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Why employers urgently require team members trained and competent in workplace mental health and psychological health and safety

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May 23, 2024 in Health & Safety
By Dr. Bill Howatt

On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), how concerned is your organization about workplace mental health?

Regardless of your score, the more important question is, why did you pick that number?

I often ask these questions and press someone to challenge the respondents’ beliefs. My observation is many organizations’ approaches to workplace mental health are missing clarity and attention on why they are acting and have significant gaps in how they implement and measure programs’ success. The focus appears to be on planning and doing with little effort or accountability on checking if what is being done is achieving the desired outcomes (i.e., habits). Information is useless unless it transforms into habits that protect and promote employees’ mental health.

Success appears to be defined by random acts of wellness (e.g., check-the-box approach) and outsourcing mental health support for employees experiencing mental health challenges. Missed opportunities are a lack of attention, focus, and clarity on facilitating behaviours and habits to mitigate and prevent the risk of workplace mental harm and help employees flourish.

OHS traditionally has focused on preventing physical harm to employees. OHS teaches that the environment and how employees do their work can predict employees’ risk of accidents and bodily injury up to and including death. Its success depends on employers and employees promoting a two-way accountability approach.

Many employers are confused about psychological health and safety (PHS), but it is not a complicated concept when put into context. PHS focuses on employees’ emotional well-being, not clinical mental illness. Although PHS practices can prevent mental illness, their primary focus is on employees’ emotions. Like OHS, PHS acknowledges the environment can only do so much. Employees must care for their mental health to flourish.

PHS can be predicted by employees’ work experiences, such as interpersonal interactions, equipment, temperature, and work organization. Any of these psychosocial factors can positively or negatively impact employees’ stress levels and emotional well-being.

PHS teaches the environment can help employees care for their mental health by practicing mental fitness. Employees who report to work feeling emotionally overwhelmed are at more risk of mental harm, injury, and illness than peers who feel charged (i.e., flourishing).

Workplace mental health and psychological safety is a growing topic because of legislative changes, human rights complaints, employee conflict and turnover, and union arbitration cases linked to mental health.

While many organizations reap benefits by investing in workplace mental health, others see no positive change in workplace mental health and experience higher costs. Some of these employers fail to achieve outcomes because of knowledge gaps in facilitating psychological health and safety, a lack of clarity on success, and the lead indicators that predict it.

I recommend that all employers consider PHS like any other specialty, such as HR or OHS. Competency requires training by applied and proven experts who work with employers to facilitate PHS strategies and programs.

Well-executed PHS programs position organizations for current and future success by promoting and protecting employees’ experience and increasing attraction, retention, and flourishing. I suggest my clients add a flourishing KPI to their HR scorecards beyond turnover, harassment, and disability data that reports the percentage of the workforce flourishing and languishing as a lead indicator of workforce sustainability.

Preparing team members to develop PHS competencies

Many employees assigned to facilitate workplace mental health have a passion, and some have relevant lived experiences. However, being passionate does not make someone competent to facilitate a Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) evidence-based program to prevent and support workplace mental health. Nor does it provide credibility to influence senior leaders on PHS’s strategic benefits, such as how it can help retain tacit knowledge and talent, increase productivity, and lower presenteeism, disability claims, and turnover.

In Introducing one missing competency gap for facilitating psychologically safe workplaces, I asked psychologically safe facilitators (PSFs) what they believe the core competencies of any employee or volunteer assigned to spend 5% to 100% of their time on workplace mental health are for facilitating psychological health and safety within their workplace. That article provided 20 self-evaluation items for PHS facilitators to evaluate their competency.

There currently are no professional standards or guidance to be an effective psychological health and safety facilitator. As a result, employers risk buying snake oil products and programs that lack scientific foundation and could do harm.

The CSA Z1003 Psychological Health and Safety Standard promotes the North Star of what employers can do to create psychologically healthy and safe workplaces by leveraging a PDCA approach. The Standard does not mandate one action because there are many variables, such as the employer’s size, budget, resources, and PHS facilitators’ competency and maturity to implement psychological health and safety.

Facilitating psychological health and safety

I promote the value of professional training for PHS facilitators and leveraging evidence-based frameworks that support PDCA approaches that can be adapted to organizations’ needs and situations.

The three-step D3 Model for Psychological Health and Safety aims to reduce mental harm and promote mental health. Each of the three D’s: 1) Discovery (e.g., exploring what is known and not know with respect to existing supports for workplace mental health), 2) Data collection (e.g., understanding the employee experience by engaging them to determine where to begin), and 3) Deciding, framing and implementing (e.g., establishing the game plan that fits your organizations readiness, resources and budget).  The goal of this model is to provide clarity on not only the what to do but how and where to begin.

The research brief listed below is a user-friendly guide for leveraging this tool to decide where to focus energy and resources to facilitate an evidence-based workplace mental health strategy and program.

Psychological Health & Safety Guide For a detailed overview of the D3 Model, visit our website and download the Psychological Health & Safety Guide for Workplace Mental Health Facilitators by clicking here: https://www.howatthr.com/psychological-health-safety-guide-download/






Note: This fall, we will release a Psychological Safety Facilitator certificate through UNB and provide a one-day training session on the D3 Model for Psychological Health and Safety. For more information, contact info@howatthr.com.


Bill Howatt headshotAuthor Dr. Bill Howatt – An international expert in psychological health and safety and facilitating workplace mental health strategy, programs, and evaluation.



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