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How to use the 3 E model for workplace mental health management

It is estimated that mental health claims have risen by 75% since 2019, and 12 billion working days are lost globally every year, to depression and anxiety, at a cost of one trillion USD in lost productivity.

Statistics Canada suggests the most common cause of work-related stress is workload, which impacts about 24% of workers, followed by 16% concerned about balancing the demands of work and personal lives. The World Health Organization cites additional factors, including:

  • Under-use of skills or being under-skilled for the work

  • Excessive workloads or work pace, understaffing

  • Long, unsocial or inflexible hours

  • Lack of control over job design or workload

  • Unsafe or poor physical working conditions

  • Organizational culture that enables negative behaviours

  • Limited support from colleagues or authoritarian supervision

  • Violence, harassment or bullying

  • Discrimination and exclusion

  • Unclear job role

  • Under or over-promotion

  • Job insecurity, inadequate pay, or poor investment in career development

  • Conflicting home/work demands

When you add stressors outside of work, such as the aftermath of the pandemic, financial insecurity, and family issues, to name just a few, it’s easy to see why this is such a significant risk for employers.

Strategies for minimizing workplace mental health claims

The Canadian government estimates that over 17% of reported illness or injury claims for EI are due to stress, anxiety, or mental health issues, second to injury, surgery, and disease. Benefits Canada reported that, in 2022, more than 33% of all disability claims by employers who provide short- and long-term disability were due to mental illness. 

Not surprisingly, many leaders are exploring strategies to mitigate this significant risk.

The 3E model 

To do this, I often recommend the 3E Model to clients. This Model focuses on environment, education, exit and entrance to enhance the employee experience and manage mental illness disability claims. 


As leaders, we can control the way work is organized, help employees have positive and constructive interpersonal interactions with peers, customers, and leaders, and provide resources and equipment to help every individual succeed. Ultimately, we should be committed to creating a positive employee experience to help people flourish and mitigate the risk of mental health-related claims.

Ask yourself and your leadership team these questions:

  • How effective is your approach to protecting workers from mental harm and promoting mental health?

  • How do you objectively define and measure the success of your mental health and employee experience initiatives? 

If you’re not sure, or you don’t feel that the mechanisms you have in place are effective, these steps can help you get started: 

  1. Assess employees’ work experience— When workload is managed effectively, it feels right and invigorates employees. However, when demand outstrips capacity and workload becomes overwhelming, it will start to drain employees and can lead to more significant mental health issues.  Take the temperature in your workplace. Conduct one-on-one interviews or focus groups, or use assessments such as the WPSA to find out how employees are feeling and evaluate the effectiveness of policies, processes, workload management, and support programs to determine whether they are used, understood, and valued.

  2. Design or redesign based on what you learned — If you ask these questions, you must be prepared to respond. If you gather information and do nothing, employees will feel you’re not committed to their well-being. Use insights to problem-solve, make decisions, terminate ineffective programs, budget for new ones, reassess and set realistic expectations and goals. Be clear that you are not trying to boil the ocean. Take a focused approach. Doing less well is often better than trying to do too much.

  3. Plan-Do-Check-Act —  Implementing a PDCA approach will enhance useage and perceived value of new or redesigned intiiatives. On top of ensuring you communicate regularly and follow change management best practices, it will increase the likelihood that information and resources translate into healthy habits that mitigate mental harm and help employees flourish. 


Early access to mental health support programs can help prevent disability claims. Ensure all workers know about the mental health resources and supports you offer. Employees should know how to access workplace support and community programs, how the EFAP program works, and be aware of prevention programs to help them develop coping skills. 

 Ask yourself and your leadership team these questions:

  • What mental health supports (e.g., EFAP, psychological health benefits coverage) do you have, and how do you inform and educate employees about the available supports? 

  • Do employees understand how to access support and realize that conversations and information they share are confidential?

Communicating and educating employees early and often is critical. In addition to eliminating confusion and uncertainty, your openness and encouragement will break down stigma and fear so they can access help quickly and efficiently when they need it.

Exit and entrance

Stigma and feeling like an outsider are common challenges when returning to the workplace. You should have exit and entrance plans in place that ensure employees feel connected when they are away from work, and supported by leadership and their peers when they are ready to return. 

Ask yourself and your leadership team these questions:

  • What is the plan to support employees who must go off work to deal with mental health concerns, and do you have a plan in place for their return? 

  • How do you evaluate employees’ experience with disability management and return-to-work programs? 

  • What are you doing to help employees who take time off work get the support they need to get well?

The size of an organization is often a factor in workplace mental health claim management. Many small businesses do not have short or long-term disability management programs. As a result, employees who are taking time away from work to deal with a mental health concern must navigate the public mental health system while they are trying to get better, which can be overwhelming. To address this, small business employers can provide a playbook with information about public mental services, such as CMHA, and community-based resources (e.g., substance use treatment and gambling support).

Ensure leaders and teammates are prepared and clear about expectations in supporting peers who are returning to work, whether for mental illness, cancer, surgery, or pregnancy. Employees should also understand that accommodations may be in place.

Manage workload realistically. A gradual return to workload and other accommodations (e.g., half days) may help a worker get back on track at a pace that does not create harm.

All employees should know that time away from work will be treated confidentially, with respect and support based on individual needs. Ensure everyone understands the importance of being helpful, professional, and supportive so employees returning to the workplace feel psychologically safe, included, welcomed, and supported. There can be no tolerance for oppression, omission, or incivility. 

Tackling this issue doesn’t require us to be workplace mental health experts. However, we must recognize the important role we play in controlling workplace factors, encouraging healthy habits to mitigate the risk of harm and mental health claims, and helping those who are or have been unwell so they can return to feeling healthy, strong and flourishing at work.

Get to know the authors – Dr. Bill Howatt