Taking the lead on mental health at work

Mental health at work matters. In an era of labour shortages when 82% of employees with mental health issues say mental health impacts their work and the economic burden of mental illness in Canada is estimated to be $51 billon, organizations need to be concerned and, above all, to act. Fortunately, there are new tools to help employers take the lead addressing mental health issues, meeting the needs of the “aspiring workforce,” and building an inclusive workplace.

How supportive is your organization?

Where to start? Directly or indirectly, mental health issues affect everyone at work, including employers and managers, and yet, they are not easy to discuss. Stigma and fear of reprisal impose barriers when what is needed is openness and trust. How can leaders find out how to make their organizations safer and more supportive when even they may be experiencing their own challenges?

Civic Action’s MindsMatter

One quick way to determine if your workplace is supportive of the mental health of all your employees is to assess your organization with CivicAction’s MindsMatter/SoutienBienÊtre. MindsMatter is a nationally-available program in English and French, developed with input from employers, experts, and people who have experienced mental health issues. Here is how it works:

  • Answer 12 questions based on the National Standard for Mental Health in the Workplace developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and submit the results to MindsMatter. The questions cover three areas – Awareness and Training, Organizational Support and Leadership.
  • MindsMatter will respond by emailing you a tailored report, based on your answers, with suggestions for three actions you can take immediately. You will also receive links to resources suggested by the MHCC. Your organization will also get a participant badge and posters to display your support for mental health.

The tool is free, confidential, easy-to-use and takes under three minutes to complete.

So far, over 900 organizations representing two million employees have completed MindsMatter. Already, results are pointing to areas where greater effort is needed. For example, only 55% of participants have said that senior leadership shown visible commitment to workplace mental well-being. Since this is an action that is not dependent on financial resources, it is something that every organization might achieve.

MHCC's Practical Tool Kit

In February 2019, MHCC released a tool to assess your workplace, in this case to determine how well your organization is supporting employees with mental health issues.  A Practical Tool Kit to Build an Inclusive Workforce follows an MHCC research report published in 2018, The Aspiring Workforce in Canada: Building the business case for employers to actively recruit and retain people living with mental illness. Both are freely available on line, also in English and French.

Can you afford it?

The term “aspiring  workforce” was coined by the MHCC to identify people who have been unable to enter the workforce because of mental illness, are in and out of the workforce due to episodic or persistent illness or wish to return to work after a lengthy period away from work. As the term implies, they are people who want to do more. For employers, a key question is, “What are the costs of accommodation?”

The research

To identify the costs and benefits of recruiting and retaining people living with mental illness, researchers examined data from five businesses across the country that have championed workplace mental health and taken steps to support workers with mental health concerns. Across the five businesses, calculations involving both monetary and non-monetary costs and benefits showed that hiring and accommodating people from the aspiring workforce can be a win-win situation.

Here is an example from one research site:

  • A small food services company accommodated a chef/assistant manager with epilepsy, short-term memory challenges, and episodes of major depression.
  • After a five-year period, the benefits of accommodation measures far out-weighted their cost –
    • from the perspective of the employee, benefits were almost 10 times more than the cost,
    • from the perspective of the organization, benefits were more than twice the cost.

Results at the other sites were similar. Accommodation is clearly in the best interest of both the employer and employee.

From research to toolkit

MHCC’s Practical Took Kit to Build and Inclusive Workforce is based on its research report and presents the report’s cost calculations in an easy-to-access chart form. It is focused specifically on what organizations can do to better recruit, hire and retain workers living with mental illness. As an assessment tool, it goes beyond psychological health and safety which is the focus of MindsMatter. Unlike MindsMatter, however, it does not provide a report of findings, but leaves users to identify what they are already doing and where they can do more.  At 106 pages, it offers background information, lists of resources and questions for reflection.

What happens when employers take the lead?

Employers who take the lead and reach out for information about their organization and resources from community sources find that they are not alone. Other organizations have shown the way and are, in turn, benefitting from the experience of those who acted earlier.

For example, the benefits of participating in MindsMatter extend beyond the immediate assessment results. Even if you don’t take the assessment, you can sign up for the MindsMatter Roundup. When you sign up, you will receive quarterly updates that will share three events, three resources, and three stories to assist you on your journey toward better workplace supports for mental health. While you are deciding – or after you participate – you can read about organizations that have already used the tool and moved on to action by checking out the Knowledge Hub on the MindsMatter home page. In particular, you will learn about the Mental Health in the Workplace Champions Council, a group of close to 40 senior and rising leaders who share their expertise and experience in supporting mental health.

In the end, you will have tools to normalize discussions of mental health, spread the word within your organization and defeat the power of stigma. Ultimately, you will institute new expectations and practices that will become the new “normal.” By showing leadership, you will set in motion a cycle of wellness that will support the long-term health and prosperity of your people and your organization and put Canada on the global map for mental well-being. bh

For more on workplace mental health from the employer’s point of view listen to the podcast from MacKay CEOForums, Mental Health in the Workplace, what CEOs Need to Know. The issues are discussed by Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO, CivicAction, and Kim  Bellissimo, now VP People and Organizational Development, William Osler Health System. MindsMatter is a program of CivicAction and Kim Bellissimo is a member of the volunteer Champions Council.

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