David Walker

Kelowna part of conference to address psychological stress in the workplace

With incidents of workplace violence on the rise, Kelowna expert says conference organizers want to hear about healthy workplaces

  • May. 1, 2014 6:00 p.m.

With incidents of workplace violence on the rise, conference organizers call on Okanagan employees to highlight how local workplaces are creating healthy environments

News of workplace distress and even extreme violence, such as Wednesday’s shooting in a Nanaimo sawmill, regularly makes headlines.

Now Kelowna will be one of the satellite locations for an inaugural conference intended to reduce psychological stress in these environments.

“There seems to be an increasing amount of low-level mistreatment at work,” said David Walker, UBCO faculty of management assistant professor and one of the leading experts in the field.

Research reported on in the Globe and Mail Tuesday, from management professor Jacqueline Power, suggests 40 per cent of Canadians say they have been bullied at work. Of note was that the Odette School of Business associate professor’s inquiry  indicates most bullies are also victims.

Most incidents never make the news but the seemingly high percentage should not come as a surprise, according to Walker, whose primary research focus examines how customers treat employees in businesses and the outcome of that treatment. In fact, it’s become a hot topic for employers and workplaces across the country.

“There’s a lot more attention being paid to how people are interacting at work and there’s a lot more attention (to the issue) in management,” said Walker.

The conference, entitled Creating and Sustaining Psychologically Healthy Workplaces, was developed in a circuitous way out of a larger health and safety study being conducted by the Canadian Institute for the Relief of Pain and Disability in conjunction with UBC Vancouver.

“For several years, the Canadian Institute for the Relief of Pain and Disability has been very interested in the area of factors contributing to work absence: What do psychologically healthy workplaces mean?” said Marc White, executive director. “We had received some funding to do a best incident synthesis, which is to look at all the instances for work absence and then also look at interventions to address those risk factors, and what we found was that within a workplace, a lot of factors had to do with psychologically healthy environments.”

The conference will run June 26 and 27 and is based out of Vancouver with satellite locations at UBCO, the University of Northern British Columbia, Thompson Rivers University and Royal Jubilee Hospital.

Encouraging a psychologically healthy environment is now a legal responsibility in this province. The new Bill 14 Workers’ Compensation Amendment Act makes companies and organizations accountable for the psychological environment in a workplace and makes room for compensation for mental disorders brought on by unhealthy environments.

“One of the major changes in Bill 14 was that it went from people being able to take a leave because of psychological problems to being able to take leave for…(issues stemming from) post-traumatic stress from multiple events and long-standing issues,” said Walker.

As part of the conference, the group is hoping to collect nominations from businesses in Kelowna, and employees of businesses in Kelowna, where  the company is making a concerted effort to improve the psychological environment.

“What we want to see is what companies are doing to make sure they are looking out for the psychological health of their employees, so that could be policies they’re using to improve work-life balance to programs that build recognition or reduce stress in the workplace,” said Walker.

Nominations can be filed through May 15 on the conference website under the Conferences 2014 tab.

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