Making minds (and metrics) matter

Ways to gauge the success of your workplace mental health strategy
By Paula Allan and Sevaun Palvetzian
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/30/2018
Mental Health
Tracking employee participation rates and gaining feedback is a key method to see what is resonating with teams. Credit: GrAI (Shutterstock)

You’ve worked for months, consulted with employees, and your organization’s mental health strategy is finally in place.

Now what? How do you measure the success of that strategy?

When their workplace culture supports mental health and well-being, employees will rate their workplace more favourably on various dimensions of psychological health and safety, and also report lower personal stress, less absenteeism, less presenteeism, higher engagement and lower workplace stigma, according to a 2015 survey of Canadian workers by Morneau Shepell.

But organizations all follow a different path to success. 

In a recent webinar hosted by CivicAction’s MindsMatter initiative and the Canadian Mental Health Association, Manulife and Bryson Insurance shared what employers should consider when measuring the impact of a workplace mental health strategy.

Metrics menu 

For many employers, the success of a mental health strategy and programs relies on the people they serve. Tracking employee participation rates and gaining feedback is a key method to see what is resonating with teams.

Manulife gained key insights through its group benefits costs — especially for disability, paramedical and drug costs. Mental illness accounts for 70 per cent of disability claims, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

It’s also important to take the time to know how employees are doing — especially those who are struggling. Larger organizations with adequate resources may be able to track employees’ health risk levels in a more quantifiable way, but smaller organizations shouldn’t forget that a simple conversation is equally as effective.

“Good metrics can do two things for your mental health strategy: Provide a baseline with which to measure improvement and inform meaningful action. Start with the data you are already collecting and build on it over time. Remember, words tell as much about the needs of your employees as numbers do,” says Jordan Friesen, national director of workplace mental health at the Canadian Mental Health Association in Winnipeg.

Solicit feedback

In developing a mental health strategy, monitoring employee engagement through surveys, focus groups and other methods can help an employer be nimble and responsive to any changing needs. It will also create opportunities for employees to buy into workplace mental health and wellness.   

Smaller organizations may find setting up a feedback URL or email is more efficient. Bryson Insurance did exactly this and developed an online suggestion box to gather feedback, respond to inquiries, and track implementation. 

Exchanging experiences and strategies with fellow employers is another way to ensure your strategy evolves. Mental health should be everyone’s priority, so it’s about making an effort to be a thought leader in this space.  

“When we are open to listening from a space of contribution, we can often hear what’s really being communicated. Everyone in our Bryson family contributes to creating our culture. It only makes sense then that we make it as easy as possible to provide feedback,” says Kyle Paterson, director of culture and business development at Bryson Insurance in Whitby, Ont.

Stick with it

When measuring success, remember: Patience is a virtue.

There will be some early indicators from feedback on wellness initiatives which will provide guidance. But any measurement against employee health, disability claims or benefits costs may take years to show a full trend.

For example, after one year of increasing employees’ mental health benefit to $10,000 per year, Manulife noted some improvements but recognized that it most likely will take a few years to fully see the return on investment. Whatever employers decide to do, they should stick with it until they can make an informed next step.

All organizations will have different approaches to tackling the issue of workplace mental health — and that’s a good thing. What works for one organization may not work for another.

What’s important is they continue to make employees’ mental health and well-being a top priority.  

Paula Allen is vice-president of research and integrative solutions at Morneau Shepell and co-chair of CivicAction’s Mental Health in the Workplace Champions Council. Sevaun Palvetzian is CEO of Civic-Action. For more information, visit www.civicaction.ca/mindsmatter.   

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