Steve Harvey and Mary Deacon talk mental health in the workplace
People are reluctant to open up about their mental health problems, fearing it may reflect badly on them as employees, says Professor Steve Harvey, dean of the John Molson School of Business.
“If you have pain in your leg and if affects the way you work, it’s not the same as having a mental health problem,” says Harvey, who conducts research on work-related stress, psychological health and well-being, and measures for improving health in the workplace. “With mental health, your identity is affected,” he says. “Mental health problems have been stigmatized. There’s discomfort that goes along with being open about it.”
Left too late, mental health problems can cause prolonged absences from work, and the cost to the economy is staggering. The Mental Health Commission of Canada estimates that problems or illnesses related to mental health cost the Canadian economy in excess of $50 billion per year.
“It’s the single largest category accounting for absences in the workplace,” points out Mary Deacon, chair of the Bell Mental Health Initiative at Bell Canada. “The cost is clear, and now it’s time to act.”
On Thursday, April 18, during the third of four public conversations on aging well sponsored by Concordia and the Globe and Mail, Deacon and Harvey will discuss how researchers, organizations and businesses are tackling issues surrounding mental health in the workplace.
Deacon says Bell launched its mental health initiative after realizing that it was an area in which the company could do more than simply give money to a worthy cause; it could also demonstrate leadership in addressing the stigma surrounding mental health and in tackling issues of mental health in the workplace.
“We felt it was imperative to lead by example,” Deacon says.
Bell threw its support behind the creation of the Voluntary Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, which is designed to help Canadian employers “develop and continuously improve psychologically safe and healthy work environments for their employees.”
Before the standard was even drafted, Bell began implementing training sessions for its managers on mental health. It also launched a pilot project in several departments which took a tactical approach to dealing with return-to-work practices around mental health issues.
The company then evaluated the outcome based on employee satisfaction, length of absence, and relapse rate. The scores were better for all three. “The issue now is to encourage corporations to be early adopters; to identify specific things within the standard that they can do, do them and measure them. They need to make that commitment to continuous review and improvement,” she said.
Harvey says companies should start by developing similar mental health training programs for their managers to those that Bell implemented, and ensuring that they are implemented at all levels. “Many companies have employee assistance programs (EAP),” he said. “But managers and EAPs work best when those managers are trained to identify the symptoms and signals of mental health issues.”
Harvey says each solution is unique to the company that implements it.
“If you have training for managers, top managers should be trained, too,” he says. “They back it up with their presence. Solutions to stress in the workplace are not magical. A starting point is for managers to recognize the potential for problems and to be comfortable enough to discuss them and find solutions for them.”
What: On Mental Health in the Workplace (third event in the Concordia-Globe and Mail conversation series on aging well)
When: Thursday, April 18, 2013, from 7 to 8 p.m.
Where: BMO Auditorium, Room MB-1.210, John Molson School of Business Building (1450 Guy St.), Sir George Williams Campus
Register now and listen to the other conversations. Registration ends April 11.