By Kelly Gillis
Did you know that one in five Canadians experiences a mental health problem or illness each year? That’s 20% of the country’s population!
It’s impossible to deny the impact mental health has on every aspect of our lives – including physical health, relationships, and careers. Every week, there are 500,000 Canadians who are unable to work due to mental health issues (source: The Mental Health Experience in Canada’s Workplaces survey).
Many of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, so it only makes sense that our workplaces can either help or worsen our mental health challenges.
More than ever before, employers are recognizing the importance of promoting mentally healthy workplaces – and research has backed up the business case of why employers should care about their employees’ mental health.
In fact, implementing workplace mental health initiatives has a direct impact on the bottom line. Guarding Minds at Work, a Canadian organization dedicated to workplace mental health strategies, found that businesses who adopt policies and programs to address psychological health and safety at work have between 15% to 33% fewer costs related to employees’ psychological health issues.
Organizations who prioritize workplace mental health report these other benefits:
- Increased productivity
- Improved employee morale, satisfaction, retention, and loyalty
- Enhanced organizational reputation
- Fewer instances of employee absenteeism, burnouts, and stress leaves
- Decreased risk of workplace injuries and accidents
- Lower recruitment and training costs
So, how do you go about creating a mentally healthy workplace? Since every organization is unique, your path will be as well; however, there are best practices that you can adapt to your needs.
Luckily, we’ve done the research for you! Below is a round up of recommendations from experts on this subject, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). Links to each and resources have been provided at the end of the article.
Note: Occupational health and safety guidelines vary by province, so it’s important to check guidelines for your region to ensure your organization is compliant with employer obligations.
Ways employers can build mentally healthy workplaces:
1) Assess your organization’s psychological health and safety status and develop a plan to improve it – Having a baseline helps you see where you are now and can be used to measure your progress as you make changes. Your assessment can include an employee survey, discussion groups, or consultations with workplace mental health organizations. Guarding Minds at Work offers a free online assessment with implementation resources. The CCOHS provides information on conducting a mental health hazard analysis and creating an action plan.
2) Adopt best practices by using the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace – The Standard is a set of voluntary guidelines, tools, and resources intended to help organizations in promoting mental health and preventing psychological harm at work. It was developed through a collaboration of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ), and CSA Group. The Canadian Mental Health Association has a toolkit for organizations who want to implement The Standard.
3) Provide training for managers to recognize psychologically unhealthy work conditions and to support their team – With practical training on understanding what makes a work environment mentally healthy, managers can be confident in talking to their teams about mental health, resolving conflicts, and in offering appropriate accommodation to employees with mental health and/or addiction issues. There are many free training programs available online (see links below this article to get started).
4) Promote work-life balance – No one can bring their best when they’re overwhelmed and working at all hours of the day. Every department should commit to defining employees’ responsibilities clearly, in order to ensure that workloads are manageable, and every role should have a back-up person. This way, staff can take time off without worrying about a mountain of work waiting for them when they return. Depending on the nature of your business, you can create a cultural norm where employees are not expected to send or answer work-related emails/calls outside of regular work hours.
5) Encourage employees to participate in decision-making – When employees believe they have no say in decisions about their work, they tend to feel unengaged or helpless. You can get employee feedback by using surveys, a suggestion box, discussion groups, or having a department/team representative bring forward ideas. To ensure workers feel safe sharing their input, it’s important to keep comments anonymous and respect people’s privacy and confidentiality. Being transparent about how the decision was made – even if you couldn’t do everything that was suggested – gives employees a sense of involvement and pride in the organization.
6) Include mental health and psychological safety in your policies and procedures – Review your existing policies and procedures and think about how they might be preventing or enabling issues of mental health, violence, or bullying/harassment. Include mental health and psychological safety in your health and safety mandate, describing how you will address psychosocial risk factors at work. When implementing a new process or procedure, always consider the potential psychological impact of the change.
7) Create a caring mental health culture – This begins by encouraging open conversations about mental health, reducing stigma, and educating employees and leaders about mental health issues. When discussions on mental health are normalized, employees will trust that they can share their challenges, without judgement, and receive support.
No matter how big or small your organization, you can take steps today to promote a healthier workplace – an investment you will not regret.
Resources for employers:
Mental Health Commission of Canada / Commission de la santé mentale du Canada (free training guides and videos, webinars, online courses, toolkits to implement mental health and wellness standards, case studies of how Canadian employers and employees are creating more positive workplaces, etc.)
Canadian Mental Health Association’s Takeaways Toolkit (how to implement the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace)
MindsMatter (free three-minute online assessment for employers with recommendations to support employees’ mental health)
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety / Centre canadien d’hygiène et de sécurité au travail (information and resources on how to implement workplace mental health and wellness programs)
Guarding Minds at Work (free resources to help employers assess and address psychological health safety in the workplace)
English only* Mental Health Works (virtual workshops to help employers gain awareness on mental health issues and customized ideas to create psychologically healthy work environments, training certifications, free resource guides)
French only* Entreprises Québec – Santé mentale au travail : prévention et moyens d’action (links to provincial and national resources)