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Comprehensive Workplace Health Promotion – Affecting Mental Health in Workplace

Mental health affects and is affected by countless factors within the workplace and outside of the workplace. Mental health issues are something an organization might not always be able – or want – to see. The question remains, “How can mental health be positively affected in workplaces?” This next section reviews the steps and questions to consider when developing a comprehensive mental health promotion plan for the workplace.

Section 2 elaborates on the range of mental health problems, solutions and resources introduced in Section 1. Section 2 helps promote workplace mental health and prevent and resolve the mental health issues discussed in Section 1.

A noted before, CWHP is “an approach to protecting and enhancing the health of employees that relies and builds upon the efforts of employers to create a supportive management under and upon the efforts of employees to care for their own well-being.”[1] It is a continuous improvement process that looks at environmental improvement (physical, psychosocial, organizational, economic), personal empowerment and personal growth.”[2] Comprehensive workplace health promotion is a series of strategies and related activities that a company provides continually to improve or maintain the health of its employees.

“A healthy work organization is defined as one whose culture, climate and organizational practices create an environment which promotes employee mental and physical health, as well as productivity and organizational effectiveness.”[3]

Comprehensive workplace health promotion model
CWHP considers and addresses three important categories: occupational health and safety, voluntary health practices and organizational culture. Effective workplace health promotion programs address all of these categories. Mental health is integrally associated with each of the categories of effective workplace health promotion initiatives.

Occupational health and safety is usually thought of as the promotion and maintenance of the physical, mental and social well-being of workers. This includes reducing work-related injury, illness and disability by addressing the physical environment. Reducing physical job hazards can also alleviate stress employees may feel in the workplace.

Voluntary health practices and healthy lifestyles are often used interchangeably to describe individuals acting in a way that is thought to promote health. These behaviours have traditionally been thought of as a way to promote physical health, however as the connection between physical and mental health has evolved, the benefits of healthy living on mental health is becoming clearer.

Organizational culture refers to the underlying values and beliefs that guide workplace behaviours and influence the work environment. It focuses on factors that affect the interaction between people, their work and the organization. This category is arguably the most interconnected with the protection and promotion of employee mental health and overall health. Factors related to organizational culture are:

  • Communication
  • Social Support
  • Beliefs, Values and Norms
  • Management Practices
  • Worker Attitudes and Perceptions
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Job Control and Decision Making
  • Leadership Style
  • Work-life Balance
  • Human Resource Systems

Health promotion approaches using a comprehensive model

Comprehensive programs must have multiple avenues of influence and integrate a combination of approaches to impact and reach employees at various stages of readiness (see figure xx). The most gains are found in organizations that adopt a comprehensive strategy that includes multiple activities across the three sides of the CWHP triangle model, rather than purely lifestyle focused activities.[4]

  Occupational Health and Safety Voluntary Health Practices Organizational Culture
Awareness Raising*
  • Implement poster campaign about injuries related to sleep deprivation and lack of concentration.
  • Distribute pamphlets on the link between healthy eating/physical activity and mental health.
  • On-site health fair with screening tools available.
  • Send memos promoting the organizations support of volunteerism.
  • Safety talks about providing input to management on work-life balance concerns.
Education/ Skill Building
  • Teach shift-workers techniques to manage their sleep schedules Educate employees on new technologies and equipment as they are updated.
  • Teach how to incorporate healthy eating habits into their work day – specifically which foods boost mood, brain and mind health.
  • Provide a workshop on stress management
  • Teach managers how to support people who are struggling with work/life balance or heightened work demands.
  • Train senior staff on the signs and symptoms of mental health problems.
Environmental Support
  • Conduct ergonomic assessments and make improvements to the work environment and how job tasks are conducted e.g., reducing steps.
  • Provide quiet spaces.
  • Provide yoga or other group exercise classes on site.
  • Provide a fitness-related subsidy.
  • Sponsor employees to participate in sports teams.
  • Promote social support between employees by providing a lunch room and collaborating space.
  • Provide or subsidize child or eldercare services.
Policy Development
  • Create and implement an anti-violence policy.
  • Develop a cafeteria healthy foods policy that ensures healthy food options are provided at reduced costs.
  • Allow employees to utilize flexible scheduling opportunities.

