Finding the gaps in your company’s mental health programs

By: CBoC Team

This Op-Ed was originally published by The Globe and Mail on June 24, 2019 It is written by The Conference Board of Canada’s Dr. Bill Howatt.

Employers want to improve their workplace focus on mental health and create a psychologically safe workplace, but many just don’t know where to start.

At a recent national workshop tour with The Conference Board of Canada, Operationalizing Workplace Mental Health, the most-asked question was: How do we align our policies to adhere to the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) National Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard)?

Hearing the question from a cross-section of hundreds of professionals from private and public organizations reinforced the need for a clear answer. They had already bought into the Standard’s two core tenets: prevent mental harm and promote mental health in the workplace.

This was not the first time this question was asked; it’s why this workshop was created. Thinking about the lead-in question helped us to uncover a gap in tools available to support employers wanting to adopt the Standard and looking for guidance for where to start and focus their attention.

Organizations often start with an environmental workplace factor assessment (the 13 psychological health and safety factors) versus conducting an audit to find out how aligned the organization’s current initiatives rate against the Standard.

PHSMS Rapid Audit

Many organizations didn’t know what their current baseline was, for example, they didn’t know how many of their current initiatives aligned with the Standard and what programs were missing. To help organizations get a starting place for their journey to adapt the Standard, we created a quick audit to help them find out where they were at right now in relation to the goals of a psychologically safe workplace so they could find the gaps and work to correct them.

The Rapid Psychological Health and Safety Gap Analysis is a new online tool to help organizations implement psychological health and safety management systems approach (PHSMS) as described by the Standard and its implementation guide, Assembling the Pieces.

Employers can use the 21-item rapid gap analysis to generate a snapshot of where they stand against the Standard’s recommended criteria. The items were developed by researching the Standard and current psychological health and safety risk trends, and consulting subject matter experts as to what key elements could identify gaps as defined by the Standard.

The rapid gap analysis provides feedback on seven scales, each with three items. The higher the score, the greater the risk of non-compliance with the Standard. Upon completion, respondents receive a report that shows scores for each scale and an overall score.

The Conference Board of Canada’s Health and Safety Leadership Centre (HSLC) and Council on Workplace Health and Wellness (CWHW) were engaged to establish a benchmark for this tool following its introduction through The Globe and Mail. We used combined data sets from responses from Globe and Mail readers, and the HSLC and CWHW council member networks to generate a sample size of 422 respondents.

Findings outlined below were presented to HSLC and CWHW members at a joint meeting in May. The response confirmed that the audit can be helpful to organizations seeking guidance on where to start the journey to adopting the Standard.

As a result of this initiative, a baseline was established for employers who want to benchmark their progress against other organizations committed to the Standard.

The sample used for the analysis was relatively diverse:

  • 20 per cent small, 32 per cent medium, 48 per cent large organizations
  • 38 per cent private, 62 per cent public organizations
  • Representation from seven provinces, two territories, nine industries

Following are the seven scales with their benchmarks falling in risk ranges of low (0–33), moderate (34–66) and high (67–100). The below numbers represent the benchmarks for each of the seven scales that employers can use to help evaluate how well their organization is doing on each scale and the overall scale compared to the benchmark obtained from the 422 responses.

  • Senior leadership engagement: 54
  • Mental health strategy maturity: 65
  • Mental health support programs: 69
  • OHS/PHSMS compliance: 68
  • Regular process reporting: 68
  • Employee experience: 54
  • Crisis management: 54

The overall risk (62) was in the moderate range. Five per cent of organizations were low risk, 55 per cent were moderate risk, and 40 per cent were high risk.


  • Most organizations fell in moderate or high-risk categories, suggesting many employers have a lot of work to get the seven scales to low risk.
  • Organizations that had adopted the Standard reported lower risk scores.
  • Organizations that had adopted a mental health policy reported lower risk scores.
  • There’s value to begin with a simple audit process like the rapid audit to get a baseline against the Standard.

Recommendation for using the Rapid Audit

  1. Have members of a key stakeholders committee that has representation from all levels in the organization complete the Rapid Audit individually. Instruct members to print off their results and bring them to the committee’s next meeting.
  2. Each member will share their findings at the committee meeting.
  3. The committee will adopt a collaborative audit approach (for example, eight members see an area green, one sees as yellow). Group accepts yellow as current risk.
  4. The rapid gap analysis is not meant to replace a full Standard gap analysis. However, until an organization is at low risk in all seven scales, it may be wise to focus on a few things and do them well first.
  5. Compare the overall rapid gap analysis risk score to any other employee survey scores (such as the PHS 13 Factors) to evaluate how effectively the organization’s efforts to implement the Standard are positively impacting employees’ psychological safety.