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Psychological Health & Safety: how does your office rank?

To open a conversation that I believe is important for every dentist, their team members and their patients, I ask you to please take a minute to read through these two scenarios and consider what you would do next in each circumstance.

Scenario 1

The dental assistant who works with you most regularly comes to speak with you privately. She tells you that she has endured lower back pain for the past few months and she suspects it may have something to do with the chairside stools she has been using at the office. For some time, she has wanted to raise with you the idea of getting an ergonomic assessment of the office set-up, but she was reluctant because she knows how expensive it can be to accommodate to the needs of all staff.

What will you do next?

Scenario 2

One of the hygienists in the office comes to speak with you privately. She tells you that she is sick of the behaviour of one of the associates in the practice, which she characterizes as disrespectful at best and downright harassment and bullying at worst. She tells you that the associate regularly comments about her looks and flirts with her in a manner that makes her uncomfortable. She says she has tried to keep the conversations professional and has endeavoured to communicate that his behaviour is unwelcome, but to no avail. She’s not sure what else she can do. This associate happens to be the highest grossing associate in your office.

What will you do next?

Why do I bring these scenarios to your attention? I have been thinking a lot about matters like this over the past few months as I have been working as part of a committee organizing a conference on the wellness of dentists. My main takeaway from this experience is that an unwell dentist cannot provide care well for patients. The wellness of a practitioner has a direct impact on patient safety and quality of care.

When we think of enhancing the wellness of practitioners, we might first think of individual interventions like yoga and mindfulness. While these have benefits, the literature about physician wellness that I have read tells me that interventions directed at creating a healthy workplace are as important as those aimed at increasing the wellness of the individual.

In pursuing the idea of the healthy workplace, I was introduced to the concept of psychological health and safety in the workplace. This was a new term for me, but I see that it is being explored and fostered by some medical associations.

Speaking to representatives of associations taking an interest in psychological health and safety in the workplace, one document keeps coming up in conversation: The National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace that was published by the Canadian Standards Association (and the Bureau de normalisation du Québec).

The standard can really be thought of as a voluntary system to be put in place in a workplace (large or small) that can help to create an engaged, happy and productive team. It makes a lot of sense at different levels to systematically set about enhancing the productivity and engagement of your team. Your patients and staff will benefit and so will you. This is simply another system to enhance the management of your practice – as fundamental to your success as your infection control system.

Over the next few months, we will go deeper into the topics covered by the national standard and we will endeavour to make our posts as pertinent as possible to the different members of the dental team.


Colleagues, Before we get too deep into the subject, I would like to hear what you do in your practice to enhance psychological health and safety for your team. Please feel free to contact me on a personal basis to open a conversation about the best ways to enhance teamwork in a healthy and respectful office environment. I would also love to hear what you would do next in the scenarios presented above. John


Some useful links

High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It (Harvard Business Review)

10 hallmarks of psychologically safe workplaces (Shepell)

Building a psychologically safe workplace | Amy Edmondson | TED Talk

What is Canada’s National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace— and what does this mean for your business? (Morneau Shepell)

The National Standard document (CSA)

Implementing the National Standard (Mental Health Commission of Canada)

Psychological Health and Safety in Canadian Healthcare Settings (Canadian Healthcare Association)

Promoting Psychological Safety for Physicians (Doctors of BC)

Ergonomics for Dentists, Hygienists and Assistants (Canadian Association of University Teachers)

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