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Lessons from a Decade of Progress on Workplace Mental Health

by Dr. Graham Lowe ASEBP Consultant | November 2 2017

Canadians have accomplished a lot in the past decade, especially in promoting workplace mental health. Reflecting back on over 10 years of workplace mental health initiatives is cause for celebration! It also provides valuable lessons about how to design initiatives so that more Canadians are able to psychologically flourish in their jobs and workplaces.

A Brief History

Canadian employers, workers and health promotion experts now have access to a well-equipped workplace mental health toolkit, thanks to significant public and private sector initiatives.

Here are a few snippets of the early efforts, which promoted greater awareness and more action that got us to where we stand today:

  • 2007: Great-West Life took early leadership by launching the Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.
  • 2007: The federal government established the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), providing a stream of influential research, resources and advocacy for a greater focus on mental health issues.
  • 2009: Guarding Minds @ Work was launched, offering tools for assessing and improving psychological health and safety in the workplace.
  • 2010: Bell Canada launched the Bell Let’s Talk campaign to remove the stigma associated with mental health. Now, millions of Canadians openly discuss mental health issues and many employers use Bell Let’s Talk Day as an opportunity for workplace mental health awareness and education.
  • 2013: The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard) was launched—a joint initiative of the MHCC, Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and the Bureau de normalization du Québec (BNQ). This consensus-based voluntary standard for psychological health and safety is widely recognized as a breakthrough in mental health promotion. The Standard’s resources enable the integration of psychological health and safety within existing occupational health and safety systems, human rights policies and employment standards.
  • There are also case studies that document improvements in the psychological work environment, showing the benefits to workers and employers of meeting the Standard’s requirements. Three recent reports provide in-depth assessments of how far we have come—and the challenges we must consider to make future advances:

Apply it to your Workplace

All of this information provides valuable lessons for future workplace mental health initiatives. Here are some of the highlights that you can apply to your workplace:

  • Define your organization’s unique business case for improving mental health, including the investments it’s prepared to make and the expected benefits. A business case can go beyond the financial to include alignment with mission and values, staff engagement, staff well-being and social responsibility.
  • Adapt resources, such as those provided by the Standard, to your organization’s unique needs, existing programs, policies and practices. In other words, a customized approach to workplace mental health promotion works best.
  • Greater success in implementing the Standard and other psychological health and safety initiatives results when you embed psychological health and safety within your organization’s culture. The absence of a culture of health is a major barrier to progress.
  • Leadership commitment to improvement goals is an essential prerequisite for success but so too are high levels of commitment at all levels of the organization. A lack of commitment, especially by senior leaders, is a significant barrier to progress.
  • Dedicated resources also are essential if mental health initiatives are to have a measurable impact on staff well-being. The lack of adequate resources is another significant barrier to progress.
  • After identifying the priority actions for your organization, set clear improvement goals and systematically measure improvements, reporting progress widely and engaging management and employees in on-going psychologically healthy and safe improvements.

With all of this information in mind, how do you and your teammates foster a work environment for happy, healthy staff? Please share in the comments below or in this forum discussion.

Dr. Graham Lowe

Graham is an organizational consultant, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, published author of Redesigning Work, alongside Frank Graves, and well known expert on work issues. Once known by the moniker “The Hound” in his days as a R&B musician in the 1960s, it has now been updated to “Grambo” by his 20-something CrossFit friends as he’s “the old guy who persists.” Despite a long list of personal and professional accomplishments, Graham has been held back by his one fear—of heights when walking along mountain ledges. Baby steps, Graham.