As an employer, you’re likely aware of your responsibility to your employees with regards to their total health, but you’re also likely unsure of how to implement a wellness program that will address their needs and the needs of the organization.

Will the cost be beyond your budget? Will you have the resources to pull off such a feat? Should you just focus on physical or mental health and perhaps miss out on the benefits of tackling both areas together? Employees are more likely to take on their physical health risk areas so that seems like the best place to start. Mental health however, is the issue you really need to stay on top of as the employer.

The reality is that you really can’t afford not to address the issue of mental health in the workplace, and here are three reasons why:

  • First, it makes good business sense to focus on positive mental health in the work environment considering that mental illness is the leading cause of short- and long-term disability claims in Canada.
  • Second, it will go a long way toward mitigating the risk of legal action by employees who are increasingly aware of their rights – and the courses of action available to them if they think those rights are being impeded.
  • And finally, the National Standard for Psychological Health & Safety in the Workplace is only a voluntary framework for organizations to execute at this point in time.  However, as there are many supporters for a mandatory implementation, it’s best to address this Standard within your organization while you still have the flexibility to implement components as they fit your current structure and build at your own pace.

Measures addressing your organization’s mental health environment don’t have to be a heavy administrative load or expensive.

You can start by just being aware of the behaviours that influence the work environment and the stigma that poses a barrier to the recognition, acceptance and treatment of mental health issues. Acknowledging its importance in the workplace helps offset the stigma. It sends a message, bolstered through clear, consistent and ongoing communications, that mental health conditions are to be regarded with the same seriousness, attention and care as physical health claims.

Those attitudes should be reinforced in your policies, even if policies are only developed to formalize a process that’s already in place.  Developing or making updates to existing policies to clarify expectations and consequences requires only minimal time and cost commitments. And working on these revised policies poses a great opportunity for you and your employees to talk about mental health issues.

Another thing you can do is equip your managers with the knowledge and the resources to act as effective gatekeepers between employees and employers. They are in a unique position to identify early signs of mental health issues (sluggish or disinterested attitudes, unfocused behaviours, or unusual dishevelment when outside the employee’s usual patterns) and should know how to respond and what resources will help.  Managers can also ensure that “next steps” are taken according to policies and procedures, such as evaluation and treatment by a medical professional and ensuring work allocation, should absences occur.   Managers are key to fostering a workplace that’s positive and supportive for mental health.

Mental health in the workplace can no longer be ignored and it’s recommended that your organization stay ahead of the National Standard for Psychological Health & Safety in the Workplace implementation instead of ending up behind it. Everyone will benefit.