Employee stress prevention process

Understand how chronic mental stress is defined and how to recognize hazards. This tool provides strategies for reducing risk to protect both employers and employees.

Several regions in Canada now cover claims under worker’s compensation for chronic (rather than just traumatic) mental stress and it’s likely more may follow. Understanding how to prevent chronic mental stress can protect both employer and employees.

Understanding chronic mental stress

Chronic mental stress is a recognized hazard that can deplete the individual’s capacity for resilience to stressors. As the stress continues, the individual’s ability to cope erodes, and it becomes increasingly difficult to deal with the normal stresses of life. This can result in emotional or relational problems, depression, anxiety, or performance issues.

The importance of prevention of what is becoming commonly known as chronic mental stress is emphasized by Elizabeth Rankin-Horvath, an occupational and psychological health and safety specialist, integration coach, and speaker who served as project manager for the Technical Committee that developed the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. She has provided a step-by-step action guide for Preventing and managing chronic mental stress claims | PDF.

Chronic mental stress is described as occurring when an individual is exposed to ongoing stressors without relief. It doesn’t matter whether all of the stress is work-related, it’s the overall stress load that matters. Understanding what chronic mental stress is and why it can be so hazardous allows employers to recognize the early signs and take appropriate action before the stress causes disability.

Identifying sources of work-related chronic mental stress is important. For example:

  • Listen to what employees say and how they say it.  Are they expressing concerns about their stress load?  Are they upset, angry, irritable, or apathetic?  Are they complaining about burn-out?  Are they chronically fatigued?
  • Has there been a noticeable change in an employee’s attitude or behaviour? 
  • Are there signs of chronic mental stress showing up in recent employee surveys?
  • Is any employee experiencing an unexplained increase in sick time, performance issues or accidents?
  • Is there unresolved conflict between workers?
  • Are there signs or reports of harassment or bullying?

Reducing the risk

The following questions help reduce the risk of chronic mental stress and improving the overall well-being and productivity of your workforce. They form part of the Preventing and managing chronic mental stress | PDF step-by-step process:  

  1. Are there any workers in your organization who may be suffering from chronic stress?
  2. What does workers’ compensation legislation in your jurisdiction say will be accepted as a substantial work-related stressor? 
  3. Are any workers in your organization exposed to a substantial work-related stressor as defined?
  4. What is the most significant step we can take to prevent or reduce the risk of a substantial work-related stressor in our organization?
  5. Who should be involved in determining solutions for substantial workplace stressor(s) that have been identified and how can we involve them without causing more stress?
  6. What do we need to do to ensure that our organization’s disability and claims management program includes all the requirements for effective management of a chronic mental stress claim?
  7. Do our job demands analyses include cognitive and mental requirements?
  8. Have employees been trained on their rights and responsibilities with respect to chronic mental stress claims?

Answering these questions provides a better understanding of your organization’s risk for chronic mental stress. Some free resources to assist you in addressing risks are provided below.

You may also want to fill out the Cost of doing nothing worksheet | PDF to help senior management consider the return on investment for taking action.

Additional resources

Chronic Mental Stress. Workplace Safety and Insurance Board in Ontario has introduced coverage for Chronic Mental Stress. They explain why and how claims get paid under this legislation.

Is your organization at risk for burnout? A tool to help assess your organizations’ response to work-related stress.

Psychological health and safety policy recommendations. This framework provides policy recommendations for potential impacts on psychological health and safety. It covers policy, planning, implementation, evaluation and review.

Managing stress. Strategies to help manage stress and protect well-being.