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Mental health tops list of business leaders' health and safety concerns

Mental health survey

Do you have a plan to manage mental health concerns at your workplace? If not, you're in good company.

Two-thirds of respondents to a new WSPS leadership survey say mental health is their greatest emerging challenge. However, only one in five have a formal plan to address it. That's just one of the findings from the survey, which was carried out to help leaders better prepare for current and emerging challenges.

Conducted in late 2019, the survey and its results are just as timely now, say Lynn Brownell, WSPS President and CEO, and Marianne Matichuk, Chair of WSPS' Board of Directors. "The COVID-19 crisis has brought health and safety into sharper focus in an unprecedented way. Employees, communities and governments are turning to industry leaders in a way they never have before, looking for insight and knowledge to guide the nation as we work collectively to mitigate the health and economic risks that loom large."

Over 400 respondents, representing a cross-section of industries and organizations of all sizes across Canada, shared their insights on a variety of topics, such as business challenges, significant health and safety issues, investment in health and safety, and barriers to implementation.

Here are the top five things on their minds - are these key issues for your business right now?

  • Mental health - respondents see mental health and stress management as key emerging health and safety concerns in the next 3-5 years. Most respondents have no formal plan to manage these issues despite nearly universal agreement that mental health has a direct impact on business goals.
  • Leadership - respondents with health and safety plans in place say that senior leadership commitment plays a key role and is "driving the conversation for improving health and safety in the workplace." However, nearly 60% of respondents in the Reactive and Start of Journey categories indicate that they lack leadership support.
  • Organizational impact - employers in the Proactive and Leading categories are more likely to experience reduced injuries and costs, improved worker engagement, client satisfaction, and productivity, as well as a healthier bottom line.
  • Attraction and retention - respondents show nearly universal agreement that a robust health and safety strategy reduces employee turnover.
  • Emerging issues - respondents widely agreed that mental health, stress, musculoskeletal injuries, increasing sick time and LTD, presenteeism, violence and harassment, managing return-to-work, and impairment will be significant issues in the next 3-5 years.

As workplaces emerge from the pandemic, write Brownell and Matichuk in the survey report, "we hope leaders debrief and take stock of the vulnerabilities that this crisis has exposed in their workplaces, and ensure the proper plans are in place to protect their employees, customers, and communities. And, that they also have "Plan B" at the ready. Plans are essential, but as we've all witnessed with the events this year, it's also necessary to be able to flex and adapt as needed to suit the situation."

Who was surveyed

Respondents to the survey are in different stages on a five-point continuum of workplace health and safety development:

  • leading (12% of respondents) - health and safety is treated as a strategic priority
  • proactive (28%) - active board discussion and support aimed at enhancing management of health and safety
  • managing (33%) - focused on managing health and safety day to day
  • reactive (22%) - focused on addressing health and safety issues as they arise. Focus remains on incident rates
  • start of journey (4%) - starting to understand what health and safety involves; focused on incident management

Read the survey report

The survey results appear in a white paper, WSPS 2020 Health & Safety Leadership Survey: Challenges and Concerns. The results are intended to help leaders become better prepared and move along the continuum to become "leaders" and mentors for others.

This survey is expected to be the first in an annual series on this topic. It was conducted in collaboration with Key Media Insights, Human Resource Director magazine and Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) magazine.

WSPS regularly posts white papers on health and safety issues essential to business leaders. Many of these white papers are published by the CEO Health + Safety Leadership Network. Established by WSPS in 2014, the CEO Health + Safety Leadership Network is a distinguished group of leaders who share a commitment to building sustainable businesses and communities.

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