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It’s time to get ahead of the curve on this one…

If your workplace does not already have an up-to-date mental wellness policy, now would be a really good time to start developing and implementing one – and I’ll tell you why. Sure, we can make the case that it’s just the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do.

The fact is that having a working policy on mental health and, more to the point, proactively managing mental health issues in the workplace is most likely going to be a legal requirement at some point. You can do yourself and your workplace a lot of good by getting ahead of the curve and doing it now, bringing everyone on board now, taking the time to get everyone comfortable with the idea and the process – and not having to scramble to catch up later.

The timing is right, too, during winter blues season when everyone is talking about wellness and mental health.

We’ve seen a lot of legislative changes – think Bill 148 that came into effect on January 1st – and I don’t think we’re anywhere near the end of new mandated changes yet. Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn has stated, “A psychologically healthy workplace is one that actively works to prevent harm to worker psychological health, including negligent, reckless, or intentional ways, and promotes psychological well-being.” (Yes, there’s an election coming up in a few months, but the trends seem to be in this direction regardless.)

Well, okay then. But where to start?

I think that a good place to start – and I’ve cited this before, because I think it’s really useful and to-the-point – is with an assessment tool from CivicAction’s “MindsMatter” program. (This is a project from the Mental Health Commission of Canada, funded by Health Canada.)

This is a very short survey, really. It starts with four simple questions – does your organization provide employees with information on mental well-being, do you engage employees in related activities, do you provide education, are managers trained – and goes from there. You can do it in about two minutes, and it will point you in the direction you need to go to develop a sound working strategy.

Another really useful tool to tell you where you stand and where you ought to be going, is a standard – yes, there is a widely recognized standard – from the CSA, the Canada Standards Association. CAN/CSA-Z1003 – “Psychological health and safety in the workplace – Prevention, promotion and guidance to staged implementation,” will give you almost a template on how to move forward and what you need to achieve. Think of it as the gold standard, to be adapted to the specific needs of your industry and your workplace, as well as the particular needs of your employees.

We’ve talked quite a bit in the past about what it takes to make a sound policy that will work, and that will be widely accepted by everyone in the workplace. Those elements include all of

  • Clearly stated goals and objectives;
  • Clearly demonstrated commitment from senior management;
  • Employee involvement;
  • Promotion and information through all company communications channels;
  • Training for supervisors and managers;
  • Effective implementation; and,
  • Review, feedback and mid-course corrections as needed.

I know that one of the big issues for most of us is simply getting past the barriers that stand in the way of talking about mental health. I’ve talked about that in a previous blog, but the bottom line in getting over the barriers to talking about mental health is simply to start talking about mental health.

And, incidentally, if you start the process now, before you strictly have to, it will be a lot easier to get the buy-in you need than it would if you were doing it only because of a legal requirement.

So let’s put it on the table and start to deal with it.

You know, for those of us working in the benefits management business at a high level, where we see the big picture of claims and issues across a large number of workplaces in a wide range of industries, the trends are pretty clear. Issues such as claims, absenteeism, worker retention, morale, productivity – the whole range of what we deal with – are increasingly linked to a common denominator of workplace wellness and psychological well-being.

This is an issue we all need to get out in front of as soon as we possibly can.

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