*Note: all awareness-raising examples are merely examples of one activity that could be included as part of broader awareness-raising campaigns. For health communications to be effective they must be well planned and implemented as part of a broad, multi-facetted strategy.

Case Study: Two comprehensive workplace health promotion tactics at Vancity:

A program focus on occupational health and safety
Situation: As a credit union, Vancity employees are at a higher risk of robberies than most industries. Consequently, employees can experience increased stress and possible psychological injury and trauma.

Action: Vancity has their third party EAP counsellors call the employee and the employee’s family to touch base with everyone, talk about the event and help assess whether the employee or their families needs additional services. In addition, Vancity sends in complementary massage therapists or reflexologies to work with the employees.

Result: Employees are more likely to access needed services and move past some of the trauma.

A program focus on organizational change:
Situation: Addressing the balance between work and life demands.

Action: Employees are encouraged to find a work-life dynamic rather than balance because work and home demands fluctuate over time. Vancity offers “care days” rather than sick days, allowing human resources to see whether employees are away caring for themselves, a child or an elderly person. Knowing why an employee is away can help Vancity to decide if employees may need addition supports to help them succeed at work.

Results: The support Vancity provides for their employees makes them more successful at work.

A program focus on voluntary health practices:
Situation: Wanting to make sure that employees have access to health screening tools and information.

Action: Ran a Gift of Health campaign where employees had access to tests and consultations conducted by health care professionals during work hours. The employees left the session with a confidential report on their health status which explained whether there were any health concerns.

To read the whole case study visit http://www.vifamily.ca/media/webfm-uploads/Publications/SocialInnovations/vancity.pdf.

Case Study: Comprehensive workplace health promotion program at QLT[5]
Situation: QLT Inc. valued the health of their 300 employees and wanted a program to support them.

Action: Implemented a program that addressed multiple components of workplace health. Programs and activities addressed:

  • Occupational health and safety: ergonomically sound workstations; and mandatory ergonomics training.
  • Lifestyle practices: on-site gym and fitness centre, with personal trainer; wide array of sports teams and events; encouragement to bike to work; and healthy cafeteria choices.
  • Organizational culture: ‘Family Room’(a last resort child care service); proactive work-life balance practices; flex-time; sabbaticals and unpaid leave arrangements.

To read the whole case study visit http://www.clbc.ca/files/Reports/summary_of_key_conclusions-final-e.pdf#10.


  • Introduction to Comprehensive Workplace Health Promotion is an info-pack developed by THCU. It contains an overview of comprehensive workplace health promotion, a suggested process for helping workplaces take effective action, practical ideas and strategies to consider and available resources. See http://www.thcu.ca/workplace/documents/intro_to_workplace_health_promotion_v1.1.FINAL.pdf.
  • Health Promotion 102: TBD
  • Environmental and Workplace Health, by Health Canada, provides an overview of workplace health. It includes Workplace Health Strategies, Workplace Health Resources, Frequently Asked Questions and Additional Resources. See http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/occup-travail/work-travail/index-eng.php.

Occupational health and safety resources:

  • Psychosocial Risk Management information sheet by the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA) defines psychosocial risks and explains why they are important to manage. See http://www.iapa.ca/main/documents/pdf/2006_hwp_psychosocial_risk.pdf.

Voluntary health practices resources, related to mental health promotion:

  • Feeding Minds, the Impact of Food on Mental Health is a web guide created by the Mental Health Foundation. It provides information on what foods might help to manage your mental well-being. See http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/feedingminds/.
  • CMHA, Ontario offers a workshop on the connection between mental health, healthy eating and physical activity. See www.ontario.cmha.ca/workswell.

Organizational culture resources:

  • Organizational Culture: From Assessment to Action: This THCU info-pack contains an overview of three potential approaches that can be used to understand and assess organizational culture, practical ideas and strategies to consider that can help change an organization’s culture when necessary, examples of good practice in organizational culture change and a list of available resources about organizational culture change. See http://www.thcu.ca/Workplace/pdf/2009_03_10_Organizational_Culture.pdf.
  • Influencing the Organizational Environment: This THCU info-pack contains an overview of key factors which impact organizational health, strategies to promote the health of the organizational environment and ideas for workplace health promoters. See http://www.thcu.ca/workplace/documents/influencing_org_envir_infopackv_1.1.FINAL.pdf.


