A chance to lead in mental health (Editorial)

By John Hobel
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/03/2005

The appointment of Michael Wilson as a special advisor to the federal government on mental health issues, as reported on page one, is welcome news. Many organizations express concerns about work-life balance and stress — underlying factors in workplace mental health — but often little more than lip service is paid to the problem. Deadlines don’t ease, toxic bosses aren’t addressed and if a few people go down in the pursuit of doing more with less, oh well, that’s business.

But it’s not sustainable. Increased absenteeism is one of the first visible signs an employer is ignoring mental health problems. Another cost to the balance sheet is the exodus of valuable staff. People will only burn themselves out for so long, and if they’re not already sidelined by mental health problems, they’ll find an exit strategy that includes self-employment, a career change or simply an employer with a more enlightened attitude about work-life balance.

The final stage is the employer that ignores mental health to the point where it earns itself a reputation as a high-octane burnout station, and HR’s problem shifts from retention to recruitment. Not only are people fleeing, requiring expensive recruitment initiatives and lost time as new staff get up to speed, but getting people to join the firm in the first place becomes harder and harder.