Although the government of Canada and many employers take steps to protect the physical health of employees, the modern workplace is still a stressful place. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has identified several stressors in the workplace.
Stress management for employees, as well as empowerment of employees to minimize workplace stress, increases the quality of life for Canadian workers, increases productivity, and reduces the risk of workplace injuries and workplace violence. Employers can use a variety of strategies and resources to combat workplace stress.
Employees also have tools at their disposal, including government-run programmes that teach stress management for employees as well as private sector resources. This guide helps employees to:
- Be aware of the sources of stress that exist in the workplace
- Understand their rights and the role that employers play in providing a low-stress environment.
- Understand the help that is available to them through their employer, the government, and external agencies
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Tool #1: Clear Work Objectives
Unclear or contradictory work objectives are a source of stress in many workplaces. They can arise for many reasons.
- overlapping and conflicting sources of authority within the organization
- vague instructions
- inconsistent enforcement of workplace conduct and quality standards
- high turnover in leadership positions
A clear sense of what is and is not expected of employees is crucial for workers to be secure and productive in their positions. Workers who are unsure about their objectives could find a way to speak candidly about the issue to a sympathetic person in management or find a mentor with experience in the company to guide them through the written and unwritten rules for the organization.
Tool #2: Safe Working Conditions
An employee who faces the danger of physical or psychological injury in their job cannot escape stress. Even if employees have not suffered an injury, they may know someone who has or had close brushes with danger. Causes of unsafe working conditions include:
- machinery with insufficient safeguards
- tasks that require repetitive movement
- long working hours under psychological pressure
- sitting for long periods at workstations with poor ergonomic design
If an employee observes unsafe working conditions, they should bring the matter up with their supervisors and, if necessary, contact Canadian regulatory agencies. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) imposes fines for employers who do not comply with safety regulations.
Employees who are concerned about their health in the workplace can protect themselves and their families from the financial cost of a workplace injury by purchasing a disability insurance policy.
Tool #3: A Reasonable Workweek
The standard workweek in Canada is 40 hours long, with no more than 8 hours of work in a day, with regular breaks. Employees who work longer than this in industries that the Canadian government regulates are entitled to overtime pay. Employers should not ask employers to work more than an average of 48 hours a week, even with overtime.
Workweeks above 48 hours a week could disrupt work-life balance and cause psychological stress. Long workweeks have, in extreme cases, contributed to serious health problems and even death.
Employers should moderate their work schedule and be receptive to employee complaints about long workweeks. Workers should know their rights to overtime pay and not become intimidated by the pressure to work long hours, especially if their employer is not compensating them appropriately.
Employees can assert their rights to a reasonable workweek. Stress management for employees can include time management skills as well.
Tool #4: Flexible Scheduling
Employers can facilitate stress management for employees by allowing flexible work schedules when possible. Many employees are juggling the demands of childcare, elder care, second jobs, education, and other responsibilities.
If a worker’s tasks do not require them to adhere to a particular schedule, allowing workers to arrive early and leave early or arrive late and stay late could help them to cope with life stress. Scheduling mandatory meetings near midday and allowing workers to telecommute are strategies for increasing the flexibility of scheduling.
Tool #5: Availability of Mental Health Resources
Employees should be aware of and able to take advantage of mental health resources in the workplace. Employers can support access to mental health in many ways.
- Creating a mental health resource centre onsite
- Ensuring that employees have confidential access to mental health services
- Fostering a culture that does not stigmatize mental health
- Including mental health awareness in the onboarding process
- For larger companies, providing onsite counselling services
Many employees suffer a drop in productivity when facing mental health challenges. Social support from managers and colleagues can increase employees’ sense of well-being and allow them to remain engaged in their work. Employers who provide stress management for employees benefit from higher morale, lower turnover, and higher productivity.
Tool #6: A Supportive Work Environment
Employees and management benefit from a workplace culture that encourages teamwork and social support. Conversely, many sources of stress are the product of counterproductive and toxic workplace interactions. These include:
- Sexual harassment
- Gossip and backbiting
- Discriminatory behaviour
- Jokes and pranks at the expense of employees
- Favouritism among management
- Verbal and psychological abuse
A company that tolerates toxic behaviour is at risk for lawsuits, penalties, workplace violence, and security breaches by disgruntled employees. These activities create a culture that isolates employees and leads to an “everyone is out for themselves” mentality. Employees who suffer abuse will lose the ability to trust their coworkers and the company leadership. Disaffected employees could suffer mental health problems and might not suffer in silence.
Employees and employers can work together to create a supportive work environment in many ways.