  • MentalHealthMinute is a collection of short videos on mental health-related topics that provides the viewer with credible information in order to help them make the best decisions. See http://www.mentalhealthminute.com/.

Conditions for Successful Implementation of a Comprehensive Mental Health Promotion Program[6]

Before implementing a program, it’s important to pause and make sure the time and conditions are right. If conditions are suitable, it’s important to approach the process in a systematic way. Following THCU’s Comprehensive Workplace Health Promotion Planning Framework that outlines eight generally agreed upon steps to workplace health promotion will assist in planning, implementing and evaluating efforts, increasing the chances of program success and sustainability.

There is widespread agreement that the conditions listed below are needed in order to implement a successful workplace health promotion initiative. The following conditions for success outline how to support the creation of a mentally healthy workplace.

  1. Senior management involvementEvidence of enthusiastic commitment and involvement of senior management is imperative if employees are going to understand their employers’ serious commitment to creating a healthy workplace.
    Case Study: Supportive leadership at Kraft Canada[7]
    Situation: A national survey of employees showed work-life balance to be an issue.

    Action: After further assessment, an improvement plan called the ‘Work-Life Harmony’ initiative was developed and management support was highlighted as a critical success factor. The C.E.O. of Kraft Canada discussed at an all-staff meeting his own work-life challenges as a father of four and actively encouraged employees to participate in the work-life harmony initiative and to embrace new company values around flexibility, self-awareness and respect.

    Result: As a result the employees of Kraft Canada were able to see that their leaders were on board with their workplace health promotion initiatives.

    To read the whole case study visit http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/spila/wlb/ell/10kraft_canada.shtml.

  2. Participatory planningWorkplace health planning should be undertaken in partnership with employees. Employees from all levels of staff should be actively engaged in the health and management aspects of the project as well as all on-going processes of workplace health initiatives.
    Case Study: Employee-focused flexibility at MDS Nordion [8]
    Situation: For several years, employee flexibility has been a key business strategy at Nordion. Employees and managers wanted individual solutions to help manage work-life balance.

    Action: MDS Nordion interviewed employees to learn the flexible arrangements that would be helpful, as well as what was needed to make these arrangements successful for both the individual and the business. Arrangements included telework; replacing desktop computers with laptops to allow working from home; job sharing; and part-time work. One option developed specifically for individuals who worked shift work was to post shift schedules in advance and allow employees to trade shifts.

    To stay in tune with the staff needs, Nordion takes a quarterly employee opinions survey*. Employees have a chance to talk about stress, work-life balance and to share their general thoughts.

    Results: Receiving input from employees allows Nordion to see trends and incorporate that information into planning. Employees understand how the work they do fits into the organization, they have opportunities to provide input and receive feedback, they are held accountable for their work, and ultimately they feel valued and supported.

    To read the whole case study visit http://www.vifamily.ca/media/webfm-uploads/Publications/SocialInnovations/MDSNordion.pdf.

  3. Primary focus is on the employees’ needsA workplace health promotion program should meet the needs of all employees, regardless of their current level of health. It should recognize the needs, preferences and attitudes of different groups of employee participants. Program designers should consider the major health risks in the target population, the specific risks within the particular group of employees and the organization’s needs.
    Case Study: Meeting employee and organizational needs at Kraft Canada[9]
    Situation: Employees who are parents were facing stress and anxiety about returning to work after the birth of a child.

    Action: A number of flexible options were introduced to meet the needs of employees who were struggling with the traditional full-time schedule. A supportive and flexible culture was encouraged through the implementation of five flexible policies which included allowing part-time workers to receive benefits; participate in job-sharing; work flexible hours; and take leaves of absence.

    Action: Employees appreciate the efforts being made to help them deal with life and workload issues. They returned to work with less stress and anxiety and Kraft is confident that it has already positively affected morale and retention.

    To read the whole case study visit http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/spila/wlb/ell/10kraft_canada.shtml.

