Federal Public Service Workplace Mental Health Strategy

The health and wellness of the federal public service and its employees are vital to each organization’s success. We are at our best when our bodies, minds and workplaces are healthy, respectful and supportive, enabling us to work, build and innovate. Having the right workplace conditions will generate high levels of employee engagement while creating high performance organizations.

The federal public service workplace mental health strategy is an important first step in the Government’s efforts to build a healthy, respectful, and supportive work environment that strengthens the public service.

The Strategy focuses on three strategic goals:

  1. changing culture to be respectful to the mental health of all colleagues
  2. building capacity with tools and resources for employees at all levels
  3. measuring and reporting on actions
  • Introduction

    In order for Canada’s public service to be engaged and productive, it needs to have a workplace that is healthy. A healthy workplace is essential to the physical and psychological health of all public service employees, as it enables them to bring the best of their diverse talents, skills and energy as they deliver services to Canadians.

    In the federal public service, as in the Canadian population, we are all different. Each of us interacts with our environments differently, both physically and mentally. Our mental health affects how we think, feel and act. It also determines how we relate to others, handle stress and make choices. An employer’s effectiveness depends on how it values its employees’ diversity and how it cultivates an environment where employees are respected and can do their best work.

    In 2016, the Government of Canada adopted the Federal Public Service Workplace Mental Health Strategy. With this strategy, the government has committed itself to exploring aspects of mental health with its employees and to listening to their needs. The strategy will evolve over time, and improvements will be based on research, new information and employee feedback. The government also recognizes that all its employees have a voice and a responsibility in making their workplace psychologically healthy and safe.

    Mental health in the workplace: Why it matters

    Like physical health, mental health is a key aspect of an individual’s wellness. Good mental health is vital to everyone’s engagement in life, their resiliency and their productivity. The World Health Organization defines mental health as follows:

    A state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his own community.

    Mental illnesses can take several forms, but depression is by far the most frequently diagnosed mental health condition in the workforce. Depression is now the leading cause of workplace disability in Canada and internationally.

    Anxiety often occurs in conjunction with depression, and chronic job stress leading to burnout is on the rise. Some employees also live with post-traumatic stress disorder or other serious conditions. These challenges are difficult for affected individuals and their families. They are also costly to Canadians in terms of these employees’ lost potential, accomplishment and contribution.

    Most employees spend approximately 60 per cent of their waking hours at work. Today, employers better understand that they and their employees are significantly affected when mental health problems in the workplace go undetected and persist without support. For the Government of Canada, it has become clear that changing how it addresses and supports mental health is increasingly important in how it manages its human resources.

    The federal public service is the largest employer in Canada, comprising more than 125 organizations that employ more than 250,000 Canadians. Almost 60 per cent of employees in the federal public service work outside the National Capital Region, and the public service has offices in more than 100 countries. Given its size, the federal public service has an essential leadership role to play in supporting the mental health of its employees.

  • Current state

    Promising practices across the federal public service

    In 2015, the Government of Canada established the Joint Task Force on Mental Health in the Workplace to determine how to improve how the government addresses psychological health and safety in the workplace. The committee’s work included studying how the government can best align with the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. This standard is recognized as an effective framework for guiding employers’ efforts to promote psychological health and safety in the workplace.

    With the standard in place, we are not starting from scratch. Throughout the federal public service, there are many promising practices to build on. Many federal organizations are already using the standard to develop action plans, conduct gap analyses and determine areas for action.

    Areas for improvement

    Although we are making progress, there is still work to do. Results from the 2014 Public Service Employee Survey revealed issues of harassment, discrimination and lack of empowerment, all of which are barriers to a respectful and healthy workplace. More generally, psychological health challenges now account for approximately half of all approved disability claims in Canada’s public service. In addition, there are systemic negative stereotypes and misconceptions associated with mental health that affect Canada’s public service as much as any other organization.

  • Our pledge

    The Government of Canada has adopted the Joint Task Force’s vision for the workplace:

    We will strive to create a culture that enshrines psychological health, safety and well-being in all aspects of the workplace through collaboration, inclusivity and respect; this obligation belongs to every individual in the workplace.
  • Our focus

    Building on the work of the Joint Task Force and of the Clerk of the Privy Council’s Advisory Group on Mental Health, we will focus on three strategic goals.

