Mental health at work: why it matters

The statistics speak for themselves:

  • 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health disability. 
  • This week, more than 500,000 Canadians will miss work because of mental health problems. 
  • Mental illness represents more than 30% of disability claims and 70% of disability costs.
  • In the federal public service, mental health conditions are responsible for almost half of all long term disability claims.

How does this affect us at work?

Many Canadian workers experience stress, anxiety, and depression.  Work plays an important role in our lives and in our ability to manage both our physical and psychological health. The workplace is not neutral territory; it can either help or hurt our mental well-being. 

What are the causes of poor workplace mental health?

Some of the well-known causes of poor workplace mental health are:

  • job insecurity
  • work overload
  • lack of recognition at work
  • poor work-life balance
  • harassment and discrimination

Many of our members face these and other problems at work that have a negative impact on their mental health. Public service job cuts create poor working conditions, as workers struggle to do more with less. Almost half of all federal public service workers say that the quality of their work suffers because of having to do the same work with fewer resources.

So, what does a healthy workplace look like?

Experts in health and safety and mental health, representatives from businesses and unions (including PSAC) worked together to develop the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (“the Standard”), which sets out basic guidelines for promoting workers’ mental health and preventing psychological harm in the workplace.

The Standard identifies a number of factors that create a healthy workplace:

  • employers should be clear about their expectations of workers
  • there should be opportunities for personal growth and development
  • workers should have some influence over their work
  • employers need to recognize and reward workers for work well done
  • workers must be able to balance their work and personal lives
  • respect and civility should be the norm in the workplace
  • employers must protect workers from bullying, harassment, and discrimination

To learn more, check out the Standard and the implementation guidelines.

We all have mental health

Poor mental health can affect people of all ages, income and education levels, cultures, religions, and in all types of jobs. When a workplace is toxic or psychologically unhealthy, it affects all workers in that workplace.

Poor mental health affects workplace productivity and morale, which then creates more stress for workers.

But poor mental health affects some more than others.

People with mental health disabilities are often isolated and stigmatized. They may not want to come forward to talk to co-workers, union representatives or managers because they fear being labeled, further isolated, or harassed. They often suffer in silence.

When their health deteriorates, long-term absence can result.

This doesn’t have to happen. Workers with mental health disabilities can be productive and engaged workers when they have the right supports in place.

What can my union do to support good mental health?

At PSAC, we fight for a healthy and safe workplace for all of our members. Together with members, there is a lot we can do to address this important issue.

Promote healthy workplaces

PSAC believes our workplaces must support good mental health, and we’ve tabled bargaining demands to address the mental health needs of public service workers. In the federal public service, we want the employer to adopt the Standard and work with us to address this important issue. 

PSAC also bargains for provisions in employees’ collective agreements, such as leaves of absence for family responsibilities, job security protections, and health and safety protections, which help to create a healthier work environment.

Protect health and safety

Occupational health and safety is not just about physical hazards or the physical work environment.

Traditionally, occupational health and safety committees have focused on physical hazards at work, but they also need to deal with psychological health and safety (PSH) issues. Employers have been slow to accept their responsibilities in this area.

PSAC representatives are working with employers to address this and help establish PSH policies and committees.

Support accommodation at work

The employer has a duty to accommodate employees with disabilities. Employers must make changes to workplaces or jobs when a worker needs them to perform their work. For workers with mental health disabilities, this can mean a graduated return to work, flexible work hours, or the reduction of stressors in the workplace.

The duty to accommodate also means designing workplace policies and practices so they are inclusive and don’t have a negative impact on workers with mental health disabilities.

If the employer doesn’t provide the worker with accommodation, the worker can file a grievance.

Confront stigma and discrimination

People with mental health disabilities often face stigma and discrimination in the workplace. Human rights legislation and our collective agreements prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, which includes mental health disabilities. If you have faced discrimination at work through unfair treatment, harassment, or the denial of accommodation, speak to your component representative about filing a grievance. 

Fight for sick leave and benefits

It’s also important that when a worker needs to take time off for mental health-related illness, he or she has financial support in the form of sick leave, disability insurance, or workers’ compensation.

We must fight to keep these benefits so workers receive compensation when they are unable to work due to an illness — be it physical or psychological. 

What can I do?

July 24, 2013