New Year, New Standards for Psychologically Healthy Workplaces

By Erica Pinsky, CHRP

It’s a New Year.  In spite of the fact that according to the Mayan calendar it is also going to be our last, I am feeling very optimistic about 2012.

One reason I am feeling optimistic about 2012 is because within the next few months the Mental Health Commission of Canada will be releasing voluntary standards for psychologically healthy workplaces. In addition to establishing standards for psychological health in Canadian workplaces, the Commission will be encouraging employers to set targets to achieve them, and will provide strategies to build healthier workplaces that are measurable, sustainable and allow employers to track improvement.

The adoption of these standards was prompted by research from the Mental Health Commission of Canada which found that between 10 and 25 per cent of Canadian workplaces are “mentally injurious” to their employees.  Simply put, for thousands of employees, going to work is making them sick. That translates to a cost for employers of $51 billion.

Mental health issues are the leading cause of both short term and long term disability. They are the number one reason that people miss work. Particularly relevant is the fact that short term disability claims are not insured, but rather are paid for out of operating costs, meaning that this cost directly and negatively impacts the organizational bottom line.

Another interesting fact from the Commission’s research is that over the last five years the increase in damages awarded for workplace mental health has gone up 700 per cent.   Increasingly, courts are recognizing the importance of employees being treated properly and working in a psychologically healthy workplace.

A psychologically healthy workplace is, by definition, a respectful workplace.  It is workplace disrespect, power based behaviours like harassment and bullying that are the biggest contributors to creating the “mentally injurious” workplaces that are affecting increasing numbers of employees. Workplace bullying is defined as “harm inducing behaviour”.  It makes people emotionally and physically ill.  This is the main reason it is being recognized as a legal issue under Occupational Health and Safety legislation, both here and abroad.

We have to look no further than the RCMP to provide proof positive of the link between disrespect and psychological illness.   In early November 2011, Constable Catherine Galliford decided to speak up about the disrespectful treatment that resulted in her being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.  Since then dozens of women have come forward, so many that a potential class action suit is being considered.  In almost every case, the women ended up off work as a result of psychological harm suffered on the job.  Some went off on medical leaves, others decided to leave the force altogether. I can’t even begin to calculate what all of this has been costing the Canadian taxpayer, who, let’s face it, funds the RCMP.

We’d all like to think, or at least hope, that things are getting better.   For a small number of employees in a few isolated workplaces, they are.  But when it comes to workplace disrespect the facts are clear.  We are trending in the wrong direction.

While it is true that the standards proposed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada will be voluntary, the fact that standards for psychologically healthy workplaces are even being talked about, let alone adopted, is cause for celebration.  The more we talk about the harm that disrespect creates in our workplaces, the more we expose the abuse and toxicity in organizations like the RCMP, the more we support and empower people to speak up and say “No More”, the better the chance that we will reach that critical tipping point that Malcolm Gladwell talks about: the point at which the balance of power shifts to ensure that values based, respectful workplaces become the norm rather than the exception.

I am going to continue to do what I can to make sure 2012 is the year that happens. What about you?

Erica Pinsky will be presenting Workplace Police or Workplace Connector: Facilitate Change with Personal Power at BC HRMA’s 50th Annual Conference and Tradeshow in Vancouver on April 25-27, 2012. For more information, please visit www.bchrma.org/conf2012.

Erica Pinsky M.Sc, CHRP, is a respectful workplace solutions expert and author of the highly acclaimed book Road to Respect: Path to Profit (How to Become an Employer of Choice by Building a Respectful Workplace Culture).  A provocative and inspirational speaker, trainer, author and consultant she works with business to build respectful workplace cultures that attract and retain top talent in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, bullying and destructive conflict.  Contact her at 604-266-1267, Erica@ericapinskyinc.ca, or www.ericapinskyinc.ca.

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