Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

Mental health in the workplace continues to be a major focus, especially as businesses continue to deal with labour shortages and adapt to hybrid work models.

 

“You have to prioritize it,” says Robyn Schwarz, Fund Development, Advocacy, and Communications Lead at Porchlight Counselling Addictions Services in Cambridge. “You have to see it as something you need to learn, the same way you need to learn anything else to grow your business.”

 

Despite the fact the pandemic is considered a thing of the past, she says for some fears and concerns surrounding COVID-19 – especially for those with ongoing health issues - continue to impact their mental health.

 

“I like to think the pandemic really escalated a lot of stressors and acted almost like a catalyst for things that were already just under the surface in our lives,” says Robyn, referring to it as “collective trauma” for the community in general.

 

She says for working parents who had to find ways to support their children through school lockdowns while trying to balance their work life, it has proven particularly hard as they face rising costs. In fact, according to a recent Wellbeing Waterloo Region report Cambridge residents, despite having lower income levels, work more hours to make ends meet. The report shows 6.2% work 55 hours a week or more at than their main job and a 28.3% of respondents work 20 or more hours a week at a second job.

 

“I think as a community, we’re trying to figure out what do our lives look after this while also really struggling cognitively with our brains,” says Robyn.

 

As a result, she says it’s important for employers to be able to read the signs an employee may be dealing with mental health issues.

 

“Looking at different behavioural changes can be really helpful,” says Robyn, noting that sudden tardiness, anger issues, or signs often associated with being a ‘bad’ employee could really indicate a mental health concern. “A mental health issue is one of those things that shows up so different with everyone and we all have different understandings of what emotional dysregulation look likes.”

 

As well, she says addiction issues could also be a byproduct as employees try to find ways to cope with anxiety and depression.

 

“A couple of things we’re hearing in the community is an increase in normalized addictions because many people were at home during the pandemic,” she says, referring to alcohol consumption. “That is something we’ve been really concerned about because it’s something you can hide really easily until it becomes life or death.”

 

As a result, she says creating a supportive workplace environment through trust and open communication is important for an employee to address their mental health issues.

 

“It’s all about finding ways to build those spaces into your work and obviously, every workplace is different. There is no one ‘right’ way to do this,” says Robyn. “It’s about knowing how to talk about mental health and being able to communicate that in a kind and compassionate way. Many employers themselves are also under stress and when an employee knows that they can mutually support each other.”

 

She says just sending employees emails with links to mental health resources isn’t enough, and in fact, could exacerbate the situation.

 

“In that case, you’re putting the onus on your employee to do something that they might not even have the capacity to do and you’re also creating a situation where they feel you’re actually giving them more work to do.”

 

Finding resources can be difficult, says Robyn, noting that private therapy in Canada can cost between $160 to $250 an hour, and that on average between six to 10 sessions are usually needed for a person to make any progress.

 

“Most benefit packages I know, unless you work for a very large corporation, cover perhaps $500 a year,” she says, adding Porchlight, which offers a variety of services, is a good place to discover local resources. “The system right now is a great big puzzle and is very confusing, so an organization like ours we can do the heavy lifting for people to help them access affordable mental health and addictions support.”

 

 

Recommendations from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s Mental Wellness in the Workplace: A Playbook for SMEs

 

Develop a comprehensive mental health strategy

•    Develop a mental health strategy that is linked to your EDI strategy.
•    Measure baseline workforce mental health through qualitative (e.g., regular pulse checks and surveys) and quantitative measures (e.g., absenteeism, presenteeism, short- and long-term disability, etc.).
•    Set specific performance targets based on baseline data and the unique needs of your organization and employees.
•    Monitor progress to assess whether intended outcomes were achieved and what steps are needed to improve psychological health and safety.

 

Build a psychologically healthy and safe workplace culture

•    Invest in mental health training to ensure leaders can recognize distress and support employees.
•    Pay attention to the quality of social connections and consider team building options (that adhere to public health guidelines) to foster camaraderie.
•    Encourage employees to practice self-care that includes daily relaxation to decrease stress and healthy habits (e.g., adequate sleep, exercise, etc.).
•    Consider small gestures of appreciation (e.g., a gift card or simple “thank you”), which can impact someone’s day.
•    Consider building a mental health committee or peer support program.

 

Communicate widely, regularly, and effectively

•    Encourage leaders to model open and authentic communication about their mental health challenges – to reduce stigma and encourage employees to seek support.
•    Create spaces for conversation between leaders and employees to share how they feel, check-in with one another, and build a sense of community.
•    Repeat key messages throughout the year to create lasting cultural change and using various formats (e.g., team meetings, posters, etc.)

 

Ensure adequate resources and supports for employees and their families

•    Ensure supports are varied, visible, and accessible – in-person and virtually.
•    Invest in leaders’ wellbeing so they can provide support to employees.
•    Support employees along the full continuum of mental health – from prevention to early intervention to recovery.
•    Review your company’s health plan with your benefits administrator to examine what supports you currently provide and what could be added.

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