A healthy workplace keeps an open mind

Audit program developed by MHCC will help workplaces stay in tune with employees’ mental health

A healthy workplace keeps an open mind

Mental health continues to be on the minds of employees and employers alike. As such, one not-for-profit organization is launching an audit program to help keep psychological health and safety for employees at the top of employers’ minds.

The new psychological health and safety audit program is being launched by Opening Minds, the training and services arm of the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC). Opening minds uses evidence-based programs to promote mental health, wellness, and resilience as well as reduce stigma associated with mental illness. 

Just as how occupational health and safety (OHS) audits provide employers with detailed information about their systems and processes for managing OHS, the MHCC Psychological Health and Safety Audit Program is being designed to help organizations better understand how to embed PHS in the way they work.

Liz Horvath, manager of psychological health and safety within Opening Minds, says they’ve developed training to help organizations understand how to integrate psychological health and safety. A training program is also being developed, specifically designed for auditors to learn how to use how to do psychological health and safety assessments and audits using the Opening Minds Psychological Health and Safety Audit tool, that was developed in partnership with AuditSoft.

“We're setting companies up to be able to do these assessments and audits internally with their own staff who are qualified and trained,” Horvath says. “If they don't have their own staff to be able to go through that or they don't have the capacity, then they can engage with one of our externally trained auditors who also go through the same training only they have the authorization to be able to do it for clients.”

Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) is contributing roughly $820,000 over three years to support the creation of MHCC's Psychological Health and Safety Audit Program. The funding will enable Opening Minds to develop a robust evidence-based, and live virtual training and qualification program, certify auditors to conduct Opening Minds PHS Audits, and pilot the program with several employers. The result would consist of Opening Minds providing PHS audits to companies and organizations across Canada.

Horvath highlighted that she welcomes and wants to have conversations with plan sponsors who are interested in signing up.

“There really is a benefit for organizations taking steps to become psychologically healthy and safe, it helps to bring incidents down and helps with recruitment and retention and investigations and saves lives too. Perhaps there are ways that we can further recognize companies that go through this program and who are also employers themselves so they might want to go through it too,” she said.

Employers who are interested in being audited can expect to receive a comprehensive report that outlines the criteria that the MHCC is looking for, the findings, their strengths, and any recommendations on improvements in any areas where they don't meet the criteria.

“It's a strengths-based program, so there's no pass or fail but the whole point is to help them to see across the board, what [they] have in place,” Horvath says. “Very often, they don't know everything that they have because it's owned by different parts of the organization. It helps them to see what they've got in place, build on the strengths that they have, and fill those other gaps they may have so they get a customized action plan.”

Horvath noted the program would have been “out earlier on,” but that development and receiving funding for these kinds of projects “takes time.”

“The reason that we developed it is that we have heard over and over again from many different people in many different organizations across Canada, and beyond Canada as well, that they can get a bit confused with implementing psychological health and safety,” she says. “The Standard is fairly comprehensive, fairly detailed, and they're looking for help in trying to figure out how to implement it, and then how to actually measure and audit their results.”

In addition to the National Standard, there is also the International Standard, also known as ISO 45003, that has also been developed, Horvath added, which had a lot of influence from the National Standard so there's two standards that an organization might follow.

“They might not be following either one of the Standards. We still know that there's lots of organizations that are looking to improve workplace mental health and improve their psychological health and safety. They might have heard the terms, they might be looking at what they can do, but they haven't even heard of the Standard yet.”

The MHCC PHS Audit Program is currently being piloted with a small group of auditors and organizations. An independent evaluation of the effectiveness of the project will be conducted, with a final report to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.