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Making a Difference: Mental Health in the Workplace

by Mike Sullivan Cubic Health | July 14 2016

There has been a growing focus on mental health in the workplace in recent years. More and more, employers are implementing programs that train leaders in the workplace to recognize signs of stress, anxiety and depression in their team members. Supervisors are being trained to handle signs of mental distress in an appropriate and supportive manner with the aim to have the employee seek help from a healthcare professional when needed. These are important first steps towards an environment where people feel they can talk openly about mental health. It all starts by supporting colleagues so they can resume happy, healthy and productive lives.

A Case Study of Success

GE Canada provides us with a great example of how to effectively establish workplace supports around mental health. They have implemented a comprehensive mental health strategy and communications campaign branded Our Minds Our Health, which highlights what can be done at an employee level. Here are a few insights into their plan:

  • Leadership involvement and education opportunities for all. For their strategy to be a success, GE knew the key was getting their leaders on board. From there, different levels of in-person and online training were provided to all staff. The initial focus was on educating employees about the science of mental health to help eliminate stigma.
  • Regular communication with employees. Constant information throughout the work week is distributed to employees, promoting the various ways they can access help and resources. An example of this is distributing monthly program updates in the GE company newsletter.
  • Increase access to resources. Promoting resources like GE’s Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) and other workshops and tools proved to have a positive influence in the workplace. They have seen usage double since implementing their strategy. GE’s now working on completely restructuring short-term and long-term disability and reviewing all HR policies to ensure that they are aligned with the new direction and strategy. Something GE’s noticed is that employees feel empowered to take initiative and reach out for help more so than before implementing Our Minds Our Health.
  • Employee-organized supports. Employees implemented support groups—managed at the company’s head office—and created the Mental Health Ally program, which is a peer support program that guides employees in need to appropriate resources. Employees volunteer to serve as allies and participate in a training program. Volunteer contact information is posted throughout the company so their peers can reach out directly for help.

Because mental health impacts everyone, GE’s strategy is about engaging employees and volunteers in open discussion. What GE has learned is that people are passionate about helping and their secret to success is ensuring the initiatives are employee driven.

The Impact of Small Changes

GE has seen a profound impact already, with more than a 20 per cent reduction in mental health absenteeism since GE launched its mental health strategy. Perhaps we can begin thinking differently about mental health in the workplace by following GE’s lead: starting with its people, from the roots of the company, and branching out from there. Moving forward, the organization will continue to focus on ensuring their workplace culture is mentally healthy and safe for all employees.

This is one of many positive examples of impactful ways to bring a mental health program into the workplace. Think of ways your team can support one another and start by implementing one small change. It could be the beginning of something incredible!

Mike Sullivan

As president and co-founder of Cubic Health—a leader in benefit plan sustainability management—Mike uses detailed analytics and his background in pharmacy to design more cost effective and robust benefit plans for his clients. Despite his crippling fear of all forms of dance, 'Sully,' as he is quite originally called, is the one you want on the floor when you have a truckload of benefit plan usage data to analyze. Because you never really know when that skill will come in handy.