OHS Canada Magazine

Workplace mental health needs a unique approach, study says

April 21, 2014

Health & Safety Health & Safety Mental Health

(Canadian OH&S News) -- Implementing preventive measures adapted to each company’s unique culture would help reduce mental health issues in the workplace, a new study has suggested.

(Canadian OH&S News) — Implementing preventive measures adapted to each company’s unique culture would help reduce mental health issues in the workplace, a new study has suggested.

The study, entitled Improving workplace mental health, was conducted over four years and involved 2,162 workers from 63 organizations across all sectors. Researchers examined factors such as work schedules and workload, management policies, supervision styles, marital status and family life, alcohol consumption and self-esteem, which were identified as triggers or inhibitors in the development of psychological distress, depression or burnout. After preparing a diagnosis for each company, the researchers developed intervention programs tailored to each company’s working environment and culture.

The study was presented in Montreal on April 14 and 15 at the Rassemblement pour la santé et le mieux-être en enterprise, an event that focuses on workplace health and wellness. It was undertaken by researchers from the Université de Montréal, in collaboration with researchers at Concordia University and the Université Laval, and with the support of Standard Life.

“Our study clearly shows that an action plan needs to be developed based on each company’s specific issues,” said study co-lead Pierre Durand, a Université de Montréal professor, in a press release from Standard Life. “The same formula cannot be applied to each situation; a more in-depth approach is required. Progress must be evaluated regularly and factors that may arise along the way need to be taken into consideration in order to modify the approach if necessary.”

Researchers were interested in validating the assumption that the effects of personal and professional problems could not be considered separately when evaluating mental health. Results from questionnaires consisting of nearly 300 questions were matched with biological indicators, including a measure of cortisol levels, recognized as a stress indicator, the study noted.


The researchers found that one of the most significant factors leading to psychological distress, depression or burnout was inadequate work-life balance. “A worker whose family life infringes upon his or her employment, for example, tends to be better protected against burnout,” the study read. “But the opposite occurs when employment infringes on family and personal life. It proved to be a determining factor in all three mental health problems surveyed.”

To have a positive impact on the psychological health of their employees, the researchers have recommended that employers roll out a unique health and wellness program based on an approach that is:

* Comprehensive and integrated — The program must be an integral part of an organization’s culture and consider existing programs, such as those dealing with absence management or employee assistance. Links must be established between all programs;

* Targeted — It is critical to determine the physical and psychological problems of employees in order to implement actions that will have optimal effects. For example, factors such as workplace-external support and physical activity help protect against depression, but abusive supervision could contribute to not only depression, but also psychological distress and burnout;

* Measurable — It is important to be able to evaluate the effects of quantitative and qualitative actions.

In addition to promoting a healthy work environment, the study said, a comprehensive and integrated approach to health and wellness could reduce the incidence of absenteeism, presenteeism and disability; contribute to an increase in productivity; help control the cost of healthcare and group insurance plans; and attract and retain highly-qualified employees.

Emmanuelle Gaudette, prevention and health promotion manager at Standard Life, said that the company could use the data on risk factors to optimize its health and wellness programs by specifically targeting what triggers mental health problems in the workplace. “Our customers will be better equipped to select a program for their company,” she said.

The study can be read online at http://www.standardlife.ca/en/pdf/press/en_salveo_study.pdf.


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