Just 30 per cent of employers across Canada have adopted the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, according to Workplace Safety North (WSN).
It’s a voluntary set of guidelines, tools and resources that’s focused on promoting employees’ psychological health and preventing psychological harm due to workplace factors.
For that other 70 per cent of employers, they seem content to maintain the status quo and not make any effort to achieve a higher standard in their work environment, said panellists at a recent online conference.
But Chris Spina sees things differently.
Companies that embrace the standard are signalling that their employees are valued as people, giving those businesses a distinct advantage in attracting quality workers.
"Above all, the employers have to be competitive in that they need to show that it's more than just a job,” said Spina, the finance manager at Impala Canada Ltd.
“There's a relationship there; there's a responsibility there. Employees are looking for a good place to work and not just a place to work.”
Spina made his comments as a panellist during an industry mental health panel, ‘Below the Surface,’ as part of WSN’s annual Mining Health and Safety Conference, a one-day virtual event held on April 27.
The conference, which is now in its 24th year, brings together people from Ontario’s mining industry to share knowledge and innovations regarding safety programs and hazards specific to mining.
When it comes to employees’ mental health, Spina believes that companies need to demonstrate they care about their employees, and that responsibility falls to those in management positions.
"For leaders out there, you're in control of your own environment to an extent; you have the power to create relationships with your team and… regardless of whether there's a company policy or program, it's going to require a personalized approach,” he said.
Results from an Angus Reid poll, conducted in conjunction with CBC in March, show that 82 per cent of Canadians believe the pandemic has pulled people apart, creating a less kind and compassionate Canada, including at work.
So, what can employers do to return kindness to the workplace?
Yasir Zeleya, a health and safety field trainer with Agnico Eagle Canada, believes awareness of mental health can’t just be a “flavour of the month” in the workplace.
The issue has to stay at the forefront of people’s minds in order to generate compassion and empathy amongst coworkers.
"We can’t stop talking about it,” he said. “We've got to keep promoting it at work, keep moving forward with it.”
Zeleya said Agnico Eagle has put into place a number of initiatives to prioritize employees’ mental wellness.
Posters are displayed around the workplace offering information on resources, toolbox meetings are held regularly to talk about mental health, and the company offers mental health training sessions to ensure staff are up to date on their mental wellness knowledge.
But for many, the stigma associated with mental illness remains a barrier to speaking openly about it.
Angele Poitras, a psychological health and safety advisor at WSN, noted that when she first began delivering mental health talks to industry groups, she struggled to reach workers from older generations for whom mental illness was a taboo subject in their younger years.
Rather than address it openly, they were often told to “pull up their big boy pants” and get on with work, she noted.
To get past that, Poitras suggested employers need to create a safe space at work, where employees of all generations feel comfortable speaking openly about any mental health concerns they may have — about themselves or others.
"They're not necessarily coming to you for even a solution; they could just be looking for a little bit of kindness and somebody to actively listen to them,” Poitras said.
“That could be exactly what they need. We never know when the kindness or the open ear that we're going to extend is going to make a difference in somebody's life."
Employers should also remember that ignoring the impact of mental illness can be costly.
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, 500,000 Canadians miss work every day due to a mental health issue.
Zeleya believes employers need to start thinking of a worker’s mental health as equally important to physical health.
Just as a worker wouldn’t go to work without having their broken leg treated, they shouldn’t go to work without having their mental health addressed.
“How come we treat it differently?" he said. “We talk about how you have to be physically fit in order to work, but you also need to be mentally fit as well. I think just bringing that to light is making a difference and it is opening eyes.”