Taking an active role in employee mental health
By Bob Chrismas
Mental health challenges touch almost every Canadian. We all have a loved one or colleague dealing with mental health issues. One or more of your work colleagues, or employees are likely suffering, often in silence. Research finds over 20 per cent of workers have mental health challenges. Over 500,000 Canadians cannot work because of mental health issues.
Employers can only gain by helping to look after the mental health of their workforce. Improving employee mental health can reduce sick-time usage and increase productivity. Employers should consider what causes stress, support employee resilience, and have inclusive plans. We need to reduce ongoing stress, as well as crisis moments and trauma that can occur in any workplace.
What plans do you have in place for employee well-being if your workplace was to burn down or get robbed? How are you identifying causes of stress and employees’ response to it? We need to consider not only what occurs in the workplace but also the silent baggage that many carry to work. All these factors can affect the employee in the workplace. We now understand that in the past, we did far too little.
The signs and symptoms of stress and mental health issues are diverse. I will not even attempt to list them in this brief article. Money spent to assess and identify issues will have a high return on investment.
Some of the most obvious workplace stressors are also opportunities to improve. The first is showing we are aware and care. Promote mental health awareness. Assess resources and help employees understand and access them. Provide training for managers and front-line staff. Ask employees for input and show transparency in addressing their concerns. Sometimes we can reduce stress and improve morale at no more cost. It could be as simple as adjusting shift schedules or showing flexibility.
Identifying issues can sometimes be more difficult than it sounds. Employers can educate themselves on the common causes of stress. Develop processes to identify when staff is having difficulties. It could be as simple as well-being checks. Discuss decreased performance, increased complaints, or sick time usage. Sometimes there is a cause that we can fix.
Employees should know where they stand. Employers can improve this through open communication. Team meetings to highlight and raise awareness of processes and resources can help.
Management and employees should all be familiar with the process for post-traumatic events. They should know what to expect after a robbery or the death of a co-worker. It should not be only for drastic events.
I am reminded of a police psychologist who once said to me: Everyone experiences post-traumatic stress. Only some develop into full-blown disorders.
Employees also have a role to play in their own well-being. Management should remind them of the importance of relationships. Encourage them to practice mindfulness. Support and encourage physical health and resilient emotional well-being. Bringing in a yoga instructor or meditation leader for a lunch break can go a long way. Consider installing workout equipment and offering time to use it. We can remind employees about positive lifestyles, and work-home balance.
Most of this resonates as common sense. The reality is it does not happen on its own. It takes a deliberate effort and sensitivity to people’s well-being.
Bob Chrismas MPS, Ph.D. is a post-doctoral fellow with the Canadian Institute of Public Safety Research and Treatment. His current research focuses on mental health resources for emergency service personnel. Bob has served in law enforcement for over 35 years with a diverse policing career. Bob has published four books and many articles on justice-related issues. Learn more about Bob at BChrismas.com