Changing the conversation on mental health
NEW ORLEANS — With no existing standard for how to deal with mental health issues from a workplace perspective, one Canadian employer aimed to tackle the stigma around discussing mental illness, using steps that U.S. employers can follow.
Bell, the telecom giant headquartered in Montreal, has helped change the landscape for mental health in Canada by creating a set of guidelines employers can use as they put in place policies that encourage conversations around mental health.
“When we first went on our journey to establish workplace best practices, we couldn’t find any established guidelines,” Monika Mielnik, senior consultant, human resources, workplace health at Bell, said last week at the Benefits Forum & Expo, hosted by Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser.
So the company helped fund the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety to provide a voluntary set of guidelines, tools and resources employers can use.
There are 13 psychological factors within the guide, ranging from workload management and organizational culture to engagement, recognition and reward, which Mielnik says is “low-hanging fruit” for employers looking for a place to start.
Mielnik offers five steps for employers looking to build a successful program that promotes psychological health in the workplace: Commitment and awareness, support services, mental health training, return to work and accommodation processes, and the ability to measure progress.
Before starting out, Mielnik added, “it’s important to engage individuals across the organization to establish successful mental health initiatives.” Getting executive support and sponsorship, a dedicated mental health leader, and cross-functional involvement are also key.
And while commitment is important, awareness is equally necessary, she added. Bell has three annual campaigns with events aimed at engaging and educating employees across the country to address stigma and create a supportive and inclusive environment: Bell Let’s Talk (January), Mental Health Week (May) and Mental Illness Awareness Week (October).
“Understanding there is stigma and taboo around mental health, we want to make sure our employees are educated and aware of the impact it can have on them, their spouses, and others,” she said.
Bell partnered with digital wellness platform LifeSpeak in 2013 to provide employees with around-the-clock access to tools and assistance programs. In addition, Bell created a dedicated intranet page to provide weekly articles and an on-demand video library.
Bell employees access LifeSpeak 97% of the calendar days, said panelist Danny Weill, VP of partnerships at LifeSpeak. “This has become part of their culture. I like how Bell walks the walk. They do all this amazing stuff in the community, and then they do this stuff in the workplace, which is ultimately good,” he said.
In addition to access, mental health training is a huge part of the culture at Bell.
All employees are required to complete the building blocks to positive mental health training – which includes six interactive modules to help improve and maintain their own mental health.
Further, workplace mental health leadership is mandatory for all leaders within the organization. “This training equips leaders with a better understanding of mental health and [helps them to] be better equipped to have a conversation with employees,” she said. “That has been very key for us.” More than 10,000 leaders have been trained to date.
Part of leadership training includes return-to-work processes, as well as accommodation programs, she noted.
Measuring progress within the organization is an important final component of her five-step plan.
“When we took on this cause in 2010, we did it to make a lasting and significant impact,” she said. Dollars and percentages linked to such things as long- and short-term disability rates, utilization of benefits, etc., can all be measured for success, she added.
Bell noted a positive impact over a two- to three-year period, including a 20% reduction in mental health related short-term disability and a 50% reduction in relapse and reoccurrence rates.
“One key area, and something we did early, is to take a pulse and baseline check with what’s occurring right,” she said. “Look at your short-term claims or any metric results you have that can speak to the mental health area in your workplace.”
There is a misconception that you have to start big and re-create the wheel when it comes to mental health programs, Mielnik said. “Look at metrics and programs in place and either build off or enhance those programs, but that baseline will be good place to start.”