There’s growing recognition that workplaces affect mental health, and employers that focus on supporting mental wellness will reap the benefits, according to Heidi Weigand, director of the Centre for the Study of Sport and Health at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Weigand was a co-presenter for “Fostering Mental Wellness in the Workplace: Together We Can Do More,” a recent International Foundation webcast. K. Paul Mackenzie, firefighter and family assistance program coordinator for the Halifax Regional Fire Service, also spoke.

About one in five Canadians will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime, and the statistic is one in four in the United States, Weigand said. “Everyone—all employees—may suffer from some sort of work- and family-related stress that’s going to impact their well-being and performance,” she said.

When it comes to mental health, the bias in the past was toward thinking individuals should fix their own problems, but that’s changing, Weigand said.

[Upcoming Webcast: Mindfulness: The Link Between Wellness and Mental Health, Thursday, October 29]

Decisions from workers’ compensation boards and courts increasingly hold employers responsible for stress-related disorders. Canada has created psychological health and safety standards for the workplace. “There’s a real emphasis on having an organization take the responsibility to understand the impact of mental health and what role it might be playing in employees’ mental well-being,” Weigand said.

The benefits of doing so extend beyond the individual, she said. Organizations with a positive approach to psychological health and safety will see improved recruitment and retention, employee engagement and productivity. They are more creative and innovative and have higher profit levels, lower disability claims and less absenteeism. Lack of training makes it hard to cultivate a health and safety culture in the workplace, she said. “Leaders have no specific training related to employee mental health. They’ll say, ‘I don’t know what to do. Should I approach that person? Maybe I shouldn’t—I’m going to make it worse’ . . . all the way to, ‘It’s not my job.’”

Weigand offered these tips for leaders:

  1. Smile and say “hi” to show team members they’re valued and respected.
  2. Encourage team members to share their insights and ideas.
  3. Be flexible and, if possible, allow employees to create work schedules that fit their lives.
  4. Remain consistent in decision making and employee evaluation.
  5. Promote healthy living by organizing team activities, encouraging breaks and rewarding healthy choices.
  6. Lead by example by focusing on your own health.

“The reality is that leaders have an incredible opportunity to influence mental wellness,” she said.

View the full “Fostering Mental Wellness in the Workplace: Together We Can Do More” webcast on demand. All webcasts are now free for International Foundation and International Society members! 

Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS

Editor, Publications at the International Foundation

Favorite Foundation service/product: Benefits Magazine and Plans & Trusts

Benefits related topics that interest her most: Financial literacy, health and wellness programs

Favorite Foundation conference moment: Hearing attendees sing “O, Canada” at Canadian Annual in addition to hearing the anthem sung in both French and English.

Personal Insight: Whether she’s collecting information for a magazine story or hanging out with her family and friends, you know Kathy is fully engaged. Her listening ear and introspective nature provide reassuring presence to those enjoying her company.

1 Comment

  1. Abélia

    I find it very interesting that there is growing research that workplaces often affect mental health. We see why finding the a job and a workplace you love would be important. I like that employers are taking more steps to help their employees overcome their mental blocks. Thank you for sharing this article on how to improve workplace mental health.

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