Mental health: A guide to best practices in the workplace

About 500,000 Canadians are unable to work each week for reasons linked to their mental health. Mental health problems are the major cause of absenteeism and disability in Canada, accounting for 30 – 40% of short- and long-term disability claims as well as being a major cause of presenteeism.

The indirect costs to the Canadian economy of mental health problems have been estimated at  $6.3 billion annually, and this figure is likely to skyrocket with COVID-19. In 2020, Relief saw a 30% increase in requests for support from people living with anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.

Canadian companies can’t afford to ignore the high cost of mental health problems. Mental health disorders in the workplace cost them nearly 14% of their net annual profits and up to $16 billion annually.  The inverse is also true: promoting employee well-being – an admirable goal in itself – can boost productivity by 13%.

This is a win-win situation, with employees who are happier and employers who benefit from their increased productivity. It’s also important to note that while employers and employees all reap the benefits of mental health, they also share the responsibility to promote it, with tools and strategies available to everyone to promote mental health in the workplace.

Mental health and employees: improving mental balance at work

By adopting daily habits and strategies, employees can take charge of their own mental health, improve their well-being, and improve their mental balance at work. This active participation in their own well-being is called self-management — an approach that complements psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy and is fundamental to the services offered by Relief.

The following three self-management strategies can be adopted by employees (and employers, too!):

1- Identify your early warning signals

Knowing yourself well is essential to managing your symptoms of anxiety, depression, or bipolarity as soon as the first warning signs appear. A mood journal can be used to keep track of your daily activities and mood changes.

Every day, record your activities (meetings, lunchtime walks, after-work drinks), notable events (insomnia, alcohol consumption, conflicts at work, preparing for presentations), and mood changes on a scale from -5 (very bad) to +5 (very positive), with 0 being neutral. A mood graph can then be used to record your average mood each day and chart your monthly mood swings.

This will help you to identify behaviour that either help or hurt your well-being so you can make choices promoting your mental health.

2- Deactivate your perception filters

Thinking twice about the way we perceive things can be an effective strategy for improving our relationships with colleagues and clients and our mental health at work. The influence of filters on our interpretation of events can be compared to the effect of wearing tinted glasses, which can distort the way we see things when we’re feeling less well.

There are nine types of filter, including taking things personally (It’s my fault that sales are down), jumping to conclusions (My boss asked to see me – I must have done something wrong!) and overgeneralizing (My colleague made a negative comment. I must not be cut out for this kind of work!)

Becoming aware of your filters and their influence on your perceptions can help you deactivate them, reducing their impact on your mental health and replacing them with more logical interpretations.

3- Develop strategies to better manage stress at work

Almost 40% of Quebec employees report feeling major stress at work. Prolonged or repeated stress can make you more vulnerable to mood and anxiety disorders or accelerate their development. It’s thus important to develop strategies to eliminate or manage stress to preserve your mental health.

There are many strategies for managing stress, but here’s a four-step approach:   

  1. Learn to recognize the signs and causes of your stress
  2. Identify stress management strategies that are based on action (how can I reduce the causes of my stress?), on perceptions (how can I see this situation differently?) and on accumulated tension (how can I reduce my accumulated tension – through sports or relaxation techniques, for example?)
  3. Implement these stress-management strategies, and
  4. Evaluate their effectiveness.

Mental health and employers: a worthwhile investment

Whatever strategies are adopted by employees to promote their mental health, their mental balance and well-being at work cannot be achieved without the support of employers, managers, and senior executives.

  1. Create a stress-free environment: It’s up to employers to create an environment that eliminates or minimizes their employees’ stress, or at least doesn’t aggravate it (excessive workloads, exclusion from decision-making, lack of stability or opportunities for advancement, lack of recognition, workplace conflicts, ambiguous roles, etc.)
  2. Use a standard: The  National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard) is a set of guidelines, tools, and resources to help organizations promote mental health at work.
  3. Invest in mental health programs: Leadership training, return-to-work programs, Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAP), psychological care benefits, and more. Bell Canada and its Let’s Talk program are often cited as prime examples of the benefits of investing in employee mental health. Since founding its program in 2010, Bell has reported a positive return on its investment.
  4. Make mental health a core part of your company’s culture: Benefits and perks such as free lunches, on-site gyms, and unlimited vacation days can be a source of satisfaction, but it’s often superficial. It’s only by adopting a holistic approach to mental health and granting it a prominent position in the corporate culture (values and practices, programs and policies, decision-making procedures, etc.) that a company can really promote its employees’ well-being.

According to Deloitte,“(…) demonstrating a commitment to employees’ mental health and well-being is becoming central to positioning the company as one that employees, customers, and society at large are proud to support.”

The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal strives to support its members by giving them access to mental health services developed through its partnership with Bell, which is actively involved in promoting mental health through its Let’s Talk program. This initiative has been made possible in collaboration with Relief, an organization that supports people living with anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.

About the author
Relief is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support people living with anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, and their loved ones, to enable them to keep moving forward. Relief would like to thank  Charles Saliba-Couture for his assistance in writing this blog post.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal. As a result, the Chamber cannot be held responsible for published content.

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