GE Canada’s mental health strategy: saving minds and resources

Jun 13, 2017

GEIn 2013, GE Canada launched its Our Minds, Our Health mental health strategy. Its vision: to create a nurturing, stigma-free, respectful and trusting work environment for almost 7,000 employees located in major manufacturing facilities and sales and service locations across the country.

Just four years later, the company has generated dramatic benefits: an astonishing reduction in absenteeism due to psychological disability, millions of dollars saved in long-term disability costs, improved manager skills, and greater employee engagement. And these are preliminary results.

How did GE Canada accomplish this feat? Sandra Neale, GE Canada's service excellence leader, shared the company's 3-step strategy at WSPS' recent Partners in Prevention conference and trade show. Neale also offered personal insights for firms starting their own journey to improve workplace mental health.

3-step strategy

  1. Get leadership buy-in and train managers. "We showed all of the costs associated with an employee having a mental health illness. It was about our long- and short-term disability claims, drug claims, and costs for psychological illness," said Neale. The company put managers through face-to-face training so they could develop an understanding of mental health issues and practice talking about these issues with their employees.

    To gauge where the company currently stood, GE Canada relied on CSA standard Z1003-13 - Psychological health and safety. Organizational assessments looked at policies, procedures and tone, from both employee and manager perspectives.

    GE Canada also conducted a comprehensive Guarding Minds at Work survey.* "It's about 60 questions that relate to 13 psychosocial risk factors, everything from workload management to balance to leadership and commitment," explained Neale. "We compared survey results [from each location], and it was really enlightening," said Neale.
  2. Embed throughout the organization. GE Canada applied a multi-pronged approach:
    • communications, in part "to try to change our day-to-day dialogues," said Neale. Among the tools is a dedicated Our Minds… Our Health website where employees can find information and resources, monthly infographics, and Mental Health Week initiatives,
    • education and training, provided to all employees via e-learning,
    • the formation of teams of mental health champions and allies, trained to promote mental health, lead local initiatives and provide confidential support to employees. "Just the fact that the employees knew that they had a mental health ally in their building helped decrease stigma.",
    • a review of company benefits and policies, including disability management, to find ways to support the mental health strategy.
  3. Create a mentally healthy, supportive culture. "Step 3 is looking at the leadership behaviours, and how we're responding to mental illness in the workplace," explained Neale. This step also looks at employee coping skills and sustainability. A resiliency training pilot program was undertaken last year. "It has been really well received by employees, so we'll be expanding that in 2017-2018," said Neale.

    Neale's tips

    Neale has three tips for those who are starting from scratch.

    • Buy-in is key to a mental health strategy. "Once you get that initial buy-in from leadership to do something in your organization, there is a lot you can do," said Neale. "You can find those managers and leaders who are really heroes in this space, and use them to generate that same level of support for their employees."
    • When you are doing your organizational assessments, "don't just get the HR people or the EHS people. Seek input from a variety of people, at all different levels within the organization."
    • Engage employees. "See what they want, but also what they need. Where are those areas where you need to help more?"

How WSPS can help

WSPS mental health consultants can help you raise awareness and reduce stigma, develop mental health policies and programs, and implement CSA standard Z1003-13 - Psychological health and safety. Call Customer Care to find out more: 1-877-494-WSPS (9777).

Train your employees to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental disorders and provide appropriate assistance with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) (2 days).

We also offer these one hour e-courses:

* Guarding Minds @ Work (GM@W) is a comprehensive set of free resources developed by researchers from the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction within the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University.