategy;
  • training program on how to identify risks and incidents, and investigation procedures; and
  • an annual review of policies and procedures.

A Psychologically Healthy Toolkit
What steps are being taken in your organization to create greater awareness and promote psychological health and safety?

The Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addictions at Simon Fraser University (CARMHA) has been creating practical tools available to employers and employees at no cost. These tools include “Guarding Minds@Work”, “Psychological Health and Safety – An Employers Action Guide”, and “Antidepressant Skills@Work”.

CARMHA has also developed a strategic planning workshop to help organizations to take action regarding psychological health and safety. For further information, you can visit

Lindsay Macintosh, CHRP has over 20 years experience in payroll and benefits in the retail, foodservice and logging industries

(PeopleTalk Summer 2014)

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  1. Thank you, Lindsay. These ‘Invisible Disabilities’ pose the question of the duty to accommodate. An important topic to put on the HR radar for developing an internal process to identify and deal with such cases that are not always obvious.

    Depending on the situation and the employees position, psychological stress conditions will impact internal as well as external factors for an organization.

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