Mental Health and the Workplace – the Impact of COVID-19 on Employee’s Health and Wellness

In October of 2013 CSAE Trillium offered a Professional Development Event (PDX) focused on HR and healthy workplaces, including a session on the Voluntary Psychological Health and Safety Standards. Following that PDX event, an article on Mental Health and the Workplace – the Voluntary Psychological Health and Safety Standards was published in the January 2014 issue of FORUM.

The content of that article is equally important today as we all face the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our workplaces and mental health. I’ve been asked to refresh the content of that article and have included a brief summary of the Voluntary Psychological Health and Safety Standards (for more information on the standard please see the original article in its entirety).

People are the most important asset for any organization. Helping staff members deliver their best efforts and ensuring that appropriate support is available when needed are key to a positive work culture that leads to engaged, inspired and healthy employees who contribute more effectively.  

Voluntary Psychological Health and Safety Standards

Psychological safety is the prevention of psychological or mental injury in the workplace. It involves taking precautions in the workplace to ensure that employees are not adversely affected psychologically. Typical forms of mental injury include depression and anxiety.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) was active in developing a national framework to set a standard to promote psychological health and safety in the workplace. The standard is intended to provide guidelines for Canadian employers on how to prevent mental injury and promote psychological health in the workplace.  The standard outlines a systematic approach to develop and sustain a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. The standard is intended for everyone, whether or not they live with a mental illness.

It is a voluntary standard.  It is not a legal framework or regulation.  It is meant as a guideline to assist employers in ensuring their employees psychological well-being.  The standard provides information to help organizations implement key components including scenarios for organizations of all sizes, opportunities for getting started, an audit tool, and other resources and references.

You can download and read the Standard and its annexes free of charge from the following websites:

CSA Group –



Mental Health in the Time of a Global Pandemic

Providing a supportive caring approach to employees and colleagues is based on supporting the health and mental/emotional wellbeing of the individual. It is important to acknowledge the stress that the pandemic and resulting restrictions can cause and the effects that this has on one’s functioning. Added stressors that have come with the pandemic include changes to the work environment; disruptions to normal routines; and anxiety and stress related to income and employment.

At the Ontario Association of Residences Treating Youth (OARTY), our members provide care and treatment to children, youth and adults in care. Some of the principles that relate to assisting children in care to deal with the pandemic are also applicable within the workplace environment. Within family-based care and group programs, OARTY members focus on a combination of providing regular routines to maintain the building blocks of physical health, and the acknowledgement of the individuals’ feelings to help them understand their responses and monitor how they are coping. 

Within your workplaces it is important to promote talking about the pandemic and its impact upon your operations, to support staff with facts on COVID-19, and to provide answers to their questions about disruptions to their work environment and business continuity. Everyone needs reassurance of what is being done to ensure their health and safety. Review the steps you are taking with your employees and ensure that they are aware of the resources and supports available to them. 

We all crave and benefit from daily structure and routines. Many of our normal routines have been disrupted by the pandemic and it is important to focus on those we can control to assist with our emotional and mental well-being – keep sleep cycles regular, have consistent mealtimes, and try to engage in daily exercise.  If you have children at home, remember that you are their role models and you should share your experiences and “practice what you preach”.  This is also true to some degree for your employees and colleagues make sure you are modelling the appropriate behaviour for them. If you are working virtually, stick to normal business hours as much as possible and ensure your staff “see” you taking regular lunch breaks, you may want to take this a step further and reinforce the behaviour by holding weekly virtual lunch get-togethers or providing the technology (Zoom, Slack, etc.) to allow staff the opportunity to have the similar social interactions as they would have in the physical office.

We are all are impacted by the reduction in connection with friends, family, and colleagues at this time.  Ensure that you and your staff are aware of how one can be physically distant, but socially connected. Try to ensure that you have an internal, compared to an external locus of control –  What can I make happen? Look at how I impact on my happiness. Look what I can do towards my future. This is preferred to supporting the belief that you are impacted upon by everything in the world (you have no control, thinking why bother, and complaining that the world is so unfair to me). 

It is important to acknowledge the missing of close relationships, to recognize that changes are only for a period of time and to have a plan of how you will keep connected so that no one feels alone (e.g. – Talk more. Try video calls. Hold virtual staff lunches and get-togethers. Create photo albums to be shared. Create a virtual space to share funny stories, news/announcements, art, etc. Play electronic games online together). 

Be creative. Be active. Stay connected.        

Some Resources to Support You and Your Staff During COVID-19

The Mental Health Commission of Canada has created a Resource Hub: Mental health and wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic

Ottawa Public Health has created a How to Support Your Employees’ Mental Health An Employer’s Guide

This employer guide was developed by adapting information from the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and the Workplace Strategies for Mental Health website.

Wellness Together Canada provides free online resources, tools, apps and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals when needed. You can access educational resources and immediate support crisis lines without creating an account.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has created a dedicated webpage to COVID-19 mental health resources and information