A new Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) policy compensating employees for work-related chronic mental stress sends a clear signal that mental injuries are just as real - and compensable - as physical injuries. Chronic mental stress is defined as a diagnosed mental disorder predominantly caused by a substantial work-related stressor or series of stressors. Excluded from the definition is chronic mental stress caused by employer decisions related to the worker's employment, such as changing the work to be performed, disciplining the worker, or terminating employment.
"Health and safety advocates have long held that employers have a responsibility to prevent mental harm," says Andrew Harkness, WSPS' Strategy Advisor, Organizational Health Initiatives. "The WSIB's new policy is just one more in a series of legislative measures across Canada confirming this position."
What you need to know about the WSIB's chronic mental stress policy
The policy defines what the WSIB would and wouldn't consider chronic mental stress. Here are two examples of situations that could lead to chronic mental stress:
- a housekeeping attendant is regularly subjected to inappropriate and harassing comments from several co-workers. Despite confronting them, the harassment increases. He develops a depression disorder.
- a supervisor is subjected to demeaning comments from her manager on a regular basis, often in front of colleagues. She develops an anxiety disorder.
Compensable injuries of any kind impose direct and indirect costs on injured workers and their employers. For workers, these costs may include reduced income and quality of life, temporarily or permanently. Employers may face medical costs, hiring or retraining costs, and legal fees.
6 best practices for creating a mentally healthy workplace
- Inform yourself. Read the WSIB policy explore the 13 workplace factors that affect mental health, then check out free online tools and resources, such as ThinkMentalHealth.ca.
- Assemble a business case that positions employee physical and mental well-being as a boardroom issue. Management support of a strategic, proactive approach is the first step in making changes.
- Create a physically safe environment. An unsafe workplace can cause stress and anxiety. It can also distract workers, increasing the risk of physical injury and reducing productivity.
- Create a psychologically safe environment. Build trust, honesty and fairness into everyday operations, reduce stigma, and provide opportunities for employees to grow. People who feel safe are more loyal, more effective, and happier going to work.
- Promote civility and respect. Clearly defining goals, roles and responsibilities, establishing a code of behaviour, setting reasonable hours and deadlines, offering flexible working conditions, and encouraging open communications can reduce stress, boost well-being, and improve innovation.
- Provide psychological and social support. Equip managers, supervisors and employees with the information and skills to maintain their own health and support others. Here are two opportunities: Mental Health First Aid, and Workplace Mental Health: How Managers Should Respond.