- Onboarding and networking activities that promote social relationships
- Interventions in cases of harassment, bullying, and other toxic behaviours
- Whistleblower protection for employees
- Educational programmes that empower employees to intervene when they encounter toxic behaviour
- Structuring workplace incentives to boost cooperation
Tool #7: Routine Mental Health Breaks, Short and Long
Even the most driven and overachieving employees need to learn to step away from the intensity of their work, whether working from home or in the workplace. Burnout can occur at both a micro and a macro level, so finding ways to separate oneself, even for a short term, can reap many benefits for an employee. Ironically, it can also improve the quality of their work. Employers should encourage and facilitate such breaks rather than allowing a culture of “workaholism” to flourish.
Scheduling breaks throughout the day is a key factor in lowering stress and increasing productivity. Similarly, scheduling time away from the stresses of the job is essential for an employee’s mental health, whether it’s a weekend getaway or a periodic vacation.
Robert Pozen of the MIT Sloan School of Management recommends a break during the workday every 75-90 minutes. Our brains become fatigued after intense focus and concentration and need these periods to consolidate the information we are processing. Every employee needs to disengage both mentally and physically from what they are working on to allow their body to renew and re-energize.
On a longer-term scale, employees who are so dedicated to their jobs that they bring work home with them nights and weekends are doing themselves and their companies a disservice. Setting boundaries and taking a clean break from the daily grind in the evenings and on the weekends—or even better, a longer vacation—will make employees less stressed and more productive.
Tool #8: Stress Management Programmes
Employers and employees can benefit from systematic programmes for professional development to reduce stress and promote psychological health. These programmes are valuable to workers, management, and leadership—promoting emotional intelligence, time management, conflict resolution, and other important workplace skills.
Guarding Minds at Work
Professors at Simon Fraser University created Guarding Minds at Work to promote psychological health in the workplace. According to their website, programs that address the psychological needs of workers reduce mental health-related costs by 15% to 33%.
Mind Tools – Managing Stress
Mind Tools empowers employees to take an active role in protecting their mental well-being. The online and app based tool is a powerhouse of resources for those who want to enjoy a massive library of self improvement skills on literally every business related topic. Users will find roadmaps to accelerate everything from their leadership and communication skills, time and stress management tactics and much, much more.
Tool #9: Educational Resources
Employees who want to learn more about their rights and develop healthy strategies for dealing with stress can visit the following websites. Employers can use these websites to keep up to date on regulations and best practices for improving the health and quality of life of their employees.
Healthy Minds at Work
The CCOHS produces fact sheets, educational resources, handbooks, and other documents that both employers and employees can use to remain informed about workplace health and safety.
Tool #10: Workplace Assessment Tools
According to the Stress Assess website, 10% of Canadian workers rate their workplace as toxic. Is your workplace providing a healthy environment for your employees?
Even with the best of intentions, many employers unwittingly allow sources of unhealthy stress to creep into their workplace. These workplace assessment tools help employees and employers identify stressors in the workplace to address them candidly and work to remove them.
International Labour Organization (ILO) Stress Prevention at Work Checkpoints
The International Labour Office based in Geneva published a comprehensive overview of actions that relieve several sources of stress in the workplace. After discussing each factor in detail, they present a checklist of actions that companies can take to reduce stress. At each point, you can check YES, NO, or PRIORITY to track the progress of your business in managing stress.
The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers created this tool to identify psychological and organizational factors that contribute to stress in the workplace. The website offers both a personal and workplace version of the questionnaire.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Stress Risk Assessment Tool
Developed by a business psychologist, the Stress Risk Assessment Tool helps businesses identify the sources of stress in their workplace. Employers can download the tool for free from the website along with a manual for the proper administration of the test.
Insurance Provides Employees With Peace of Mind
Employees can focus on work more easily if they know that they and their families will not face financial ruin if they get sick, get injured, or become disabled at work. Canada’s publicly funded healthcare system provides universal, accessible, and portable health coverage to Canadians, but it does not cover all healthcare costs.
Supplemental health insurance fills the gap by covering health costs that the federal and provincial governments do not cover. Employees may feel some anxiety if they do not have adequate coverage but don’t know where to turn for the best rates on additional health, life, or disability insurance.
Healthrates.ca helps employees find the best rates for insurance policies. They don’t sell insurance themselves. Instead, they act as brokers to mediate between insurance companies and Canadians who need supplemental insurance.
Protect Your Workplace and Your Employees With Group Enroll
One decisive step that employers can take to promote stress management for employees and promote a culture of teamwork is to allow employees to enroll in supplemental insurance programs at a group rate. What better way to demonstrate to employees that your company is willing to invest in their future?
Group enrollment saves money as well. By offering health insurance at a competitive rate, you remove a source of financial stress from your employees. Financial security promotes loyalty to the company and eliminates any incentive for toxic competitiveness in the workplace. Employees will work with you and their colleagues to promote the long-term success of the company instead of working against each other.