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Beyond Programs: Mentally Healthy Workplace Practices

by Jocelyn Plakas-Lock ASEBP | July 19 2018

I recently had the opportunity to speak on ASEBP’s approach to mental health in the workplace at the Conference Board of Canada’s Mentally Healthy Workplace workshop. While preparing for this talk, I realized that mental health in the workplace is really about moving beyond isolated programs so that it’s integrated with everything we do.

Leading by Example

For a workplace to be mentally healthy, leaders have to have “skin in the game,” as they say. Leaders need to agree to operate in ways that align with psychological safety. They need to show up at events or activities promoting health and they need to allocate the resources (people, time and money) to support health initiatives and healthy workplace practices. Leaders also need to ensure that organizational policies align with values around mental health. This goes beyond traditional occupational health and safety policies and includes any policy that addresses the 13 psychosocial factors outlined in Guarding Minds at Work

Corporate Culture

Peter Drucker once said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Deb Connors added, “and it eats programs and services for lunch.” Mental health isn’t a checklist, offering a single program or activity to check the box and walk away from. It’s about ensuring that the workplace culture is one of trust, integrity, fairness, caring and, hopefully, fun! Within this context, activities and programs can be vitally important, tangible reminders of what it means to live our values and bring our culture to life. And remember, if they don’t align, there won’t be lasting impact.

Psychological Support

Having leaders and coworkers that are supportive of one another contributes to both a positive, inclusive culture and to ensuring people feel psychologically supported at work. Organizations can build capacity for this by accessing tools and resources like Mental Health First Aid and Not Myself Today. This can be further enhanced through formal programs like Employee and Family Assistance Programs and adequate psychology coverage in their health care benefits.

Human Resource Practices

To be a mentally healthy organization, who we hire and how we do our work are critically important. When hiring, ensure you have a good understanding of the cognitive and emotional demands of the job and that the individual you hire has the appropriate interpersonal and emotional competencies to manage these demands. Orient new employees and provide refreshers on values around civility and respect in the workplace. Invest in learning and development. Celebrate and recognize people, including both personal and professional successes.

Taking the Next Steps

Some of you might ask why, in a world of budgetary constraints, should we invest in this? The short answer is because it’s a strong strategic decision that will help you achieve your organizational goals, is good for your bottom line and is the right thing to do for your staff and colleagues.

A few years ago, Google conducted a study called Project Aristotle. They used all sorts of analytics that looked at everything from the experience of teams to management traits to how teams interacted—you name it. Long story short, they found that the most significant factor in the team’s relative performance came down to psychological safety. Of course, there were other things that had influence on project outcomes but psychological safety was the biggest differentiator.

When we create the space for people to be their best selves at work, through a combination of our human resource practices, our leadership and the activities and opportunities we offer, we create a psychologically safe workplace with a culture that lets people thrive. Healthy people working in a mentally healthy environment are more productive; they show up, they contribute and they do their best work. Simply put, it can be transformational!

Jocelyn Plakas-Lock

As ASEBP’s chief operating officer, 'JPL' (as she is affectionately known) has a vast wealth of knowledge and experience in health promotion with a focus on mental health issues. While she is a great support in this area, JPL is, sadly, utterly unable to execute a cartwheel—a flaw she more than offsets by being a baker of the finest chocolate cupcakes on the planet.