Last spring, the Mental Health Commission of Canada launched the country’s first ever mental health strategy.
Called Changing Direction, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada, it had 100 recommendations grouped into six strategic goals. One of those goals is promoting mental health, and in the workplace a key component of that involves training managers in how to deal with employees who have mental-health issues.
Consider that one in four Canadians suffers from depression, anxiety, substance abuse or other mental health disorders, but only six percent seek or receive treatment. Also, one in five working Canadians experiences a stress-related illness each year, and over half of all illness days are due to mental illness. What’s more, the duration of absence for a physical disability increases two to three times when accompanied by depression, according to the Conference Board of Canada.
While mental health is a big concern in both the public and private sectors, there is less commitment and engagement from senior management in the public sector. Clearly, organizations must look at the root causes of mental health in the workplace, and managers should get a handle on it. In fact, organizations might consider making their training mandatory to raise awareness about mental health in the workplace, to break the stigma of this subject among employees, and to promote a systematic approach to develop and sustain a psychologically healthy and safe workplace.
There is lots of data about this issue, and the public sector does not emerge unscathed. APEX (the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada) has reported that executive health issues cost the government $100 million in lost productivity every year, representing 10 to 15 percent of executive payroll. APEX conducts regular surveys and its 2007 survey, involving over 2,000 executives, presented some trends:
• More sick days taken annually (3.4 days in 1997 and 4.3 days in 2007)
• More executives with chronic health conditions treated and/or diagnosed each year (4% in 2002 and 7% in 2007)
• More hours worked (81% worked over 40 hrs/week in 1997 and 95% in 2007).
The 2007 survey showed that 64% of executives said they thought of leaving their organization every month if not more frequently, 75% reported a high range of fatigue, 24% said they had been verbally harassed or tormented in the previous year, while only 12% said the organization supported them in improving their health.
The survey concluded that key areas for future exploration were “mental health, stress and burnout, reason for wanting to leave the organization, and work environment.” The 2007 survey also showed an increasing trend of more work group conflicts for executives, which is often a sure sign of a mental health issue.
Managers should be on the lookout for changes in employee behaviour. Indeed, when a top performer stops performing, it usually means something is wrong. Here is a checklist of what may indicate a mental-health problem:
• Missed deadlines;
• Reduced productivity and quality of work;
• Absent or late more frequently;
• Reduced participation in social events;
• Anxiety, lower concentration, forgetfulness; and
• Complaints about aches and pains.
Last May, Morneau Shepell ran a series of webcasts during Mental Health Week that focused on the 5Rs of Workplace Mental Health – Resilience, Recognizing Risk, Recovery, Return to Work, and Removing the Stigma. Managers in the public sector, and senior management who write policies and procedures, can get a start on the mental health file by doing the following:
• Get commitment by senior management confirmed in a policy statement;
• Conduct a risk-assessment and risk evaluation, and employee-engagement surveys;
• Prioritize risks by analyzing the data using qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods to get reliable data on rates of absenteeism and turnover, short-term and long-term disability, and costs, etc.;
• Based on priorities, define objectives and targets for prevention and risk mitigation interventions and tactics;
• Provide mental health training for those who have people reporting to them; and
• Develop a model for mental-health management that includes three phases – pre-diagnosis, disability assistance and return to work.
When so many people are under-performing because of a mental health problem, managers must take action.
Claudine Ducharme is partner, Health and Benefits Consulting Services, for Morneau Shepell. She is on a technical committee developing standards for psychological and health safety in the workplace for the Canadian Standards Association.