Workplace health and safety has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. Since the Industrial Safety Act and the Canada Labour Code were enacted in the 1960s, occupational health and safety have been constantly evolving to protect workers from injuries and illnesses related to their employment.

In recent years, the discussion of mental health has increased drastically around the world. And while it is often associated with stress or tragedy in one’s personal life, there is a growing awareness of the effects it can have in the workplace.

February is #PsychologyMonth in Canada which, among other topics, highlights the impact mental health can have on a worker’s ability to do their job safely, as well as how organizations across the country are responding to this new aspect of occupational health and safety.

Mental health is defined by the World Health Organization as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

Back in 2013, Gallup released the results of a poll that surveyed 150,000 workers across the United States. The results revealed that 70% of the american workforce felt unmotivated in their jobs.

“ Psychological illness has a profound effect on everyone -- individuals, families, the workplace and the economy," Dr. Marilyn Chotem, President of the British Columbia Psychological Association, stated in a press release from the BCPA last year.

Employees performance and an organization’s profitability are strongly interwoven. A survey by Harris Interactive (on behalf of Everest College) that explored the main stressors in the workplace, also supported the vicious cycle that arises when employees begin to disengage from their work:

  • When workers are stressed or unhappy, their productivity tends to go down.
  • Lower productivity ends up creating a smaller profit margin, which in turn creates more work for the employees as companies try to make up their losses, and often culminates in cutting back on benefits or laying off workers.
  • And the instability that comes from a loss of revenue creates (you guessed it)… more stress on workers.

The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that mental illness accounts for 30% of disability claims across the country, while costing employers time and money through employee turnover, sick leave, and absenteeism.

 A New Way of Doing Business

These issues have paved the way for a newer work philosophy, made famous by corporate giants such as Google, Zappos, and Virgin. These companies have built reputations for creating work environments that promote strong relationships between co-workers and enforce work-life balance. And their core philosophies all have something in common:

It’s less about the aspiration to be No. 1 in the world, and more that we want our employees and future employees to love it here, because that’s what’s going to make us successful. -Jordan Newman (Spokesman for Google)
Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to. If you look after your staff, they'll look after your customers. It's that simple. -Richard Branson (Founder of Virgin Group)
At Zappos, we really view culture as our No. 1 priority. We decided that if we get the culture right, most of the stuff, like building a brand around delivering the very best customer service, will just take care of itself. -Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos)

See the trend? This new outlook on business focuses on creating a culture in which people can be creative, be themselves and enjoy what they do. By taking care of their employees, these three organizations are removing stress out of the workplace, and a major stress point out of their employees lives.

While not every company can be Google, Zappos, or Virgin, many are taking great strides to provide their employees with the tools they need to deal with their mental health.

In 2016, the government of Ontario enacted the Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act which will assume, until otherwise disproven, that all diagnosis of PTSD in first responders (emergency medical attendants, firefighters, correctional services officers, and emergency services dispatchers.) are work-related, allowing them faster access to benefits and treatment options offered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

 The WSIB has also released a policy regarding Chronic Mental Stress, which will provide benefits and resources to victims of workplace bullying and harassment.

Other organizations who have changed their policies to accommodate mental health include coffee giant Starbucks, who increased psychological benefits from $500 to $5000, while Manulife Financial offers up to $10,000 to its employees.

To learn more about mental health in the workplace, follow us on Twitter during #PsychologyMonth.

If you have any tips or tricks on how you keep your mental health in check when life gets chaotic, share them with us in the comments below!

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