Poor mental health is estimated to cost Canadian employers at least $50 billion annually, and more than a third of Canadians surveyed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada in 2018 cited work-related stress as the primary cause of their mental health issues. Seventy percent indicated that their mental health had affected their workplace experience. How can business leaders improve these dismal statistics moving forward?
— By Malibu Kothari
Especially in a post-COVID environment, employers simply cannot afford to ignore their employees’ mental health. The cost of treating mental health issues alone, not to mention the additional estimated $6 billion in lost productivity, must be addressed.
Implementing a workplace mental health support program makes smart business sense for Canadian leaders. To improve productivity and employee well-being, companies can provide Intervention options, access to clinical treatment and assistance navigating disability claims.
In January 2013, The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard) was launched to provide voluntary guidance for improving employee mental health. Despite access to the Standard, by 2018 less than one-third of Canadian employers had a strategy to address mental health. Stigmas around mental illness can stifle the conversation and hide warning signs of problems until they are severe.
Training programs are one effective way to improve employee outcomes in the form of weekly webinars, in-person events, virtual modules and even chatbots. With many options to choose from, how can decision-makers find a mental health curriculum best suited for their organization?
Do: Choose a Science-Based, Tested Curriculum
Find modules that incorporate evidence-based therapeutic approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy, that are backed by years of research. These models have been shown to demonstrably reduce anxiety and depression by as much as 50 percent.
Peruse testimonials and follow-up references. Do the homework to investigate the methods used and promises made. Use references to gather data about how the program was received in similar organizations. Ask questions such as: Are the trainers knowledgeable and competent? Are the materials current or outdated? Is the material practical or just theoretical?
Do: Take Advantage of Technology to Customize a Program to Meet Company Needs
Virtual webinars can be completed in as little as 30 minutes. Chatbots are now highly adaptive and some employees may even be more honest in answering questions to artificial intelligence. Other programs incorporate discussion groups that could promote team unity and increase an employee’s sense of belonging.
Some trainings can offer continuing professional education with special emphases on customer relations, managerial concerns and smoking management. Programs do not need to be lengthy to be effective, and they are best when offered regularly to everyone.
Do: Make Note of Training Objectives for the Curriculum and Measurable Outcomes
It is a waste of funds to set up programs that have no quantifiable impact. Sound mental health training programs will be able to articulate clear objectives. Wise managers will use predetermined metrics to determine the efficacy of the program. These could be reduced absenteeism due to mental stress, improved engagement from employees, or lower overall mental health expenditures.
Programs that work will lead to measurable results, financial and otherwise. There are now many options that are customized for particular industries and roles within companies. Be sure to choose materials that will promote productivity, inclusion and mental health.
Do: Require Everyone in the Organization to Work Through the Training.
To transform the company culture, all employees from C-level down need to have a shared vocabulary and expectation about mental health issues at work. Offer the training to everyone. Make it mandatory for managers. It may even be that organizational policies will change as decision-makers take themselves through quality training programs.
Throughout, ensure confidentiality and support. It is already difficult to talk about mental health issues at work. If depression or anxiety are taboo topics or met with derision, struggling employees will remain silent (or seek other opportunities). Ensure that all employee benefit programs include confidential access to mental health professionals.
Don’t: Waste Employees’ Time with Mere ‘Tick-Box’ Exercises
Clearly explain the desired outcomes of the training. Direct different functions to programs specially tailored for them. For example, security personnel may benefit from de-escalation trainings. Managers could learn to spot signs of severe depression or trauma.
Self-assessments with no plans for lifestyle implementation or practical application have little value. Above all, personal guidance is more likely to be followed than vague generalities.
While workplace mental health training programs are not meant to replace professional mental health evaluations or treatment, they can have a significant impact on preventative care.
Don’t: Wait Until a Crisis to Take Mental Health Seriously
A study by Deloitte on Canadian companies showed that a proactive approach that supported employees along the entire mental health continuum had a much greater return on investment (ROI). While workplace mental health training programs are not meant to replace professional mental health evaluations or treatment, they can have a significant impact on preventative care.
Find materials that promote positive psychology and teach mindful, healthy habits rather than merely focus on what is “wrong” with an employee. When there is a clear plan toward health, taking the first steps becomes easy.
Don’t: Use a Mental Health Support Program to Excuse a Toxic Work Environment
Working is beneficial for a person’s mental health, but a poor work culture can be highly damaging. Demanding overtime, putting extreme pressure on employees to meet unreasonable expectations, and bullying can lead to psychological stress. Top producers will not remain so for long if they are being squeezed from all sides.
Encourage workers to use their vacation days and take care of themselves. Create opportunities for employees to connect with one another to promote social support. Make mental health an accepted topic at every level of the organization.
Above all, whatever training is chosen, follow the guidance. The most effective mental health education programs with the best ROI are supported by a work environment conducive to a healthy mental state.