  4. Optimal use of on-site resourcesPlanning and implementation of initiatives should optimize the use of on-site personnel, physical resources and organizational capabilities. For example, whenever possible, initiatives should use on-site specialists in areas such as health and safety, management, work organization, communications and human resources.
    Case Study: CIBC’s employer-paid back up child care[10]
    Situation: Employees were struggling to find a balance between work and caring for children. The business needed to find creative ways to provide services to their employees in various settings. Action: CIBC hired a company called Children First to build a back up child care centre for its 12,000 employees in Toronto. Outside of Toronto, CIBC contracted Kids & Company to reserve a percentage of their spaces for emergency backup care for CIBC employees.

    Results: The program got a positive review from all employees because there is less work-life conflict and employees are less stressed because they can trust that their colleagues will be able to come to work and not forced to stay home because there’s no childcare available. CIBC estimates that in its first three years operating, it saved the organization $1.5-million in productivity costs.

    To read the whole case study visit http://www.vifamily.ca/media/webfm-uploads/Publications/SocialInnovations/cibc.pdf.

  5. IntegrationThe policies governing employee health must align with the organization’s corporate mission and its vision and values, supporting both short and long-term goals.
    Case Study: Integrating health into Husky Injection Molding Systems’ business strategy[11]
    Situation: Husky wanted to make sure that employee health, safety and wellness were integrated throughout the business.

    Action: The company integrated the Human Resources and Environment and Health and Safety functions into the overall business strategy. Also, it had the leads from those departments sit equally beside Operations, and Sales and Marketing at the Management Team table. The Human Resources department proactively monitors the pulse of the employees, which helps inform discussions and business strategy development.

    Result: The statements, attitudes and actions of management show it is committed to providing a mentally safe and healthy work environment.

    To read the whole case study visit http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/spila/wlb/ell/08husky_injection_molding_systems.shtml.

  6. Recognition that a person’s health is determined by an interdependent set of factorsAny health initiative must address multiple components of an individual’s life. For example, their lifestyle choices, social conditions and work environment must be taken into account.
    Case Study: Irving Paper setting up employees for success from all sides[12]
    Situation: Work-life conflict is a common source of stress for many employees and families. Not being committed to healthy lifestyles can be a barrier to behaviour change for many employees.

    Action: Employees’ families were invited to participate in a wellness program. The programs were designed in a way that builds social support, which is important to an employee’s mental health. Multiple aspects of health that affect employees’ lives were addressed.

    Result: Whole families participate in health challenges, such as quitting smoking, take daily walks together and eating healthier foods.

    To read the whole case study visit http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/spila/wlb/ell/09irving_paper.shtml.

  7. Tailoring to the special features of each workplaceComprehensive workplace health promotion initiatives must be responsive to the unique needs of each workplace’s procedures, organization and culture.
    Case Study: Petro Canada Burrard Products Terminal (BPT)[13]
    Situation: Shift workers at BPT wanted increased flexibility.

    Action: Employees are able to take advantage of flexible work arrangements. Employees are allowed to use ‘flex days’ and can take up to 15 days of personal leave each year. Also, informal working arrangements are permitted. For example, employees could arrange to switch shifts to suit personal and family needs.

    Result: Employees of Petro Canada and Burrard Products Terminal describe their flexible work hours as a great way to reduce work-life conflict and improve employee well-being. Burrard Products Terminal has worked to design a wellness program to meet the unique needs of both their employees and their organization.

  8. EvaluationEvaluation must include a clearly defined set of process measures and outcomes, in terms of both employee satisfaction and bottom-line business benefits.
    Case Study: Annual evaluation at M&M Meat Shops[14]
    Situation: To make sure M&M Meat Shops is a great place to work, management strives for continuous improvement and evolution.

    Action: Every year, 50 percent of M&M employees are randomly assessed against employment equity and pay equity legislation. As well, M&M benchmarks itself against the industry standard in terms of fairness and equity both in compensation packages and in programs. These types of evaluation ensure that M&M meets or exceeds current labour practices.

    Result: The positive results gathered by the annual evaluation proved to employees and management the importance of having a fair, equitable and mentally healthy place to work. The company has an average tenure of almost 13 years, turnover of around one employee every two years, and no absenteeism problems.

