What if someone told you they had a way to increase recruitment and retention, increase employee engagement, increase sustainability, increase health and safety, decrease disability claims, decrease grievances, and decrease absenteeism?
What if they told you that if you didn’t do whatever it was they were talking about, you could risk legal liability?
That’s quite a carrot, isn’t it? And the stick is nothing to sneeze at, either!
What we’re talking about, of course, is employee mental health. While it’s true that today the risk of legal liability is unclear, the Mental Health Commission of Canada has the following to say about the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace released in 2013:
“While the Standard remains voluntary for organizations to adopt, it would be prudent for employers to act as though there is a duty of care to provide a psychologically safe workplace by all reasonable means, and to view the implementation of the Standard as a way to help in discharging this duty. The risk of legal liability is real for employers that ignore strong evidence about foreseeably harmful mental health consequences of their actions.”
The stats are alarming:
- One in three workplace disability claims are related to mental illness
- 70% of disability costs are attributed to mental illness
- In any given year, one in five people in Canada experience a mental health problem or illness.
- Mental health problems and illnesses account for more than $6 billion in lost productivity costs due to absenteeism and presenteeism.
- 47% of working Canadians agree that their work and place of work is the most stressful part of their day and life.
- Workplace stress impacts other areas of people’s lives, such as their marriage or relationship, their sleep, and their physical health.
Count the people in your plant and then do the math: of the 10 people that you see most often every day, two of them are likely experiencing a mental health problem. What can you do to help them?
Dr. Mohsan Beg, speaking at our May 15 SIG in the Windsor consortium, compares a mental illness continuum to a health continuum. At one end you have a healthy and normal functioning person. The next stage is a person reacting to their environment; their distress is common and reversible. From the perspective of physical health, you might have a person with a bruise or a cold. From the perspective of mental health, you might have a person who is irritable or forgetful. These two stages respond well to self care and social support. From here you proceed to stages that require professional care because there is significant functional impairment. At the third stage of the continuum, injury, a physically injured person might have a broken arm, for example. The person in the corresponding stage of the mental health continuum might display anger or decreased performance. The final stage is illness. This is a clinical disorder with severe and persistent functional impairment. Physically you might have a person with cancer. On the mental health continuum, the person might experience panic attacks or significant disturbances in their thinking.
What can you do?
Dr. Beg told the group that our first challenge is to fight the human tendency to under-react. Mental health is worthy of a reaction and we should make the effort to step out of our comfort zone. The first thing to do is to notice that there has been a change from the baseline behaviour of a person. Once you notice the change, mention it to the person, but not like you’re the police! Ask if there’s something going on. You don’t need to have the perfect words; 75% of the communication is nonverbal. It’s how you say it, not what you say. If you can’t do it – find someone who can.
At an organizational level, look into the National Standard, and explore the 13 psychosocial workplace factors that are outlined in that document. The Standard is very practical and offers specific advice on how to improve those workplace factors to create a psychologically safe workplace.
As you can imagine, Dr. Beg offered many more suggestions, examples, and guidelines for promoting mental health in the workplace. The best place to be to get all the details is at the SIG!
Many thanks to our host, Laval International. Special thanks to our presenter, Dr. Mohsan Beg, Director of the Student Counseling Centre at the University of Windsor.