The ART of Promoting a Mentally Healthy Workplace – A Guest Blog by Suzanne Killick

Posted by MarchFifteen & filed under Positive Psychology at Work.

“I broke my leg!”

Sally called in this morning and shared her news with Barb, her manager. Barb was sympathetic and offered assistance with organizing Sally’s sick time. She let Sally’s team know and they were understanding and quickly planned to send flowers and a card. Barb worked with the team to help reorganize their tasks in Sally’s absence.

So, what if Sally had not broken her leg? Instead, what if Sally was experiencing depression and probably would not be back to work for a while. Would Barb be sympathetic? Would her team readily send “get well” messages and willingly take on some of her tasks in her absence?

One in five Canadians experience mental health issues at a cost of $50 billion a year. 30% of disability claims are related to mental health problems and illness. Despite these compelling statistics, few workplaces are prepared to deal with the mental health of their employees.

Organizations are required to comply with federal and provincial legislation to protect the health, safety and well-being of their employees. Adopting a mental health strategy is not unlike other workplace strategies that make the workplace safe and inclusive and contribute to reducing absenteeism, increasing productivity and engagement. There are well documented resources to build and implement a strategy (here’s an example).

The key to successful strategy implementation is the role of business owners, managers and leaders.

The A.R.T. of promoting a mentally healthy workplace means:

A – being actively aware of employee absences

R – distribution and access to resources

 T – building trusting relationships

A  Absences: Managers need to be actively aware of absences and the potential impact those absences have on team members and productivity. Noticing and addressing absence patterns means engaging employees in conversations that can be challenging. Early intervention, arranging lightened workloads and time off can contribute to a supportive and managed absence.

R  Resources: Lack of information, prevailing myths and stigma are barriers to creating mentally healthy workplace. Resources that increase knowledge and understanding need to be readily accessible to all employees. Managers can aid in the distribution of materials and encourage the use of employee assistance programs.

T Trusting relationships: If managers are to have challenging absenteeism conversations and be comfortable discussing and referring employees to mental health resources, they need communication and trust building skills. They need skills but they also need to be aware of their own assumptions and biases about mental health. A skilled and aware management team forms a foundation where employees feel safe, not judged or blamed.

Absences: Broken leg. Depression.

Action Plan: The manager’s goals would be same.

  1. Give the employee the emotional and practical support they need to return to work when they are able.
  2. Engage the team in a plan to support their colleague’s accommodation needs.
  3. Promote the organization’s commitment to a healthy workplace with regular information and resources.
  4. Focus on building accessible and trusting relationships with employees.

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