    To read the whole case study visit http://www.vifamily.ca/media/webfm-uploads/Publications/SocialInnovations/m_and_m_Meat_Shops.pdf.

  9. Long-term commitmentTo sustain the benefits, the workplace must continue the initiative over time, reinforcing risk-reduction behaviours and adapting programs to ongoing personal, social, economic and workplace changes.
    Case Study: More than 50 years of workplace health commitment at BC Telephone Company (BC TEL)
    Situation: BC Telephone Company (BC TEL) has run corporate health initiatives to support their employees since 1946.

    Action: Since the program was initiated, it has evolved from a program focused on alcohol-related issues into a program that does broad corporate social work, providing assessment and referrals for employees who need help coping with problems. To support their employees’ health, they created a centralized Corporate Health Services Department and included employee health in their mission statement, “To enhance organizational competitiveness and optimize individual health.”

    Over the years, various studies were conducted, including “Work and Family,” “Supportive Manager” and “Pulsecheck.” Corporate Health Services works to ensure that employees receive professional and confidential health care to support the employee in the management of health. They promote wellness and lifestyle initiatives, ergonomic intervention, fitness facilitation, and employee assistance counselling.

    Result: BC TEL has shown a long-term commitment to investing in the health of its employees. Their program constantly evolves to meet the needs of employees.

    To read the whole case study visit Healthy Settings Canadian Case Studies at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/occup-travail/healthy-settings_cadres-sains/studies-etude-eng.php.

[1] Martin Shain, & H. Suurvali, (2001). Investing in Comprehensive Workable Health Promotion. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). 5.

[2] The Workplace Health Promotion Program, “The ABCs of a WHP Programme,” Singapore Government, http://www.hpb.gov.sg/hpb/default.asp?pg_id=2158 (accessed February 12, 2010).

[3] Healthy Workplaces LLC, “home,” http://www.healthyworkplaces.com/ (accessed: May 28 2009).

[4] Kimberley Bachmann, “Health promotion programs at work a frivolous cost or a sound investment,” Conference Board of Canada. (2002).

[5] Canadian Labour and Business Centre, “Twelve case studies on innovative workplace Health Initiatives: Summary of Key Conclusions,” 2002, http://www.clbc.ca/files/Reports/summary_of_key_conclusions-final-e.pdf#10 (accessed: November 18, 2009).

[6] THCU. 2003. Conditions for Successful Workplace Health Promotion Initiatives. In An Introduction to Comprehensive Workplace Health Promotion, Version 1.1. July 9, 2004.

[7] Government of Canada. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. 2001. Corporate profiles: Kraft Canada. http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/spila/wlb/ell/10kraft_canada.shtml (accessed: November 13, 2009).

[8] Elaine Lowe. “Competitive Advantage through Flexibility.” The Vanier Institute of the Family. (2005). http://www.vifamily.ca/media/webfm-uploads/Publications/SocialInnovations/MDSNordion.pdf (accessed: November 11, 2009).

[9] Government of Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, 2001, “Corporate profiles: Irving Paper,” http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/spila/wlb/ell/10kraft_canada.shtml (accessed: November 13, 2009).

[10] Elaine Lowe, “CIBC Setting a New Industry Standard in Canada,” The Vanier Institute of the Family, (2005) http://www.vifamily.ca/media/webfm-uploads/Publications/SocialInnovations/cibc.pdf (accessed November 11, 2009).

[11] Government of Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, 2001, “Organizational profiles: Husky Injection Molding Systems,” http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/spila/wlb/ell/08husky_injection_molding_systems.shtml (accessed November 13, 2009).

[12] Government of Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, 2001, “Corporate profiles: Irving Paper,” http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/spila/wlb/ell/10kraft_canada.shtml (accessed November 13, 2009).

[13] F. Lamontagne, 2002, Case Study: Healthy Workplace programs: Petro-Canada Burrard Products Terminal. Port Moody, British Colombia.

[14] Elaine Lowe. “Bigger, Bolder, Better Through Ongoing Assessment.” The Vanier Institute of the Family. (2005). http://www.vifamily.ca/media/webfm-uploads/Publications/SocialInnovations/m_and_m_Meat_Shops.pdf (accessed: November 11, 2009).