The standard and the
By Shelby Morton
“We're really relying on people's brains, minds and intellect. Employers are realizing that's the asset, that's the future, and how they stay in competition."
After talking the talk, Bell decided to walk the walk.
Bell launched the Let’s Talk campaign in 2010 in an effort to get the public talking about mental health.
Three years later, to get its employees talking, the company adopted the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.
The Standard is a federally funded, voluntary set of tools, resources and guidelines for encouraging a psychologically safe and healthy workplace for employees.
Marie Josée Boivin, VP of human resources at Bell, said the Standard inspired Bell to improve its wellness practices, employee assistance programs and accommodation services.
“We created a more in-depth manager training program to address common language, practical strategies and prevention,” she said.
Developed by the Canadian Standards Association and the Bureau de normalisation du Quebec and championed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Standard is the first of its kind in the world.
Sapna Mahajan, director of prevention and promotion initiatives at the Mental Health Commission of Canada, said after the launch of the Standard, many questions arose.
“Who’s doing this? What’s the impact? What are some of the challenges?” she said. “We immediately knew if we were going to release such a pivotal document, that we’d have to do some research factoring in all the organizations with varying environments.”
To address this, the Mental Health Commission of Canada introduced a three-year research case study.
The goal of the case study is to track implementation of the Standard, as well as to answer the who, what, where and why with qualitative and quantitative research.
Merv Gilbert, one of six researchers on the case study and adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, said they use what is called a “formative evaluation.”
“It’s the process of putting something in place, and asking questions like what helped it be successful, what does success look like, what kind of things get in the way of success,” he said. “As opposed to an outcome evaluation, which is essentially: did it work?”
The case study utilizes four assessment tools, the first being the organizational review. This is an organizational self-assessment, which basically tracks the organization’s procedures and policies in creating a mentally healthy workplace, establishing a “baseline.”
Mahajan said one of the biggest surprises was learning how much the organizations were already implementing.
“Every single organization had quite a bit in place,” she said. “It was just how they communicated and positioned it within the organization.”
The next two tools include the implementation questionnaire and implementation interview. The tools explore the perceptions of and overall compliance to implementing the Standard, respectively.
The fourth assessment tool is called the psychological health and safety awareness survey for employees (PHASE) and it tracks the requisite knowledge and perceptions employees have about psychological health and safety in the workplace.
This tool is encouraged but not mandatory, because the commission has recognized that many organizations already have their own employee or engagement surveys in place.
Mahajan said the case study tracks 13 workplace factors that affect psychological health and safety as outlined in the Standard, which include civility and respect, recognition and reward, or the psychological demands of the job.
“It helps the organization specifically recognize where there needs to be improvement,” she said. “OK, we’re weak here, let’s improve A, B, and C.”
Gilbert said all the data recorded was gathered into a feedback report, which was given to each organization at baseline and interim.
“One of the quantitative assessments was a self-assessment of the 13 factors, which was given to the organization in graph form to show how they are doing and how they are doing in comparison to the other organizations,” he said.
Mahajan said she initially only expected about 10 organizations to volunteer. But they ended up with 41.
“These are organizations demonstrating leadership and commitment to a very important issue,” she said. “These are forward-thinking trailblazers.”
One such trailblazer is actually an early adopter of the Standard, Bell.
Boivin said utilizing the Standard and participating in the case study has helped Bell be more accountable to their actions.
“When you’re so vocal about something externally, you’ve got to walk the walk internally,” she said. “It’s important to have a framework to map all your activities back to.”
Mahajan said she was surprised to learn that most organizations weren’t volunteering to lower costs or liability, but to protect their employees’ psychological health.
“Compared to 50 years ago, we’re really relying more on people’s brains, minds and intellect,” she said. “Employers are realizing that’s the asset, that’s the future and how they stay in competition.”
The Commission recently released an early findings interim report on the data collected and spotlighted some of the more successful organizations in the case study, one of which is Toronto East General Hospital (TEGH).
Christine Devine, wellness specialist at TEGH, said utilizing the Standard has given the hospital an opportunity to improve its own wellness program, which they launched in 2004.
“Back then, our trust scores were really low,” she said. “But slowly, with the framework of the Standard, our employee engagement scores have been on the ascent,” she said. “We are one of the top performing hospitals in terms of staff engagement.”
The case study was recommended to TEGH by Excellence Canada, from whom it (and Bell) received a mental health at work award for implementation of the Standard.
Devine, who is TEGH’s representative for the case study, said collaborating with the Mental Health Commission has been amenable.
“It’s an opportunity for the ultimate professionals to weigh in and guide us,” she said. “They understand that everyone has a starting point, and that it starts with the little things you can do to consider psychological health and safety.”
Boivin said being involved in the case study has been helpful with engaging, improving and promoting some of their initiatives.
“It creates a community of interest where we can push ideas and have an exchange and get different perspectives,” she said. “We’ve had other organizations approach us to better understand our practices—specifically our manager training program.”
“And it improves recruitment,” she said. “I’ve interviewed young people who’ve said they would be proud to work in an organization so involved with this issue.”
Mahajan said once a month every representative, or “champion,” from an organization has access to an expert panel, including the commission and other organizations, to ask them anything.
Devine said collaborating with another representative Sandy Coughlin, director of occupational health and safety at Providence Health Care in Vancouver, BC, was particularly inspiring.
“[Providence] has an excellent employee resource website, and we wanted to learn how to emulate that,” she said.
Boivin said she’s received letters from the Commission on the positive contribution her staff have made to the case study.
“It’s exciting to contribute to the documentation of something you believe in so deeply,” she said. “[The case study] provides the proper context and practical strategies most organizations don’t have access to.”
She said the Standard and the case study have inspired Bell to push themselves further when it comes to promoting psychological health and safety.
“We’ve had a clear improvement in usage of EAP and double digit improvement in terms of short term disability cases related to mental health,” she said.
Mahajan said it’s not only important to track success, but to track barriers as well.
“We understand that different organizations have different realities and it’s not always going to be a seamless transition,” she said. “But we want to record all the barriers to ensure no other organizations face those same barriers.”
She said she hopes the case study will bring awareness to the Standard and its benefits.
“It’s going to drive uptake, staff engagement, retention, recruitment. It’s going to help organizations reach their bottom line, whether financial or other,” she said. “But more importantly—it’s going to bring attention to an area that is highly stigmatized.”