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What Can Employers Do For The Mental Health Of Their Employees?

PanelOn the morning of Wednesday May 9th, the Kawartha Chamber of Commerce and Tourism hosted a Business Owners Sharing Solutions (BOSS) session focusing on Mental Health in the Workplace. A panel of experts, Ashley Challinor (Ontario Chamber, Director of Policy), Jack Veitch (Canadian Mental Health Association Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge (CMHA HKPR), Health Promotion and Education), and David Pogue (Team 55 Suicide Awareness, Founder), was assembled for the event to speak on the importance of mental health and what employers can do within their business to create a work environment that supports mental wellness.

So why should the mental health of employees be important to a business owner? Ashley Challinor explains that an employee in good mental health will be more productive on a daily basis and take less sick days than an employee who is struggling with mental health issues. In this way, supporting mental health is not only a personal or moral issue, but a smart business decision as well.

Business owners can better spot potential mental health issues by understanding their workplace and where these issues may arise. Ashley suggests formal or informal employee surveys or a workplace review to determine specific aspects of a workplace that are a risk to mental health. Annual or biannual social teambuilding exercises are also recommended to help build trust. Those business owners who are unsure of where to start, or want more guidance in the process, can contact professional organizations like the CMHA HKPR to get expert advice. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce also offers a Mental Wellness Toolkit to download from their website (occ.ca/mentalhealth), which provides advice and resources for business owners.

Jack Veitch spoke on how CMHA HKPR and mental health professionals work with businesses to handle mental health in the workplace. One of the main ways CMHA HKPR supports businesses is to bring awareness of programs that employees can access for mental health. A common event that can take place is a “lunch-and-learn”, where a mental health educator can provide a short information session to a group of employees over a lunch break. Jack says that many employees are unaware that they have access to an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) that can sometimes cover the costs of expensive therapy visits and other mental health resources. CMHA HKPR will also support any person over 16 and help them get connected to a mental health professional. People can book appointments at their Peterborough location (466 George Street North) and they support a 24/7 free crisis line (705-745-6484, 1-866-995-9933) for those in serious need of immediate mental health support. Jack also provided his email address, jveitch@cmhahkpr.ca, for anyone with questions regarding CMHA HKPR programming or to set up an educational session for their business.

Jack encourages employees and employers to take part in mental first aid training. He says that anyone can provide mental health first aid if they know how to respond. The most important thing to keep in mind, is to not tell an employee what you think they are experiencing, this creates an accusatory dialogue. Instead follow this three-step process:

  • Start a conversation based on observations (e.g. “I’ve noticed your behaviour at work has changed”)
  • Ask what is going on?
  • Ask what can we do? How can we work towards wellness?

Employees can then be connected to a mental health provider (such as CMHA HKPR) or a crisis line, depending on severity.

David Pogue founded Team 55 to promote suicide awareness after his son took his own life in 2013. He explains that fostering good mental health starts young. Employers and employees alike are encouraged to bring mental health training home to support those close to them. David explains that communication is key, not hounding someone and asking “are you ok?” but talking and being aware of behaviour. In addition, it is important to foster a healthy attitude towards failure, both at home and in the workplace. Failure can easily be an extremely stressful situation if an employer or parent reacts in an overly negative way. Rather, failure should be treated as an educational tool that leads to future success. David also recommended the Safetalk program, a three hour course on suicide prevention for anyone 15 years or older. The course is offered to groups of 10 to 30 participants, and those interested in setting up a session can find out more at livingworks.net.

Ashley reminds employers that they are not there to be their employee’s therapist. As an employer you are responsible for your employees’ mental health in the workplace, not the burdens in their personal lives. Seek a balance between employer responsibility and empathy and when in doubt, consult experts and the law. Maintaining documentation of unusual employee behavior can make it easier to see an issue arising and can help to address it. Jack reminds us that in cases of mental health, legal issues rarely arise without occurrences of gross negligence, so employers should not be afraid of taking on mental health.

For more information on the Kawartha Chamber and programs and services like B.O.S.S., visit kawarthachamber.ca.