2 new tools introduced for mentally healthy workplaces

Case study research project, university-certified training to provide employers with more solutions around management’s role
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/10/2014

Introduced one year ago, the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace has made quite an impact, both within and beyond Canada’s borders.

The document has been downloaded 16,000 times, according to the CSA Group, which developed the standard along with the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ).

But the quest for mentally healthy workplaces won’t end there — employers interested in improving the lot of employees now have a couple more options available.

Case study approach

For one, the MHCC is partnering with more than 25 Canadian employers on a three-year research project aimed at driving uptake of the standard.

The case study project will track workplaces’ experiences as they adopt the standard, creating a solid knowledge base to help inform national expansion of the standard.

While the psychological standard will help address issues such as absenteeism and disability claims, it’s about providing proof, said Louise Bradley, president and CEO of MHCC in Ottawa.

“We really want to show hard core evidence that that is what employers can expect,” she said.

“Also, out of that, there are some pretty interesting and creative things that are happening throughout the country and this will help identify good and leading practices, so that can be shared with other businesses and organizations. So that’s why it’s important to take three solid years of being very methodical and rigorous in looking at that type of information.”

As with any workplace initiative, costs are a concern and the research project will help provide answers around the return on investment, said Bradley.

“That’s one of the things that we will be looking at but… we can’t afford to not do this,” she said. “To not address this issue is going to cost more than if we do.”

The research project will provide answers, said Mary Deacon, Toronto-based chair of the Bell “Let’s Talk” initiative designed to break the silence around mental illness and support mental health.

“There will be some very good information about what is working in terms of implementation, what are the challenges, what are the costs and what are the benefits, both in terms of reduced costs but also in terms of productivity, satisfaction, employee recruitment and retention — all of those things,” she said.

“We know that pretty much across the board mental health-related issues account for 30 per cent of short-term disability claims, the single largest category… and there is a general belief that addressing workplace mental health practices — like implementing the standard, doing the training, policies, practices, etcetera — there’s a belief that it will translate into better employee satisfaction, better employee health and well-being, and ultimately reductions in short-term disability costs, relapse rates, costs associated with relapse rates, re-occurrence rates. But there really has been no — because there has been no standard and there has been no framework — there is really only anecdotal information.”

New training program

Bell Canada is among the employers participating in the MHCC research project over the next three years. Bell has already implemented several initiatives focused on mental health, including the launch of its Let’s Talk initiative, a revamped return-to-work process and increased employee benefits around psychological counselling, said Deacon.

The company also ran a program around mental health with Morneau Shepell and, to date, more than 4,000 Bell team leaders from across Canada have completed that training.

“We made it mandatory for all managers to go through a face-to-face, approximately three-hour training program facilitated by an expert that covered everything a manager needed to know about being effective in their jobs — so the facts and myths about mental health, early warnings signs, what to do and say and what not to do and say, how to support an employee who may be experiencing some challenges, how to have conversations,” said Deacon.

“For so long, the issue of mental health has been perceived, and research would support this, as not a health issue but a moral or personal or private issue. And the more we work on this issue of stigma and research gets done, it’s absolutely evident that mental health is a health issue.”

The Morneau Shepell program has evolved into a three-module, certified program at the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., covering mental health from both a health and a business perspective, and introducing effective management practices.

The Mental Health@Work Training Program is aligned with the new National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and should see leaders developing empathetic coaching skills and effective management practices focused on early intervention, recovery and return to work.

The first module deals with the essentials of what a manager needs to know in his role and the second builds on that with more detailed situations, role-playing and work in the area of behaviours and attitudes around mental health, such as stigma, said Deacon.

The third module is a comprehensive review of both modules.

“It’s a terrific initiative because it takes really a very practically applied program that we tried and tested at Bell and are now translating that and making it more widely available,” she said.

It’s about not only understanding how to create a mentally healthy workplace, but also how to keep that learning going, said Michelle Steinowicz, vice-president of client strategy at Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

“We give them the practical skills. There’s also a lot of interactivity and role-playing so that the people leaders feel comfortable in being able to manage employees, whether or not there is mental health issues at play, and be able to get them the help they need and… they are still able to manage that employee when they are at work.”

The certified training is important, said Bradley.

“The more that we have to draw on, the better… we don’t want everybody starting from scratch, so we want people to build on and be able to benefit from the work that is being done throughout. Reinventing the wheel each time serves no purpose to anyone, so initiatives such as that are really critical to the success of the standard,” she said.

“There are several tools already attached to the standard… all the appendices are different tools, but this one certainly takes it to another level and I anticipate we will see this grow and become more refined and more of them over the next three years.”

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