How to Improve Mental Health in the Workplace?

We all have felt, seen, or heard about the negative impacts in the past year on Canadians’ mental health and wellbeing due to increased stress and anxiety.  We have felt fear and uncertainty about health, employment, finances, and social isolation.  We may have had to get used to new ways of working, a return to different working conditions, changes to our routines, or loss.

Statistics Canada has reported increased statements of poorer mental health than in previous years.  There are also conversations starting about the long-term increased burden this will place on the systems.  Those that reported poor mental health are also reporting increased substance use.  This includes substances such as cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco.

Have you seen the impact of this in your workplace?  Either in direct costs through increased absenteeism and overtime or worse indirect costs such as presenteeism with reduced productivity, errors, and poor quality?  Maybe it is harder to see the impact due to increased remote work. 

Remote work has been welcomed by some, for others it may have put them at increased risk for domestic violence.  As an employer you have legal obligations to protect employees from workplace violence, and this includes domestic violence if working from home.  Beyond physical violence, domestic violence can present itself through emotional and psychological abuse. 

Some groups are more likely to report poorer mental health i.e. women, members of the LGBTQ community, and visible minority groups.  These are valued members of our workplace communities and we need to ensure our programs are inclusive and that everyone has access to them.

What has the governments done?

Back in January 2013 the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace was launched by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.  Over the years, many workplaces locally and internationally have used these voluntary guidelines, tools, and resources to promote mental health and prevent psychological harm at work.  However, since it has remained voluntary, few have implemented a mental health strategy.

In December of 2019, amendments were made to the Employment Standards Code of Manitoba with the introduction of the Interpersonal Violence Leave.  Interpersonal violence includes domestic violence, sexual violence, and stalking.  It can be taken to seek medical attention in respect of a physical or psychological injury or disability or to obtain psychological or other professional counselling, along with other legal or relocation responsibilities.

In 2020, the government initially responded to the pandemic with a series of measures to protect peoples’ physical and financial health, but eventually included mental health resources and supports through Wellness Together Canada.

January 1, 2021 amendments were made to the Canada Labour Code through Bill C-65 which will now include “psychological injuries and illnesses” as part of the definition for harassment and violence in Part II on Occupational Health and Safety. 

What can employers do?

There are 13 factors to the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.   

  1. Organizational Culture
  2. Psychological and Social Support
  3. Clear Leadership and Expectations
  4. Civility and Respect
  5. Psychological Demands
  6. Growth and Development
  7. Recognition and Reward
  8. Involvement and Influence
  9. Workload Management
  10. Engagement
  11. Balance
  12. Psychological Protection
  13. Protection of Physical Safety

Ideally, whether voluntary or not, workplaces would implement all factors.  However, you can also take small steps to make positive changes.  As with all safety programs, it is everyone’s responsibility, but support for these programs need to come from the top.  Then, select a person or team to facilitate a Workplace Mental Health Strategy.  The individual or team can be a Wellness or HR professional, leader, union member or employee.

When considering each factor, read the definition, and then come up with action plans that make sense for your workplace.  Starting small could be adding some training, changing toolbox talks or adding a question of how employees are doing on hazard assessments.  It could be starting wellness checks, even virtually, where these chats can create a supportive community.  As a leader, be clear but gentle with your expectations.  Model and share as well to show your own vulnerability.  Also, be responsive to new ideas.  Employees want to feel involved in the solutions.

Return on your investment:

Last week, many people participated in the “Bell Let’s Talk” initiative.  Deloitte has reported that Bell’s return on investment (ROI) for its workplace mental health programs has been $4.10 for each $1.00 invested.  Bell has also seen an increase in the utilization of their EAP program and a decrease in their short-term and long-term disability claims for mental health.  You may say, we have an EAP, and many workplaces do as part of their benefits package, yet EAP utilization usually averages below 10%. 

Employees may need the support of a professional counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist, through EAP but more may just need a coach.  Due to fears and social stigmas, your leaders may not be able to take on this role.  Consider offering this option through a Health Care Spending Account or Training Allowance instead.

It was also reported that the yearly ROI on mental health programs increases as the programs mature, so if you are looking to create a better environment for you employees, lower your direct and indirect costs and start to see a positive return on investment you are going to want to commit to an annual Workplace Mental Health Strategy. 

In conclusion, the world has been especially tough on people’s mental health and wellbeing over the last year.  The government has put some resources and programs in place, but as an employer you to have an obligation to your employee’s health and safety.  We cannot strictly rely on the government if we want to avoid the predicted future burden.  Do not forget that your people are equally important to your profits.  There will be a return on your investment from reduced absenteeism, increased presenteeism and reduced turnover.  Take small steps to make positive changes today!

If you are looking for some training, support to build resilience in your team, leadership support through coaching, or to implement all 13 dimensions of the Psychological Health and Safety standards for the best workplace environment #Balance is here to help.

We also understand the importance of following all health orders in the province and offer all our services virtually right now.

Contact me for a free Workplace Mental Health Strategy assessment.

How are you doing with your mental health?

Have you taken steps in your workplace to improve mental health?

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