If your organization does not have a comprehensive policy in place addressing the psychological wellness of your workforce, now’s the time to do it.

Why? Well, it makes good business sense. Mental illness is the leading and fastest growing cause of short and long-term disability claims in Canada. The workplace environment has a substantial influence on employees’ mental health, and employers are being held legally responsible for the psychological health and safety within that environment.

We are provided a solid framework for what workplace mental health policies should look like in the National Standard for Psychological Health & Safety in the Workplace. Its four key pillars include:

  • Workplace hazards posing a risk of psychological harm to workers must be identified and eliminated;
  • Those that can’t be eliminated must be assessed and controlled;
  • Ensure existence of structures and practices that support and promote psychological health and safety; and
  • Foster a culture that promotes psychological health and safety in the workplace.

The Standard also outlines a wide range of psychosocial factors that influence an organization’s psychological environment and should be reflected in its policies to ensure a healthy one.

At the basic level, this includes meeting fairly simple needs: showing civility and respect to one another and fostering a culture that encourages individual development and growth and positively recognizes their progress. Other aspects are more complicated. The ability to achieve work/life balance, for example, plays a big role in an employee’s psychosocial well-being.

Implementing the Standard is not mandatory – yet – but may well be, and perhaps sooner than you’d think. It’s always recommended to act on your own terms before you’re forced into something legislatively.

There’s a growing risk associated with waiting to address mental health in your organization as well. As employees become more familiar with laws that support them, they’re more likely and able to take legal action – individually and in class action suits – if they think their rights are being ignored or impeded. Further, non-compliance and its possible outcomes, whether employee leaves of absence, terminations or lawsuits, will certainly have a ripple effect on your ability to attract and retain talent.

Ultimately, though, voluntarily expanding your mental health policies in keeping with the Standard puts the best interests of your organization first. Here are four particular areas where you’ll see it pay off:

  • Risk mitigation. Done effectively, it can reduce your risk of conflict between employees, grievances, turnover and disability claims.
  • Cost effectiveness. There’s a link between employee mental health and lost productivity, evidenced by presenteeism, absenteeism and disability claims. Addressing issues at the source will ultimately save your organization money.
  • Recruitment and retention. Implementing the Standard is a strong sign of your organization’s commitment to the psychological health and safety of its employees. It makes your environment more attractive and competitive for recruiting and keeping the best people.
  • Organizational excellence and sustainability. Research has shown that organizations that implement psychological health and safety strategies are, on average, better performers in every key performance area – from health and safety to shareholder returns.

Taking steps to ensure a psychologically healthy and safe environment through policy implementation and execution is good for everyone. For the employer, it’s a chance to communicate a formal process and in turn receive some protection behind its implementation. For employees, it’s the chance to engage with employers and gain clarity on expectations and enhanced protection from the policy provisions.

Ultimately, we will all benefit from making real progress in how mental health is perceived in the workplace – and outside it.