There has been a lot of press regarding employment and its impact on employees’ well-being. There is also a better understanding of how poor mental health can cause harm for employees. Given this increased awareness, more businesses are beginning to prioritize it in their workplace wellness agendas. But yet, very few organizations today have a firm handle on an effective mental health strategy.

When it comes to priorities, whether internal or external, they are fixed by management. Management guide their employees with their behaviours and attitudes on what is important. This type of top-down investment and support is required to bring requisite attention to mental health in the workplace. Progressive organizations now understand that it’s just as important as other wellness initiatives, and are allocating dedicated company time and resources to address it.

Mental health strategy

For too long, mental health hasn’t been addressed because investing in it didn’t reap the same financial rewards as, say, product diversification or expansion plans. But the numbers are now impossible for management to ignore. 500,000 Canadians miss work every week due to mental health problems. It’s costing the economy $51 Billion per year, and employers $6 Billion per year. These costs are now so significant to any business that they can no longer be ignored.

So where to start? Simply placing mental health on your agenda isn’t going to have much of an impact. The commitment to making mental health a priority needs to be shown and promoted boldly. Launch an event, bring in industry expertise in workshops, create company-wide challenges, and integrate the priority to staff at all levels. This means championing team members at different levels of the organization to develop peer support and foster engagement in the company initiative. Finally, it’s providing support where needed. This could mean primary intervention (education and prevention), secondary intervention (screening and peer support programming), or tertiary intervention (employee assistance programming, return to work programming).

The strategic implementation as per above can be followed by actively talking about mental health and promoting awareness across the workforce. Build it into your company ethos, and do it loudly. With annual global and national events such as World Mental Health Day and Bell Let’s Talk Day, you have the opportunity to solidify your company’s position on the topic and re-emphasize how building good mental health is a priority for your business. The point is to walk the walk, and letting employees know that this is a priority in good times, and bad.

How to build a mental health strategy in your workplace

Take action and integrate mental health into your day-to-day working environment. This could include implementing mental health and resilience training into your employee onboarding process. Perhaps it’s revisiting how you handle your absence management procedure, and how to handle return-to-work interviews for staff who have been absent due to mental health. Train managers and co-workers how to best identify and have sensitive conversations with colleagues suffering from poor mental health.

The point is to walk the walk, and letting employees know that this is a priority in good times, and bad.

Building this support and mental health integration into your company strategy will show your staff that it matters to you. All too often, businesses spend thousands of dollars every year on an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) but fail in reminding their staff that counselling and/or guidance is available during times of need. Building reminders and an internal communications calendar can help ensure proper rollout of these programs and help staff remember to use it.

For anyone struggling to build a mental health strategy in their organization, the above steps can be followed as a great starting point.

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