Mental health is not a new issue. Before COVID, one in five workers reported to work every day with a mental health concern, and WHO had identified depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide.
COVID helped bring this issue to the fore but also exacerbated it. More workers are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, and short-and long-term disability claims due to mental illness have increased. Factor in financial instability, global political challenges, and food insecurity, and it's clear the upward trend in cases and claims isn't likely to change in the foreseeable future.
Despite these realities, some CEOs and senior leaders still aren't committed to creating a psychologically safe workplace.
Your commitment is the key to success
Promoting mental health and preventing mental harms doesn't require you to be an expert; you just have to be a champion. As leaders, the onus is on us to make it a priority and encourage the entire team to do the same.
When employees trust that they are supported, they are better equipped to deal with life’s challenges and stressors inside and outside of the workplace.[Check out the WSPS Mental Health Roadmap microsite - MentalHealthRoadmap.wsps.ca]
Mitigating mental health risks requires the same constant attention given to preventing physical harm. And, just like physical health and safety, there is no endpoint. The focus should be on establishing programs, procedures and policies that make sense for your business, measuring impact, gathering employee input and feedback, and continuously improving to enhance results.
Open dialogue is an essential first step. On top of providing insight into the effectiveness of existing programs (if you have them), open, authentic conversations help to reduce stigma and build trust.
Below are some additional steps you and other senior leaders in your organization can take to demonstrate your commitment:
1. Build competency
Ask team members how confident and competent they feel about supporting workplace mental health. Do they know how to create workplace mental health strategies, evaluate program and policy effectiveness, and evaluate and analyze data and trends?
If they don't, you can take steps to help them.
Like all professional disciplines, OHS and HR continue to evolve, and professionals can obtain and update credentials to demonstrate and maintain competency. There are no formal credentials for managing psychological health and safety. However, the CSA Z1003 Psychological Health and Safety Standard was designed to bridge this gap. In 2020, The Conference Board of Canada, in collaboration with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services and Howatt HR, developed the Mental Harm Prevention Roadmap, based on this Standard, to help facilitators address key building blocks of mental health in the workplace.
2. Protect workers with the right policies and programs
- Respectful workplace policies and training can mitigate mental harm and violence.
- Work from home or hybrid work policies can assist employees in blending the demands of work and home.
- Psychologically safe leadership and mental fitness training can go a long way toward promoting mental health.
- Employee and family assistance programs can support workers in crisis and provide employees and their families with access to professional mental health practitioners.
3. Remember, sometimes less is more
Avoid measuring success by the number of programs, policies and activities in your workplace. Having these things in place doesn't necessarily mean they are helpful or valued by employees, and they won't produce results if they're not understood or used.
The CSA Z1003 Psychological Health and Safety Standard is based on a Plan - Do - Check - Act approach. A recent study by CSA noted the importance of employers keeping a keen eye on the "check" portion of the framework.
Check that employees know what is available, how to access resources, and that the programs and resources on offer provide value. Consider dropping those that aren't producing the desired results.
4. Pay attention to both leading and lagging indicators
Mental health initiatives, like OHS programs, should be measured by both leading and lagging indicators. Turnover and absenteeism are examples of lagging indicators. Behaviours and attitudes are examples of leading indicators. Build key performance behaviours (KPBs) for the whole organization, particularly leaders, that promote trust and inspire employees and then collect the necessary behavioural data to assess impact.
It doesn't matter whether you are leading a small business or a multi-national organization; businesses of all types and sizes benefit from preventing mental harm and promoting mental health. Psychologically safe cultures drive out fear and silence. They promote accountability and learning and are inclusive and welcoming.
Your words and actions matter; you can only create a psychologically safe culture if you are truly committed and act as your organization's primary champion.
Where do you stand? On a scale of one (low) to 10 (high), how committed is your organization to addressing workplace mental health risks and opportunities?
If your score is between 8 - 10, congratulations! It seems you have attained a high level of commitment in your workplace. For you, the key will be to continuously reaffirm your own commitment and encouraging your team to do the same. Read this post for tips on how to sustain commitment and results.
If you fell in the range of 5 - 8, you're on your way. Consistency will be critical as you continue to progress. Read this post on mitigating mental health risk and promoting mental health.
If your score was between 1 - 4, that's okay. It's never too late to commit to mental health. Read on for tips and check out this blog post on leadership behaviours that support mental health to help you get started.