Supporting employees’ mental health

Posted on August 3, 2021

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Posted By Kendall Robertson

Shirley Hogan // Canadian Mental Health Association

For many owners, managers and supervisors, the thought of supporting employee’s mental health can seem quite daunting. Many feel overwhelmed and even frustrated that this is yet another thing they need to consider in their already full day-to-day schedules. However, once unpacked, supporting employee’s mental health is not as daunting as it first appears and saves both time and money in the long run.

We all have mental and physical health

For years we have been talking about safety in the workplace. Whether we are discussing lock out procedures or desk ergonomics, the bottom line is worker safety. Now, many are adding a mental health aspect to safety programs. We all have mental health, just like we all have physical health. We are accustomed to talking about our physical health and discussing ways to protect and enhance or physical safety. Since COVID-19, many more people and organizations have also been open to discussing mental health and becoming aware of the impact our mental health has on our work. Did you know that 47% of working Canadians agree that work is the most stressful part of their day and 16% of working Canadians say their workplace is a frequent or ongoing source of feelings of depression, anxiety, or other mental illness?

The benefits of providing mental health support in the workplace

Promoting mental health at work is important and can benefit both employers and employees by improving productivity, mood, staff retention and teamwork. It can also decrease short- and long-term medical leave and rates of missed work due to stress, exhaustion and depression. For many, the problem is how to start. Guarding Minds at Work™ has created a road map for organizations of all sizes, outlining thirteen factors that influence employee mental health.  Many organizations have already implemented these factors, as it includes ensuring there are clear expectations and employee recognition. You can find out more here.

An employer’s duty to inquire about mental health

The duty to accommodate is something most managers are familiar with. They are also aware that, in general, employers are only legally obligated to accommodate what they are aware of. However, before the duty to accommodate, there is the duty to inquire. This means that if an employer should have reasonably known that a disability or mental health problem might be the cause of an employee’s poor performance or attendance, they have a duty to inquire. Prior to implementing any discipline or termination, employers need to inquire if a mental health concern might be the underlying cause of the behaviour. These conversations can be difficult and uncomfortable for managers as they must be approached with empathy and sensitivity. However, managers can simplify the conversation by identifying problematic behaviours, listening to the employee’s experience, and making referrals to employee assistance programs, doctors or community supports. 

Support and training for managers

There is support and training for managers. The Canadian Mental Health Association offers Responding with Respect for Mangers™. The Mental Health Commission of Canada website offers information and they developed Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health Works. All of these and other sources of support are available to Managers, Human Resource Personnel and employees.

For more information, please contact CMHA Northern BC.

About the author: Shirley is currently the Program Manager for the Canadian Mental Health Association of Northern BC She recently moved back to Prince George, her hometown, after spending close to 10 years in the Okanagan.  Prior to working with CMHA she was a civilian member with the RCMP and Program Coordinator for the Crisis Centre of Northern BC. Shirley presents on a wide variety of topics relating to health and mental wellbeing at work and home.