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Let’s Talk: About Mental Health In the Workplace

by: | January 31, 2018

As an official Ambassador for Bell Let’s Talk, today is one of my favourite days of the year. Bell Let’s Talk Day is a chance for Canadians to raise awareness, raise funds, and reduce the stigma associated with mental health. This campaign also acts as a phenomenal catalyst for all of us privileged to be in leadership roles to strive to improve the mental health of our organizations.

For this year’s Bell Let’s Talk Day, I’m recommending four key actions you can take as an HR leader to continue driving positive change.

1. Develop a comprehensive mental health manager training program

Direct managers are on the front lines of ensuring the mental health of their teams, so it’s critical that they’ve received appropriate training. This is simply a must – regardless of the size of your organization or your training budget. We all hope that our managers will always respond with compassion to a team member – but behind that compassion there needs to be education and substantial training.

I remember a specific instance very early in my career when an employee came to me to discuss a mental health issue. Even though I had the best intentions, the truth is I was completely unprepared. It was that helpless feeling of not knowing how to support my team member appropriately that inspired me to begin learning more about mental health issues and to start better understanding my responsibility to do so as a manager.     

Managers must know how to spot the warning signs, how to start a conversation in a non-threatening manner, and of course how to respond if an employee comes to them to disclose an issue.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP) providers offer manager training and so do most insurance carriers. The Canadian Mental Health Association has a number of great resources (such as webinars) available. You can also reach out to your health benefits advisor for suggestions.     

2. Organize conversations that will reduce stigma around mental health

We’re very fortunate to be working in a time where increasingly, employees may feel comfortable disclosing mental health issues to their employer – but there is still lots of work to be done.

In their professional environments, many employees feel compelled to portray themselves as being confident and in control. Revealing a mental health issue is often a very scary and vulnerable experience.

We need to be constantly working to reduce the stigma around mental health issues so that employees feel comfortable seeking help. It’s also critical that their peers be prepared to handle these situations with compassion and understanding.

I’d recommend bringing in a guest speaker or mental health expert to address your employees. Then open the conversation up to the floor and encourage employees (and especially managers) to ask questions, share stories and reinforce that their workplace is a safe space to discuss mental health.

Recently we invited Michael Landsberg to come speak to one of our clients, Sysomos, about mental health and the results were truly inspiring. Their Head of HR said he had never seen his employees discuss mental health as a group, and it was a very powerful experience for all.   

3. Share relevant mental health news throughout the year

While Bell Let’s Talk Day is an excellent way to raise publicity and awareness, the challenge as HR leaders is to ensure that the principles of Let’s Talk are being reinforced in every organization throughout the year. What are some ways you can keep the conversation going? Well, every organization communicates in different ways so you’ll need to determine what’s appropriate.

At League we have a dedicated Slack channel where we share links related to mental health news and initiatives. For example, we recently shared the wonderful story of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health receiving $100 million dollars from an anonymous donor.   

Another example that I felt compelled to share was this story of a woman who sent her manager a note about needing to take a mental health day, and the absolutely amazing response she received from her leader.

Find stories that resonate with you and share them with your organization. It’s also a great idea to encourage your managers to lead the way and use examples to keep the conversation going all year long.

4. Ensure your employees are aware of their resources

Striving to reduce stigma and encourage healthy conversations is a wonderful start, but from a practical standpoint you also need to make sure your employees know how they can receive support. You invest in important resources to protect all aspects of their health, so you’ll want employees to know where to find those resources if they ever need them.

Ensure that every employee knows about their EAP (Employee Assistance Program) and is aware of valuable tools like the mental health hotline. If you do not have a program, provide information about valuable community and telehealth resources. Post information in a prominent area on your employee portal, put up posters in high-traffic areas, and ensure managers are talking about mental health regularly in team meetings and town halls.   

Mental health affects all of our organizations, so it’s our responsibility as leaders to meet the needs of our employees. But today especially let’s band together and raise some money for mental health!

Bell is going to donate 5 cents for each Tweet with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, so share your support, send a Tweet, or feel free to Re-Tweet this one!

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