Mental Health at Work – Caring First for the Organization

In 2019, improving employee mental health was to be the number 1 priority for 48% of human resources managers, according to a survey conducted in 2018 by Morneau Shepell among 356 Canadian organizations. However, while some rely on person-centred wellness programs, they are on the wrong track, because it is the organization that needs to be taken care of! This is what emerges from a conference on mental health presented at the 2019 HR Congress on October 8.

According to another Morneau Shepell survey conducted in 2018 among 1,591 Canadians, 27% of employees and 34% of managers reported extreme stress at work, said Michèle Parent, CHRP, director of health consulting services at Morneau Shepell. For her part, Jade Beaudin, head of workplace health and safety optimization and transformation projects at Hydro-Québec surveyed 100 managers and noted among them several stress signals: decreased involvement, increased absenteeism, postponement of vacations.

According to these surveys and enquiries, workload, isolation, lack of support, organizational changes, lack of privacy in open areas and hyperconnectivity are in the dock.

There are many guides to setting up programs to help employees and reduce their stress. “We have done all sorts of activities on wellness, life habits and what I provocatively call the apple-carrot-bicycle approaches. But it has to be acknowledged that it doesn’t work,” points out Jean-Pierre Brun, CHRP, professor at Laval University and an associate consultant at Empreinte Humaine. The mistake with these approaches is that they focus on the individual while the risk factors identified are rather about the organization. So it’s the organization that needs to be cleaned up.

To be healthy, an organization must combine a mental health prevention strategy with all its projects, whether a process review, team merger, change of equipment, etc., advises Jean-Pierre Brun. Guided by Empreinte Humaine, this is the approach developed by Hydro-Québec’s TransÉnergie division. “Psychological health is added to everything that we do, such as training or integration of new employees,” says Jade Beaudin.

In particular, because the lack of support and recognition is a stress factor, Hydro-Québec intends to train senior management to support their managers better to give an example and support their employees in turn.

Future surveys will tell if this approach has paid off.

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