Blue Line

Measuring up to a new standard

January 30, 2013
By Dorothy Cotton

957 words – MR

HEAD: Measuring up to a new standard

Holy mackerel, there has been a whole lot of talk about mental health, mental illness and wellness and all that stuff recently. We seem to have gone from “we don’t want to talk about it” to “EVERYONE is mentally ill” in a flash. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between – as it always does. I presume one day we will actually figure out what to think and do about mental illness. We might even reach the point where we (gasp) deal with it the same way as other illnesses.

We are not there yet. Nevertheless, the topic of wellness in the workplace, particularly as it applies to police organizations, is getting a lot of air time lately. It is generally accompanied by people shifting uncomfortably in their seats, looking confused and saying “I do not have a clue where to start.”


The purpose of this column is to tell you where to start. (This should not be confused with being told where to get off, which is an entirely different subject.)

The place to start is… <>. Yup, that is the some CSA which provides guides for constructing houses, tells you if your light bulbs pass muster and if you are emitting too many green house gases.

CSA, along with its Quebec counterpart, the Bureau denormalisation du Québec (BNQ), recently released a voluntary national standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace, cleverly entitled It’s Standard CSA-Z1103-13, in case you were wondering, and was developed in conjunction with the Mental Health Commission of Canada – so the developers likely knew what they were talking about.

It’s basically a management tool – and like most management tools, its structure is fairly predictable. If you want to do something about workplace mental health you need to look at what you have and what your gaps are. Then you measure stuff, talk to people and get buy in, have a leader and a champion, communication, be nice to people, measure change over time and reassess. Sounds a lot like Management 101 to me.

However I think there are a few key points worth stressing in the police context. Most police agencies are up to speed on offering some sort of response to critical incidents and an employee assistance program but are not quite so proficient at the “let’s prevent it rather than fix it” end of things. Don’t feel too bad about this – most NON police organizations are pretty well in the same boat. If businesses were good at this sort of thing we would not be inventing new CSA standards.

Indeed, preventing mental health problems is where the action is. The CSA Standard identifies 13 workplace factors which research has shown to be related to psychological health:

• Organizational culture
• Psychological and social support
• Clear leadership expectations
• Civility and respect
• Psychological demands
• Opportunities for growth and development
• Recognition and reward
• Involvement and influence
• Workload management
• Engagement
• Balance
• Psychological protection
• Physical safety

It is pretty easy to separate this list into essentially three categories: (1) the areas where you already do well, (2) the things you really can’t control and (3) the places where some sock-pulling-up might be in order. Again, there seems to be significant overlap between what I would consider “basic good management” and “predictors of mental health problem.” If you are a manager, you just might want to give that some thought.

Not a manager? You’re not off the hook. Many of these items also have to do with how you interact with colleagues, deal with work-life balance issues and personally look after your own mental health. It would also help if non-managers did not roll their eyes when management brings up these kinds of topics. The most effective workplace mental health strategies involved equal participation from management and worker bees –including the union, if there is one.

The other area where most organizations can use a little help is answering the “why bother?” question. Aside from it being the right thing to do and all that, there is a good business case to be made for instituting workplace mental health programs. It’s estimated that mental health problems cost Canadians more than $50 billion a year and employers bear a lot of this cost.

Mental health related problems account for at least 30 per cent of disability claims and people off work because of them are generally off longer than people with other kinds of illnesses and injuries. Many organizations have demonstrated that the cost of workplace wellness programs is easily offset by gains in productivity, reduced insurance and replacement costs and all that stuff. The business case for improving workplace mental health also includes significant improvements in:

• risk mitigation;
• cost effectiveness;
• recruitment and retention; and
• organizational excellence and sustainability.

Sounds good to me.

You might want to have a look at the CSA Standard and see how your organization stacks up and where the gaps are. Then… well… DO something. Not only does the standard tell you where to start, it also provides a whole lot of helpful info about how to start and some helpful tools. Have a look.