Tactical Time: The Day-To-Day of Psychological Health and Safety

When I write about psychological health and safety, I commonly feel compelled to first reiterate the definition of psychologically healthy and safe workplace, and also mental health.

Mental health, or the spectrum of, is different from mental illness. It is by putting focus on mental health, which is within the circle of control for an employer and wellness (health promotion as well), that an employer incidentally reduces the stigma of mental illness, as a positive by-product of mental health efforts, so that the individuals who require mental illness support seek the support and respective medical professionals. It is by an employer focusing on mental health, that the positive by-products of awareness, comfort, and access to mental illness support can increase. This is about embracing the driver’s seat of the snowplough and making the path to the desired help as clear and safe as possible for someone to face the condition.

I think that is a vital point to mention. Anyways, off to the definitions.

From Assembling the Pieces,

Psychologically Healthy and Safe Workplace — A workplace that promotes workers’ psychological well-being and actively works to prevent harm to worker psychological health including in negligent, reckless, or intentional ways.

From the World Health Organization (WHO),

Mental Health — a state of well-being in which every 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 community.

From a high level, tactics for achieving a psychologically healthy and safe workplace can revolve around the notion of the way we work, embracing brave new work, tribal leadership, and principles (which happen to be best-selling book titles from recent years), and overall — managing or reducing stress. The way we work can include:

  • Are people around the employee a help or a hindrance?
  • Do the things around the employee provide a bridge or barrier?
  • Does how we talk reflect what we actually believe about people?
  • How do we help leaders distribute their power to then empower others?
  • Is the reward system aligned?
  • What should be the first words out of our mouth?
  • What is the right problem?
    (Sourced from Crucial Accountability)

For an employer to take action and reduce or manage employee stress can come down to, as articulated by Dr. Martin Shain, the gaps between between 1) demand and control, and 2) effort and reward, sprinkled in with humanness in the forms of respect, empathy, growth, support, conflict resolution, and communication — perhaps encapsulated into one word, trust. My favourite model to represent humaneness and the idea of re-humanizing the workplace comes from Dr. Rosie Ward and Dr. Jon Robison and their thriving organization pyramid.

Here are the tactics as it is now tactical time. The key is taking content or questions from the resources below and reverse-engineering to create a tactic an organization can do to then fulfill the content or questions. Thereby, starting with the end in mind. Below is also an example of what an action plan can look like for each respective new tactic (termed a practice), sourced from Brave New Work, but nonetheless, can simply be who does what by when and the follow-up (WWWF).


What is your tension? How does it manifest? Share a story that brings it to life.


What do you propose we try? What is your hypothesis? How does this practice support our commitment to people?


Who will be involved? What are they committing to?


How long will the experiment last? When will you conduct a retrospective to collect perspectives and learning?

  1. Download the app called Stress Prevention at Work by the International Labour Organization (ILO) (or visit the website). A few app screenshots are shown. Stress Prevention at work presents 50 checkpoints in the form of tactics based on 7 categories, ranging from leadership, control, the physical environment, and to recognition.

2. Download the StressAssess app by the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW), based on the Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire (COPSOQ II). Screenshots for StressAssess are shown as well. Notice how StressAssess even includes what one could have thought being separate organizational matters in that of workplace safety and environmental quality. Included in StressAssess is specifically social support from supervisors, predictability, and work-life conflict.

3. Flip to the Sample Audit Tool of the Standard (The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace) on pages 40–52 (55–67 of the PDF). Similar, visit Guarding Minds at Work survey tool and analyze the types of questions asked. When viewing the “Level” column, “a” refers to as a mandatory element, whereas “b” refers to a recommendation (a should) and “c” refers to a best practice or a nice to have — in terms of the context of building a psychologically healthy and safe workplace according to the requirements of the Standard.

Bonus, Your turn! Review the operating system (OS) canvas from The Ready to confront our assumptions, beliefs, and realities, and in a sense, changing how we change. Keep in mind, what may just be as effective as adding additional policies, practices, and projected, may be asking what can the employer can remove, take away, or stop doing.

With the tactics shared, and your own tactics sparked from reflection from the bonus, creating a psychologically healthy and safe workplace can go from dialogue to action, then checking progress, adjusting, and continuing the cycle. At the end of the day for an organization, it’s about creating positive emotions among people as happiness can be the fuel that turns the brain onto its highest possible level — a construct vital in a knowledge-based economy.


Nathan Kolar, www.reachworldwide.ca




Nathan helps companies become more productive while simultaneously being humane. #employeehealth #organizationalhealth LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/nathankolar.

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Nathan Kolar

Nathan Kolar

Nathan helps companies become more productive while simultaneously being humane. #employeehealth #organizationalhealth LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/nathankolar.

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