Mental health: We can do better (Editor’s Notes)

Employers play critical role in managing employee mental health and well-being
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/23/2012

There are three stories in this issue — well, two stories and a news brief — that underscore how critical it is for employers to manage employee mental health and well-being.

The first (“Abrasive leaders often ‘irreplaceable,’”) unveils the results of Canadian HR Reporter’s exclusive survey on the toll exacted by bully managers. The impacts on retention, stress and performance can’t be overstated.

The second (“Jump in calls to EAP from federal public sector following cuts announced in March budget,” ) details the emotional toll job insecurity is having on workers.

And the third, covered as a news brief , highlights the fact more than one in five Canadian employees suffers from depression, according to a survey of 6,624 employees and managers conducted by Ipsos Reid for the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.

It’s not painting a very pretty picture of the workforce. We’re being pushed around by bully managers, we’re fretting over whether or not we’ll have a job tomorrow and 22 per cent of us are battling depression. (And that doesn’t count an additional 16 per cent of respondents who have previously experienced depression.)

Have we learned nothing about managing a healthy workforce? Is the message — and the drum has been beating on this for a while — not getting through about the devastating effect of toxic cultures? Has the price tag attached to mental illness in the workplace — $51 billion in Canada, according to Great-West Life — not woken up the C-suite to the ridiculous impact it’s having on the bottom line?

Thankfully, we can say, with confidence, the problem isn’t being ignored. The antiquated notion of “Suck it up” is giving way to the understanding that a worker battling serious mental health issues is no more able to work than someone with a broken back.

The number of managers who have received mental health training is on the rise. Five years ago, only about 20 per cent had received training. Now, it’s one in three, according to the survey. And the vast majority of managers — 84 per cent — said it’s part of their job to intervene when an employee is showing signs of distress.

That’s good, but let’s not ease up on the gas. Manager training on recognizing and dealing with mental health issues should be as routine as sessions on recruitment and orientation practices.

On the abrasive leaders front, it’s about not turning a blind eye to poor behaviour just because it gets results. Bully managers need to be dealt with — and that doesn’t necessarily mean firing them (the most popular solution, according to our survey). Most of these leaders aren’t bad people, they’re just unaware of the impact of their behaviours.

And when it comes to job security, let’s end the practice of handing out “affected notices.” There is nothing to be gained by putting your workforce on edge. Simply make the tough decision, inform the people impacted and provide solid severance and outplacement packages.

One stat from the Great-West Life survey should keep HR professionals up at night: 61 per cent of employees suffering from depression said they receive little or no support from HR. While you can’t be a mental health expert — you’re already wearing enough hats — HR should be seen as a friendly face to turn to when the dark clouds of depression darken the horizon.

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