    For each of these strategic goals, there are three organizational-specific objectives, which federal public service organizations will be required to achieve, as well as three enterprise-wide objectives, for the Treasury Board Secretariat to achieve.

    Federal organizations will be required to develop their own comprehensive action plans on mental health. Each plan will be unique to each organization and, at a minimum, must achieve all organization-specific objectives. The objectives are intended to be flexible enough to recognize differences among organizations, given that organizations are faced with different challenges in addressing mental health in the workplace.

    The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat will provide ongoing guidance to help federal organizations develop and implement their plans.

    1. Change the culture

    We must consider psychological health and safety in every aspect of work within the federal public service. Employees must feel free and able to raise concerns and seek help when they need to, in an environment that is free from stigma.

    Enterprise-wide objectives

    To support and enhance these efforts, work plans will be developed based on the following objectives:

    1. Engage with and clarify the expected roles and responsibilities of deputy heads, senior management, front-line supervisors, employees, occupational health and safety committees, and labour-management committees.
    2. Leverage strong champions and build on and share existing organizational best practices and tools.
    3. Continue effort to strengthen and deploy the common curriculum on mental health and healthy workplaces recognizing diverse operational requirements.

    Organization-specific objectives

    Deputy heads will be expected to promote positive mental health and prevent psychological harm due to workplace factors based on the following organization-specific objectives:

    1. Appoint a champion and demonstrate sustained and visible leadership consistent with the roles and responsibilities expected of the position.
    2. Raise awareness of the mental health continuum in the workplace and of available workplace health support services.
    3. Engage employees and occupational health and safety committees, and promote employee participation in psychological health and safety actions and measures in each workplace and work location.

    2. Build capacity

    We must provide the right training, tools and other resources for staff and managers to promote mental health, enhance resiliency, prevent harm, and address incidents and concerns.

    Enterprise-wide Objectives

    To guide this work, work plans will be developed based on the following objectives:

    • 2.1. Review enterprise-wide service agreements to identify gaps and ensure appropriate supports for and management of individuals.
    • 2.2. Assess organizational needs for support, and identify gaps that would benefit from a common support function.
    • 2.3. Align policy instruments to provide effective and efficient support for addressing psychological health and safety in the workplace.

    Organization-Specific Objectives

    Deputy Heads will be expected to promote positive mental health and prevent psychological harm due to workplace factors based on the following organization-specific objectives:

    • 2.4. Identify organizational needs and provide employees with the proper training and tools to identify their own strengths and areas where mental health can be improved to help face day-to-day stressors and challenges, including resiliency, support for each other, and support for the public.
    • 2.5. Educate and equip managers and Occupational Health and Safety Committees with tools to ensure timely and appropriate identification of risks to reduce harm and appropriate responses to employee needs and workplace incidents.
    • 2.6. Ensure early intervention and active case management, including stay-at-work and return-to-work practices.

    3. Measure, report and continuously improve

    We must agree on a modest number of indicators that we can use to measure progress, frequently take the pulse of our organizations and our workforce, and be transparent about progress.

    Enterprise-wide Objectives

    To guide this work, work plans will be developed based on the following objectives:

    • 3.1 Identify and introduce a set of target measurements to assess and monitor the impact of the Strategy, including measures to overcome data gaps.
    • 3.2 Continue to leverage existing resources, including the triennial Public Service Employee Survey, and use more frequent and targeted surveying and engagement with employees on workplace issues to further understand and measure factors related to mental health in the workplace.
    • 3.3 Report regularly to public servants and Canadians.

    Organization-Specific Objectives

    Deputy Heads will be expected to promote positive mental health and prevent psychological harm due to workplace factors based on the following organization-specific objectives:

    • 3.4 Review available data, current workplace programs, policies and practices to identify risks and areas for improvement.
    • 3.5 Implement corrective action to address risks and improve psychological health and safety in the workplace.
    • 3.6 Establish regular transparent reporting around key data points and indicators.
  • Next steps

    With the release of the strategy, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat puts forth a comprehensive plan to build a healthy, respectful and supportive work environment through collaboration and inclusivity. The organizational-specific action plans will be the building blocks for supporting a culture that integrates psychological health, safety and well-being into all aspects of the federal workplace. As the first step, Deputy Heads will be expected to demonstrate visible and sustained leadership commitment, engage senior management, managers and employees, and promote healthy workplace activities. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat will provide ongoing support and guidance to organizations to develop and implement actions plans on mental health.


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