3 keys to a strategy for employee wellness

Since the workplace psychological health and safety standard was created in January 2013, more and more companies are putting in place a genuine strategy to preserve their employees mental health. In accordance with the federal standard, several actions can by undertaken.


Referring to the latest surveys from Statistics Canada, mental health problems remain the primary cause of disability in the workplace. In 2013, mental disorders represented 30.4% of disability pension claims to the Canada Pension Plan, far ahead of any other type of illness.

The associated costs are also significant. Each year, they are estimated at 50 billion dollars, of which 20 billion represents direct losses in the workplace. This gives food for thought for many companies who have the psychological well-being of their employees at heart, and who want to reduce absenteeism related to mental disorders.

But what are the actions suggested by the standard on workplace psychological health and safety? And do companies put them in place? Examples are beginning to multiply in Canadian companies, reflecting Wellington County in Ontario, which won first prize in workplace psychological safety in 2014. We should also mention the Lundbeck Canada pharmaceutical company in Quebec, which last fall created the Harmoniske program.


Raising awareness about mental health problems. This is often the first step. It lets all employees pay more attention to the different symptoms related to mental disorders. Managers can improve their listening skills facing an employee on the brink of burnout. Wellington County workers therefore have learned to report to their manager any psychological stress in their workplace. And the managers are required to clarify and relieve stress, while providing corrective actions, if any. These managers are also in the habit of discussing psychological well-being at their quarterly meetings.


Training programs. There can be many themes. At Lundbeck Canada, all employees will have the opportunity over the next few months to participate in training on stress management. The goal of this training is clear: to engage in a dialog about mental health problems and avoid any stigma. Wellington County, meanwhile, has implemented a mental health toolkit, which constitutes mandatory training for all staff.


Monitoring mental health. Wellington County regularly and dutifully records rates of absenteeism and employee claims, and takes not of employee and family assistance programs delivered, and exit interviews conducted. This allows it to set out objectives when developing its psychological health and safety program. Lundbeck, meanwhile, is working on another type of monitoring, in partnership with Morneau Shepell, by encouraging its employees to reflect on their condition. For this, they will need to complete a survey on the Overall Health Index, which takes into account 13 psychosocial factors included in the federal standard. There again, the results obtained will allow the company to specify its objectives for the rest of the program.

Despite everything, setting up a psychological wellness strategy is a long-term task, if the company wants to align itself with the psychological health and safety standard. This is why the Mental Health Commission of Canada (which originated the standard) advises businesses to proceed in stages. It is necessary therefore to begin by appointing a designated person or group responsible for applying the standard, carefully identify gaps existing in the company and, especially, seeking active participation by employees in this process. 


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