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Mental health champions needed: Task force

By Amanda Silliker
| www.cos-mag.com

Organizations within the federal public service need mental health champions and the government should provide guidance around this, according to a joint task force.

These individuals would advocate for developing and ensuring the sustainability of a psychologically healthy and safe workplace; establishing key objectives toward continual improvement of psychological health and safety in the workplace; and ensuring psychological health and safety are part of all organizational decision-making processes.

“The process for selecting a champion is essential for aligning with the national standard,” said the task force’s report, referring to the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. “They must be the face of the vision, engage unions and employees at all levels and raise awareness of the importance of psychological health and safety.”

In March 2015, the government and Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) established the task force to address mental health in the workplace. In its recently released second report, the joint task force provides specific direction to federal public service organizations in key areas.

The report said senior leaders who have the authority and power to make decisions at the highest level need to support the champions to make sure proper resources are allocated.

Organizations also need help with engagement and participation, which are the building blocks for improving psychological health and well-being in the workplace, said the report. Openness and inclusion during all stages of planning, implementation, review and remediation of the standard will foster employee engagement.

The report offers a number of examples for an engagement strategy that fall under five pillars: generating awareness; initiating connections; encouraging participation; creating dialogue; and ongoing commitment.

“Engagement is not a goal in and of itself but rather the means to create a culture of humanity, compassion and fairness through alignment with the national standard,” said the report. “Trust will be established only through supportive dialogue and consistent action.”

The report also calls for the establishment of a single centre of expertise to support organizations within the federal public service in creating a psychologically healthy and safe workplace.

The centre of expertise would provide a road map to help organizations align with the national standard by providing support, establishing best practices, developing communications strategies, establishing partnerships with key organizations and identifying factors and gaps that may affect the psychological health and safety of the workforce.

“The government is committed to restoring a culture of respect for and within the public service. We will continue to work with public sector unions to improve how we address mental health issues in the workplace. The recommendations by the joint task force will contribute to healthier workplaces for federal public servants across Canada,” said Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board.

The task force found there was a need to improve communication between service-wide OHS units and organization policy committees to ensure appropriate oversight, guidance and information-sharing.

It also said that deputy heads needed to be held accountable for establishing, staffing and overseeing organizational OHS committees, as well as ensuring the committees are trained and equipped to fulfill their mandate. Minimum training includes committee orientation training, hazard analysis, workplace inspections, and hazardous occurrence investigation and reporting.

The government said the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, along with federal departments and agencies, will act on the report’s recommendations in the coming months.

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2016 issue of COS.

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