Managers have a key role in the prevention of mental health problems in the workplace by identifying signs and symptoms and encouraging the employee to seek appropriate resources.
Early intervention strategies
Some early intervention strategies include:
1- Know your stats:
We know that 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime (Canadian Mental Health Association). There may be several employees in an organization at any time who are experiencing mental health difficulties or a mental health disorder.
2- Be proactive:
Look out for uncharacteristic behaviour. If you have identified such behaviour or unexplained performance changes, invite the employee to a discussion. Prepare for this meeting by reaching out to human resources for advice, and making sure you understand the purpose of the meeting and the confidentiality constraints. Evaluate the situation and keep an open mind. Offer resources, such as information about your Employee and Family Assistance Program. Ensure you follow up with the employee in a respectful manner.
3- Know your policies and procedures:
Disability management and duty to accommodate are special areas and human resources or a disability management department can provide guidance about how to handle an absence and facilitate a safe return to work.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health issues
Managers often have difficulty understanding the signs and symptoms of potential mental health conditions. Although there are many different conditions, with each having its own characteristic symptoms, there are behaviours that can signal something may be going on that warrants taking action to help the employee reach out to appropriate resources. These are some examples of behaviour to look out for:
- Unexplained difficulty in making decisions or remembering things
- Coming to work late
- Frequent absences
- Difficulty reaching deadlines and making excuses for missing deadlines
- Decline in dependability
- Inability to cooperate with others
- Decreased productivity
- Being prone to accidents
- Unusual increase in errors at work
- Lack of enthusiasm in work that seemed to be pleasurable
- Displays of anger or irritability if the employee used to be more calm and easy going
Mental illness is the leading cause of disability claims in Canada and is expected to grow.1 To help employers respond to this challenge, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) championed the development and release of of the first voluntary National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard).
The new national Standard encourages employers to identify, assess, and mitigate risks at the workplace that may impact an employee’s psychological health and wellbeing.
The convergence of recent legal with existing scientific evidence provided an impetus for the development of this Standard. Organizations are increasingly realizing that a psychologically healthy and safe workplace allows them to contain costs, manage risks and recruit and maintain talent.
Roadmap for psychological safety
Although employers are often interested in improving psychological health and safety, they may find it hard to plan and organize effective action. The national Standard includes a list of 13 workplace factors that have the biggest potential to foster a psychologically healthy workplace.
Working with specialized physical and mental healthcare providers, Manulife kicked off five ground-breaking pilot programs to explore new treatment options that could make a real difference in the lives of our plan members.
Manulife partnered with researchers from three Canadian universities to identify the risk factors within the workplace that lead to major mental health issues and provide employers insights into creating a safe, healthy and productive work environment.
A three-year national Case Study Research Project, co-sponsored by Manulife, to better understand how workplaces of all sizes and sectors across Canada are implementing the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.
Return-to-work strategies for employees with mental health conditions
Dr. Georgia Pomaki, leader of the Mental Health Specialists Team at Manulife, describes some of the challenges surrounding employees with mental disorders, and best practices for employers to use when helping an employee return to work.