Workers Health & Safety Centre

Workplace interventions key to worker mental well-being, study finds

A recent study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting better psychosocial working conditions can positively impact the mental health of workers.
 
Researchers from the Toronto-based Institute for Work and Health (IWH) used information drawn from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey to analyze how certain psychosocial work factors can help workers stay free of “negative” mental health impacts such as anxiety and depression.
 
Just as important, though less understood, they sought to examine the association between work and “positive” mental health, which they defined as the presence of emotional, psychological and social well-being. Further still, they aimed to explore whether psychosocial work factors have a stronger effect on one or the other.

Findings support workplace solutions

The results, published in the Annals of Work Exposures and Health, suggest “better” psychosocial working conditions positively influence the mental well-being of workers.  

“This study highlights the double value of workplace policies and practices that improve psychosocial working conditions by giving workers greater job control, job security or social support,” says IWH senior scientist and associate scientific director Dr. Peter Smith, the lead researcher on this study.
 
Smith goes on to explain, “Better workplace conditions are linked not only with lower risks of mental illnesses, but also with an increased likelihood of workers having flourishing mental health.”
 
The researchers analyzed data from more than 10,000 people aged 15-74 years living in the ten Canadian provinces who reported working at least eight hours a week. Those reporting a higher level of control over their work, a supportive work environment and job security, were eight to 15 per cent more likely to report not suffering “negative” mental health impacts. Equally important, these “better” working conditions were found to increase the odds of a worker reporting “positive” mental well-being by 10 to 14 per cent.
 
The study also found a “stronger relationship between psychosocial work conditions and the prevalence of having flourishing mental health compared to the prevalence of being free of disorders.”  
 
For the many, however, exposed to less than ideal psychosocial working conditions, resulting stress will continue to negatively impact their mental well-being.

Pursuing prevention and compliance

More than one in four Canadian workers say their daily lives are highly stressful, according to a 2011 Statistics Canada report. More than 60 per cent of those “stressed” report work-related issues as the main problem.

Much of the discussion about addressing this epidemic is focused on support mechanisms and coping options for those already suffering, including yoga, meditation and exercise. The main criticism of such initiatives is they fail to promote prevention and the workplace efforts needed to identify and eliminate or reduce workplace causes of mental health impacts. 
 
Furthermore, these coping measures fail to assist Ontario employers in meeting their significant legal obligations to protect workers. Chief among these obligations is to prepare and review at least annually a written occupational health and safety policy that should include a commitment to providing a workplace that promotes worker well-being. Employers are also required to develop and maintain programs to implement this policy, including training for workers and supervisors.

WHSC supports prevention

For our part, Workers Health & Safety Centre continues to assist workplace parties through training and information services aimed at raising awareness about the working conditions impeding worker well-being. Many of these same programs offer essential insight into the workplace solutions needed to change these harmful working conditions. For instance, our comprehensive Joint Health and Safety Committee Certification Training and Supervisor Training help to prepare these influencers to meet their obligations in pursuit of safer, healthier work.

Other related news from WHSC
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Personal coping not the solution for deadly work related stress, says study
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New Canadian Standard focuses on workplace mental health
 
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