Healthy Minds Canada Mindful Employer Series—"Initiating and Engaging In Difficult Conversations In The Workplace


Healthy Minds Canada, in their Mindful Employer series, on April 28th held a discussion on “The Employee Factor”, the importance of implementing workplace mental health policies with employees.  The videos are available online.

The panelists included:

  • Jodi Butts, Executive Director, Rise Asset Development (MODERATOR);
  • Lydia Beck, Founder, L&L Consulting;
  • Aliçia Raimundo, Mental Health Superhero & past UN speaker;
  • Donna Marshall, CEO, BizLife Solutions;
  • Lidia Pawlikowski, Senior Consultant, Health & Wellness at Morneau Shepell; and
  • Danielle Stewart, Service Delivery Consultant, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services.

Why the need for a discussion?

  • 77% of Canadians would not feel comfortable talking about mental health issues at their workplace – Canadian Medical Association (CMA).
  • Mental illness contributes to $51 billion in economic costs each year – CMA.
  • 30 per cent of short and long-term disability claims in Canada are attributed to mental health problems and illnesses – CMA.
  • Mental health conditions were responsible for 47% of all approved disability claims in the federal civil service, almost double the percentage of twenty years earlier – Public Service Alliance of Canada.
  • 62% of ‘extremely stressed’ Canadian workers identified work as their main source of stress – StatsCan/General Social Survey.
  • In any given week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems – Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

These numbers show that mental health challenges in the workplace lead to enormous economic and emotional costs. These findings also reveal a pressing need for dialogue about workplace mental health, as well as potentially difficult conversations between employees and employers.  The panel explores the types of conversations, their impact on individuals, as well as ways to promote a healthy workplace.

Mental illness will impact all of us at some point in our lives, either personally or through a family member, friend or colleague. And 20% of us will live with a diagnosable mental illness.

If not managed well, mental health issues in the workplace can result in absenteeism, tension and conflicts between colleagues, deteriorating employee performance, reduced morale, and even the need for disciplinary action.

The panel discussed ways to ensure that your mental health policies do not just follow a checklist approach to fit standards, but are living, breathing solutions that are embraced by all employees – those with a mental illness and those without.

In her blog on Mental Health: The Connection Between Healthy Minds and Healthy Workplaces (May 5, 2016) for the BCL Consulting Group, Rebecca Ingram writes, “Mental illness and stress affects every workplace, either directly or indirectly. Most people spend the greatest portion of their week in ‘work-mode’, which not only includes the hours actually working, but the time to travel to and from work, and the number of hours at the workplace. It is the aspect of our lives where we have the most unique and broadest spectrum of relationships; the place where we need to be understood and need to understand, to be supported and provide support, to be tolerant, compassionate and kind.”

The National Standard of Canada, titled Psychological health and safety in the workplace – Prevention, promotion and guidance to staged implementation (January 2013) was designed to help organizations and their employees improve workplace mental health and safety. The Standard provides information and assistance with the development of policy, planning, implementation, evaluation, corrective action, management review and continual improvement of a Psychological Health and Safety Management System. It is focused on promoting employees’ mental health and preventing psychological harm due to workplace factors, including:

  • Identifying psychological hazards in the workplace
  • Assessing and controlling workplace risks associated with unavoidable hazards
  • Implementing practices that promote and support workplace psychological health and safety
  • Growing a culture that promotes and supports psychological health and safety in the workplace
  • Implementing a measurement and review system to ensure sustainability

Ingram notes, “A positive approach to psychological health and safety in the workplace can result in increased employee engagement, enhanced productivity and a decrease in time loss and sick leave, ultimately improving a financial ‘bottom line’ for organizations, reducing the demand on the healthcare system and most importantly, contributing to the overall mental well-being of employees. “  She recommends these simple Bell Let’s Talk tips as a starting point:

  • Pay attention to the words you use
  • Educate yourself about the facts and myths surrounding mental illness
  • Be kind. Even saying, ‘Hi’, or small acts of kindness can make a difference
  • Learn to listen. Sometimes that is all someone needs
  • Talk about it. Not about them but mental illness in general. Starting a dialogue can make mental illness part of normal conversation

The Université Laval, through their Chair in Occupation Health and Safety (OHS) Management, has a series of three practical booklets, with analysis and exercises, to address stress and mental health issues in the workplace, available for download here.

  • Booklet 1:  Scope of the Problem:  How Workplace Stress is Shown
  • Booklet 2:  What Causes the Problem:  The Sources of Workplace Stress
  • Booklet 3:  Solving the Problem:  Preventing Stress in the Workplace

Healthy Minds Canada