Psychological Health and Safety 101

You may be an expert in EHS (Environmental Health and Safety) but do you also know about PHS (Psychological Health and Safety)?

Psychological Health and Safety can be defined as both 1) promoting the psychological well-being of employees, and 2) causing no harm to employee mental health.

Let’s start with two examples.  Who is the most psychologically healthy person in your work world?  I bet that person is optimistic, adaptable, supportive, generous.  Then ask who is the most psychologically unhealthy person in your work world?  I bet that person is negative, rigid, critical, destructive towards others.  Just as individuals vary, so do organizations.  Think about your work place as you read the following examples.

Why is Psychological Health and Safety Important?

1.  New legislation requires employer compliance

2.  Financial incentives reduce costs

3.  Practical evidence on employee job satisfaction, customer satisfaction and loyalty, absenteeism

Think of your colleagues as a slice of the workforce, with a range of psychological issues or concerns that can prevent them from doing their job at times.  Thankfully, there is a broad range of psychological health!   PHS can be described as a spectrum, with bi-directional arrows, with mild psychological difficulties on one end (such as excessive worry or  sleep disorders) and severe psychological disorders on the other end (schizophrenia or severe depression.)  Most workers are fully functional, despite mild psychological difficulties.  Naturally, your focus on PHS is on reducing the negative impacts and increasing the positive impacts.

The negative impacts are vast, and include:

1.  Financial. Treating depression and anxiety is a significant cost at many companies, which increases your health insurance premium costs and decreases all productivity metrics.  The financial case for investing in PHS is strong.

2.  Productivity.  You may know about ‘presenteeism’, a decrease in performance due to illness or injury while an employee is still at work. A recent study found that, compared to a variety of common disorders (e.g. asthma, migraine, arthritis), depression caused the greatest decline in work productivity and focus.  You may also know that some 40% of Americans have an anti-depressant prescription.  How do these facts relate to your productivity factors?

3.  Safety.  Most jobs require employees to have good concentration, social skills and the ability to solve problems effectively.  What about your company?  If you tolerate “Debbie Downer” or “Caustic Carl” they are likely to contribute to a safety incident or accident.  What are the effects on safety metrics at your company for tolerating those employees with lower psychological health and wellness?

4.  Workplace morale.   Mental health problems are often insidious, hard to detect.  External organizational consultants (like Action Learning Associates, Inc) are essential to  assess culture and key factors, such as morale.  Just like air temperature, workplace morale can go up and down and directly relates to safety.

The positive impacts of Psychological Health and Safety are also significant.  They include:

1.  Improved recruitment and retention.    Many employees have high expectations for their jobs. They expect to be treated fairly, rewarded appropriately and provided with opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and develop new skills. Employers who create and sustain a ‘great place to work’ will always attract and keep the best workers.

2.  Improved employee engagement.  An engaged employee is described as someone fully involved in their work.   You may have read that few employees- some 17-29%-  are highly engaged by their work.  But what does that range mean?  There is little agreement among psychologists and practitioners about employee engagement.  It is a trendy subject, and hard to quantify.  PHS is likely a contributing factor to employee engagement.

3.  Improved sustainability.   There is plenty of evidence that individual job satisfaction leads to organizational job satisfaction, which is related to higher stock values and company sustainability.  The challenge, of course, is HOW to teach your employees to develop such sustainability.  That is why most companies require external consultants.

4.  Improved health and safety.   “All for one and one for all” is not just a rallying cry for the Three Musketeers.  All business leaders need to co-create work environments that foster psychological health and well being.  This is not a fad.  We need to support individuals, teams, and organizations that mitigate risk.

Still doubtful?  Here is a recent example of regulatory compliance for Psychological Health and Safety.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), in January, 2014,  announced the world’s first national standard for Psychological Health and Safety (PHS.)   Their goal is to improve workplace mental health.  They describe PHS as a serious public health issue because it affects mental health, reduces absenteeism, and increase global competitiveness.  This is a 3-year project with 25 employers.  (Details are at

What do you need to learn from the Canadians?

Specifically, how can you improve the Psychological Health and Safety of your workers?

Start with a discussion.  Contact Doug Gray for details at