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A New Mindset
Workplaces can't afford to ignore the mental health of employees

About 500,000 Canadians will miss work this week because of a mental illness - a health issue that, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, saps $51 billion in productivity from our national economy every year.

Yet some people still refuse to talk about it. Employees suffer in silence even when treatment programs are available. Employers often dismiss the issue altogether, suggesting that afflicted workers should simply "snap out of it" and focus on their jobs.

Imagine the outcry if any physical illness was treated the same way.

Workplaces that choose to ignore the issue will pay a steep price, if they haven't already. The World Health Organization predicts that, by 2020, mental health will be second only to heart disease as the leading cause of disability. This is hardly welcome news for any business that already faces rising disability claims. Anti-depressants already account for some of the highest prescription-related costs in employee drug plans. And given the increasing focus on the costs of mental health, legislated programs for workplaces can't be too far away.

Consider these strategies to support your employees and protect productivity:

Recognize the early warning signs - Mental illness is not as easy to spot as a physical injury, but there are warning signs. Star employees might suddenly begin to miss time at work. Typically social members of your staff might become withdrawn, or demonstrate outbursts and mood swings. Sudden drops in performance can also be attributed to employees who are worn down by a struggle with depression.

Approach mental illness like any other health issue - Health challenges in the workplace can only be tackled through open discussions. Luckily, we have come a long way in fighting the stigma surrounding mental health. Earlier this month, Canada recognized Mental Health Week. Bell's Let's Talk initiative is promoting the need to talk more openly about mental illness. And the Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade, which I'm proud to chair, recently joined our Burlington counterparts in successfully calling on the Ontario Chamber of Commerce to champion the need for a workplace mental health strategy.

Consider related training for members of the health and safety team - More than 85,000 Canadians have already received Mental Health First Aid Canada training, including 200 companies, organizations and government departments.

Encourage an open-door policy - Employees often suffer in silence, even when Employee Assistance Programs are available to help, because they are worried about showing a sign of weakness. In a 2011 survey, the Conference Board of Canada found that 54% of employees believed they would miss out on a promotion if they told employers about a mental health issue. Open discussions will help to put fears like that to rest.

Take an honest look at how your workplace approaches mental health - There is often a difference between perception and reality. Eighty-two percent of managers told the Conference Board of Canada that their workplaces promoted mental health. This sounds pretty good. But only 30% of employees offered a similar answer.

Top Tips:

  • Recognize the early warning signs. Have there been sudden changes in an employee's mood or performance?
  • Fight the stigma. Encourage managers and employees to treat mental illness like any other health topic in the workplace.
  • Ensure employees know about support available through Employee Assistance Plans.

Copyright Notice

All rights reserved. All of the content herein is the sole property of the Callery Group, and may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system - in whole or in part - without the written permission of the Callery Group. Links to the originating article at www.callerygroup.com are permitted.

The Buzz Bits
Miscellaneous links to interesting benefits information

Mental Health A Workplace Guide: Rogers Media

Recognizing the warning signs of mental distress: Benefits Canada

Changes to out-of-country medical insurance: smallbizadvisor

Psychological Health and Safety - An Action Guide for Employers: Mental Health Commission of Canada

Mental Health Week: Taking action in the workplace

National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace: Mental Health Commission of Canada

Workplace Strategies for Mental Health: Great-West Life

"If today were the last day of my life": Steve Jobs

Community Ethics, Big City Expertise

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