Does this sound familiar? It's 4:30 p.m., and you're getting ready to go home, when your boss assigns you a large amount of work and says she needs it done by morning.
That's the scenario of a skit acted out by a few of the participants in an Oct. 8 seminar on psychological health and safety put on by the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce and Levert Group.
While it's not such a big deal if this kind of thing happens on an occasional basis, if it's continuous, it could cause what's come to be known as a “mental injury,” said Christi Smith, Levert's WSIB return to work specialist.
Mental injury caused by the workplace can include depression, anxiety, burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder and compassion fatigue.
While the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) in Ontario doesn't accept mental injury claims in most cases right now, its counterparts in Quebec, and, most recently, in British Columbia, now do.
Smith said she's not sure if Ontario is moving in the same direction as Quebec and British Columbia when it comes to mental injury.
She said she posed the question to WSIB chair Elizabeth Witmer earlier this year during a closed-door round-table discussion in which she participated, but Witmer said she couldn't comment on the matter.
Earlier this year, the Canadian Standard Association (CSA) also released a set of voluntary guidelines on psychological health and safety in the workplace.
They were aided in creating these guidelines by Bell Canada, who put $50 million towards the project after the company was taken to court by employees claiming mental injury.
While Ontario workplaces aren't currently required to take any action, Smith said she thinks they'd be wise to do so.
Smith gave those at the seminar some tips on providing a psychologically safe workplace.
This includes keeping demands within the known capacity of employees, allowing them a “voice,” and monitoring and responding to the signs of conflict and distress.
Businesses should come up with a plan to make improvements, she said.
“Proactive is better than retroactive,” Smith said.
Conversely, in psychologically unsafe workplaces, employers don't listen, don't try to understand, don't show they care, make fun of those who are struggling or different, shut down discussions, and expect too much.
Employers who engage in these practices tend to pay with increased absenteeism and lost productivity, Smith said.
On top of ensuring they're not causing mental injury, employers also have to be aware that one in five people have an existing mental illness, she said.
Accommodating these employees vary depending on the situation, but might include longer lunch hours or a shortened work day, Smith said.
“It's not a cut-and-dry solution,” she said.
While Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce president Debbi Nicholson said she thinks most businesses are familiar with addressing mental health concerns, they're less knowledgeable about mental injury.
“I think this is an emerging topic that businesses are going to have to become familiar with,” she said.
“We like to be on the leading edge of many of these sorts of things and thought this would be a good topic for our members to be aware of.”