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HR’s next priority: Mental Health

By the age of 40, half of all Canadians will have had or have a mental illness. The cost for companies from poor performance and absenteeism is astounding. A recent study by Morneau Shepell found that 60 percent of Canadian workers polled said they would leave their current employer if offered less money but better support for their wellbeing. This is something companies cannot afford to ignore, so I’m proposing a process for executives to address mental wellbeing in their companies.

Mentally healthy workplaces attract top talent, allow them to reach their full potential and affect the bottom line. So how can a company become a mentally healthy workplace? You need to do six things:

  1. Raise awareness

  2. Put energy into creating a healthy culture

  3. Provide education

  4. Offer access to healthy experiences

  5. Ensure benefits preserve and protect employee’s and their family’s mental health

  6. Evaluate progress and make changes.

Raise Awareness

Start with a goal. It could be simple such as wanting an inclusive, comfortable, respectful workplace where all employees can be their best self at work. Mental wellbeing should be part of your overall business and HR strategy and could likely sit within your current goals for a productive workforce.

Have leaders, during town halls or in an email, stress the importance of mental health, the rising incidence of illness and that the company is taking measures to preserve and protect the physical and mental health of employees and their families.

Conduct an employee health survey to learn about their work stress, mental health concerns and needs of the employees and families, and views of their current benefits, etc. The goal is to understand their challenges and priorities and how well your workplace is helping to address and meet them.

Start participating in mental health events. For example, send a note on Bell’s Let’s Talk Day asking everyone to help end the stigma around mental health. Encourage leaders to share their struggles with mental health – of a loved one for example – and to stress the increasing prevalence of mental health illness. The goal is to demystify mental health and to reduce biases (complementing your D&I goals). No one should use their challenges as an excuse for poor performance, but they should not have to hide behind a smile, for example, if they are struggling with an alcoholic spouse. Never make anyone share what they don’t want to share (that’s illegal); but do allow them to not pretend, to be authentic, comfortable at work and feel psychologically safe.

Create a Healthy Culture

Mental health challenges take many forms and are sometimes caused by stressors. An unhealthy work culture creates anxiety and depression. Some of your better talent might leave; however, many could  succumb to unhealthy ways to manage this stress. By focusing on employee engagement, you can better ensure your company culture is healthy.

Provide Education

Invite speakers and hold workshops on topics such as anxiety, addiction, stress reduction, effective conflict management, living with family members with mental health challenges, financial essentials and budgeting, meditation, physical health, parenting, etc. The list is endless, and you can prioritize topics via surveying employees to learn what is causing them the most distress.

Share resources for accessing external providers, educators, workshops. Hold mandatory management training on mental health and well-being.

Offer Access to Healthy Experiences

Employees spend the majority of their waking hours at work. Consider hosting lunch sessions where you offer short yoga, meditation, exercise classes. Limit events with alcohol and increase events with physical activity. Consider adopting a non profit and rallying employees around raising funds for or doing volunteer work at the non profit.

Hire a therapist to come on certain days of the week or month to meet individually with employees who would like a consultation.

Bring in a financial coach to meet with employees on their lunch breaks. Many Canadians at all income levels live paycheck to paycheck and are in debt, causing major stress.

Think outside the box. One company holds lunch mindfulness calls! You could start meetings with a mindfulness exercise too – once you’ve embedded wellness into your culture, this won’t feel so uncomfortable. Carve out a quiet space for employees to practice yoga and to meditate.

Review Health Benefits

Ensure coverage for mental health services is generous. It should be at least equivalent to other paramedical services such as physiotherapy, chiropractic services for example. Tell employees they have this coverage as well as access to an Employee Assistance Program, if you offer one.

Offer allowances for training on topics that reduce stress: meditation, yoga, financial wellness.

Ensure your process to get back to work from a disability is appropriate and effective. Follow best practices that increase productivity and reduce the likelihood of the employee going on LTD.

Evaluate Progress and Make Changes

All programs can be improved. Often, it’s best to start small and build on what works well. Every year or two, resurvey your employees and learn what went well and what needs to be added. Keep track of absenteeism rates, turnover, use of STD and LTD, return to work rates, etc., and the use of the education and support you provide to see if there is a relationship. Focusing on wellbeing is a long term cost saver and productivity booster.

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