Leaders brainstorm strategies for addressing mental health in the workplace

Jun 07, 2016

BrainstormAt a roundtable event in 2015, members of the CEO Health + Safety Leadership Network ranked stress, workplace violence and mental health as top hazards in their workplaces. Their experience is consistent with other Canadian businesses. Mental health problems are the number one cause of disability in Canada.

The latest roundtable, a sold-out event held in April in conjunction with WSPS' Partners in Prevention 2016 Health & Safety Conference & Trade Show, focused on identifying actions and commitments to address mental health in the workplace. The event brought together CEOs, operational leaders and other executives who belong to the CEO Health + Safety Leadership Network - a group of executives who are stepping beyond the bounds of their own organizations to spur health and safety transformation on a larger scale.

Kevin Hong of the Vancouver Airport Authority kicked things off by giving participants an overview of the award-winning health and safety culture in his workplace. Last year, YVR received the inaugural Canada's Best Health + Safety Culture Award at the Canada's Safest Employers Awards presentation in October.

Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn followed up with an impassioned call to action, urging participants to treat mental health as seriously as physical health and safety. He challenged them to consider what they could do to prevent harm to workers' psychological health and well-being in their workplaces.

WSPS Director of Business and Market Strategy Kiran Kapoor shared mental health statistics and insights gleaned from a variety of studies. She noted that one in three Canadians suffers or has suffered from a mental health condition, and yet only 23% feel comfortable talking to their employer about it.

She called on the group to consider how they might translate knowledge into action, pointing to leadership commitment, training "people managers" adequately, and talking openly to de-stigmatize the issue as important strategies. She also reminded them that managing mental health in the workplace is different from protecting workers' physical safety. The end goal isn’t necessarily elimination of a hazard; it's about making a long-term commitment to invest in a psychologically healthy and safe workplace.

"At WSPS, we're just like you. Psychological health and safety is a top hazard in our workplace. That's why we've made a commitment to create a culture that supports both physical and mental health and safety. We're not perfect, but were passionate about creating this culture and that's why we're on this journey."

The people in the room didn't need much coaxing. They too are passionate about this issue. Many already have programs in place, but were at the event because they want to do more.

After the formal presentations, each table worked through a series of questions that included writing a personal commitment statement and then sharing possible actions that would help bring that commitment to life. They also brainstormed the most significant barriers they would need to address. High on the list of priorities: creating a safe environment, training managers and staff, identifying and using champions to promote initiatives, and senior leadership commitment and involvement.

Not surprisingly, stigma was universally identified as a barrier, and working to de-stigmatize mental health was a priority for most. Other barriers included limited resources and benefits programs, fear of job loss and difficulty of measuring impact.

The rich conversation and many ideas and strategies that were shared demonstrated, once again, that collaborating with a network of peers can be extremely helpful. Roundtable participants had the opportunity to talk to other leaders facing the same challenges, and hear about what’s working and not working so well, in a safe environment.

Information about mental health and a summary of the discussion will be captured in a white paper, which will be released at the next event, taking place on October 24 in conjunction with the 2016 Canada's Safest Employers Awards. In the interim, check out a comprehensive list of workplace mental health resources.

Find out more about the CEO Health + Safety Leadership Network

  1. Visit CEO Health + Safety Leadership Network to learn about the network’s goals, resources, upcoming events, and more.
  2. Attend a Safety Culture Network, Knowledge & Exchange (NKE) session. These sessions help operational leaders work with their senior leaders on growing capacity and capability within their own organizations. Scheduled dates include June 29 and September 21, at the Centre for Health & Safety Innovation in Mississauga.
  3. If you think a member of your senior management team would be interested in attending the October roundtable, contact Simona Mazat, Lead, CEO Programs, Events & Promotions, WSPS; 905-614-2138; simona.mazat@wsps.ca.