Mental Health in the Workplace

Les Wagner with the PEI Chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association was the guest speaker at the West Prince Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Mixer at the Mill River Resort on Jan. 15. Speaking on the topic of Mental Health in the Workplace, Mr Wagner looked at what mental health looks like in the workplace and how supervisors and managers can effectively work with those dealing with mental health problems. Melissa Heald photo

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About a half million people miss work each week because of a mental health related problem, costing the Canadian economy at least $51 billion annually.

Employers see that impact through things like absenteeism, lost productivity and high turnover.

According to a recent survey, only 36 per cent of employees said if they were dealing with a mental health issue they would discuss it with a supervisor or manager at work. “Over 60 per cent of people are not seeking help, said Les Wagner. “Because of stigma and other reasons, they are not going for help in the first place. It’s a real low number who are seeking help and letting their supervisors know.”

Mr Wagner is with the PEI chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and was the guest speaker at the West Prince Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Mixer at the Mill River Resort on Jan. 15.

Speaking on the topic of Mental Health in the Workplace, Mr Wagner looked at what mental health looks like in the workplace and how supervisors and managers can effectively work with those dealing with mental health problems.

“Often times, people don’t know what to do,” he said. “When they don’t know what to do, they usually do nothing. That’s the exact opposite approach that we are advocating because with a little bit support we don’t have to lose good employees because of mental health concerns.”

Mr Wagner said the two most common forms of mental health seen in the workplace is depression and anxiety and mental health problems account for 30 per cent of all disability claims.

“People when they go off on a disability claim related to mental health, they are off as twice as long as people going off on physically disability,” said Mr Wagner.

Stigma, discrimination, limiting work achievements and being treated differently by co-workers were some of the reasons Mr Wagner listed as why employees don’t talk about mental health issues at work.

“Sometimes they are not recognizing they have a mental health problem or they are in denial with it or uncertain about the future and the limitations and that impacts them disclosing,” he added.

Often supervisors or managers don’t act to support an employee dealing with mental health issues because they don’t know how to help that individual, there is a fear of consequences from becoming involved, lack of confidence on how to asset the situation and to address it, a lack of training and a hope the situation will resolve itself, which it typically doesn’t.

“Often times a person who is experiencing a mental health problem in the workplace, it doesn’t get addressed at all,” said Mr Wagner. “Typically, it will get to the point where the person gets fired or the person voluntary leaves work and they quit the job.”

Mr Wagner said having a positive work environment culture contributes to a more effective workplace and improving mental health in the workplace could led to better job satisfaction, improve attendance and improve productivity.

“If there is an accepting and supportive working culture in our workplaces, people are going to feel a greater attachment to their job, and you’re going to have less turnover, less absenteeism, less sick leave, all of those things,” he said.

To help supervisors and managers recognize mental health in the workplace, Mr Wagner said the CMHA has a three-pronged approach they use to train supervisors and managers to deal with mental health in the workplace: Awareness - Responding - Collaborating.

“We need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of mental health problems within our employees,” he said. “We need to know how they typically function so when we see changes we are able to notice those changes. Then we have to respond to what we are seeing and have a conservation with them about we are seeing and then we have to collaborate with the employee.”

One resource Mr Wagner said employers should take advantage of if they are interested in creating policies for mental health in the workplace is a voluntary national standard developed in Canada.

In January 2013 the Mental Health Commission of Canada launched the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, the first of its kind in the world. The standard is a set of voluntary guidelines, tools and resources intended to guide organizations in promoting mental health and preventing psychological harm at work.

“It’s based on the fact that employers have a legal duty to develop and implement policies and programs that ensures a psychological safe workplace,” explained Mr Wagner. “They need to identify, manage and eliminate hazards and risks of psychological harm to employees.”

Information on the standard is available through the Mental Health Commission of Canada website.

Mr Wagner said the local PEI chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association can also help employers find resources for employees and they offer workshops that train supervisor and managers in recognizing mental health concerns in the workplace.

“As employers, we can’t mandate to say you have to receive treatment, you have to go see someone, but we can certainly suggest in a supportive way by letting them know about any resources that we are aware of,” he concluded.

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