Psychological Support in the Workplace

During challenging times we look to build resilience in our workplaces. It is common knowledge that resilient teams excel in times of crisis. Building resilient workplaces means developing the soft skills within our teams, implementing processes that support psychological health, and promoting a healthy supportive work culture.

Over the next few weeks I will address the elements building processes to support psychological health and safety in the workplace, starting with Psychological Support.

This is the first of 13 pillars under the National Psychological Health and Safety Standards. As many of us are dealing with back to school in various ways and September has a sense of new beginnings for our society, I thought this would be a good time to start into a review of the Psychological Health and Safety Standards.

Psychological supports seems like an ideal topic to start with, given the heightened fears related to COVID  precautions in the school system and the fears of a rise in new cases plus the possibility of a second wave in the Pandemic.  Mental health and mental wellness have been on everyone’s mind from the onset of the pandemic and has continued to be during the last several months.  The majority of employers have realized the inseparability of mental wellness and the ability to be productive at work.

The implementation guide to the National Standards for Psychological Health and Safety defines Psychological Support as “A work environment where co-workers and supervisors are supportive of employees’ psychological and mental health concerns, and respond appropriately as needed.” (Assembling the Pieces: An implementation Guide to the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace by the CSA Group and the Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2014)

This requires asking your employees what would be supportive of their psychological health in the workplace.  The best way to find out what psychological supports are most needed by your team is to ask the question.

Things that come from asking this question often include developing a culture where you can express your concerns and bring up elements that impact mental wellness in the workplace. Ways of developing that culture could be: providing forums for staff to engage in conversations about mental health and wellness, peer support networks, mental wellness tips, access to resources in the community, or guest speakers (live or virtual) on topics related to mental health and wellness.  In addition, there are likely opportunities to promote psychological health through your Employee and Family Assistance program, peers support connections, or your local Canadian Mental Health Association branch.

One of the biggest objections from employers for not developing a process to implement the National Standards for Psychological Health and Safety relates to the additional costs. It is important to note that the majority of resources for psychological support are at no cost and require only small changes in procedures to be more supportive of psychological health and wellness.

It costs employers a little time to listen with openness and empathy to concerns raised by an employee. It costs them much more not to in the long run. There can be important pieces of information embedded in the points raised that could lead to overall improvements for all employees. At the very least, the individual will feel heard and valued, motivating continued support and commitment to the company.

Moreover, psychological support means more.  It means that if you notice signs that an employee is not doing well, the supervisor or a co-worker will open a conversation in a supportive, genuine, and empathetic manner.

There are many programs to provide training on how to support people in distress available. Some are low cost and some are no cost. Remember, you don’t need to have professional level skills to let a co-worker know you care and provide the first steps of support.

Implementing return to work programs after a mental health related leave need to be supportive of the needs of all involved, the employer and the employee who has been on leave.  The plan needs to address any accommodations that may be needed, but also the organizational culture around mental health and wellness.

All staff should be aware of the importance of mental wellness and the signs of when mental wellness is being impacted.

Other aspects, such as providing recognition to employees’ accomplishments may have a cost associated with it, but it surprisingly may not. Surveying your employees for how they most like to be rewarded may provide surprising results. You will find not all your staff want to have cash as a reward.  Developing a culture of meaningful recognition in your organization will pay off with increased loyalty and improved employee retention rates. A thank you coming from supervisors is important, but recognition from peers is another significant factor in building psychological support in the workplace.

If you are unsure where to start, the best first step is to ask your employees what items or processes would be most beneficial to support their psychological health in the workplace.  This can be done with surveys, a suggestion box, focus groups, etc.  Asking these types of questions in a large staff meeting may not be the best approach, but it could be useful as an introduction to the topic. Then encourage the anonymous feedback processes to be used as well. Remember to actually do something with the information. You need to report back and think about how to implement as much as feasible from the suggestions.  Keep in mind that doing nothing after asking will only work against you. If you can’t implement the suggestions, let the team know and provide the “why”. Then look for other ways to achieve similar impacts.

For more information on the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety and the pillars of Psychological Support, contact CHC Consulting  at [email protected] or visit our website at

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