It’s important for employers to create a work environment where mental health is addressed without stigma and with the same level of importance as physical safety, said mental health professionals during a recent conference.
“Construction organizations need to tackle this,” said Dr. Ash Bender of Workplace Insight. “Do you have the policies, the practices and the resources in play. What do you actually know about your employees? One of the most important things we’re really trying to find out on the ground level is what do people think about mental health issues in their workplace? What are their attitudes towards getting help?”
Bender was one of the speakers at the Canadian Construction Association’s virtual conference on March 24. The session was entitled Mental health in the workplace: how to prepare your organization to better support your employees’ mental health. Paul Radkowski, clinical director and CEO of Inward Strong, also provided insight.
Choose a mental health champion
Both Bender and Radkowski said creating a culture of openness in the workplace begins at the top. Bender suggested all organizations, small, medium and large, can start by choosing a mental health champion for the organization.
“A mental health leader within the organization is someone of esteem that is prepared to take on that role of being a true leader,” Bender explained. “Sometimes that means sharing personal stories, that can mean making yourself available, clearly making a commitment to championing this agenda for years to come in a sustainable way.”
Organizations should have a leader that’s willing to put time and resources into supporting mental health, rather than only talking about it on designated days. Mental health topics should be incorporated into occupational health and safety committees and reflected in company policies.
“The big challenge is what you say and what you do as well, so you really stand behind it with your policies,” said Bender. “I would invite every organization to go through and review their policies and see if they are discriminatory in some way.
“I know a lot of organizations have had to look back in retrospect and do an analysis. Have we addressed mental health discrimination in our hiring practices, in our disciplinary practices? Have we provided adequate training to supervisory staff to ensure that they are managing it as a mental health issue and not just as a performance issue?”
Train supervisors and peers in ‘mental health first aid’
Employees need training on how to be mental health leaders. Many organizations have a designated person to respond to physical injury and the same is needed to respond to someone in psychological distress.
“Mental health first aid…is having either a crew member, supervisor or someone in an accessible managerial position trained to respond to employees and colleagues. It could superiors as well who are in distress,” Bender said. “Knowing at least how to engage them, provide some sort of sense of comfort if they are in crisis, knowing where to guide someone towards emergency or crisis services…knowing these are the kinds of supports and resources available in our organization and these are community ones and circling around in making sure those connections are made.”
An important aspect is putting resources to the test to ensure they produce effective outcomes.
“Setting some hard data points around reducing lost time from work, improving the number of people that are accessing treatment, the number of managers trained in mental health initiatives, the size of a peer support program,” is key Bender noted. “Having it data driven is really going to be an important aspect of guiding you. It’s not going to be a perfect system, but it’s going to help drive the direction of where you go.”
Radkowski said the pandemic has put gas in the fire in terms of mental health issues and accelerated issues that existed beforehand. There are many things organizations can do to support workers.
“You want a model of aware, care and share,” said Radkowski. “As an organization be aware, acknowledge that there have been lots of stressors, changes.
“Show a culture of caring. How supportive are your peers and management? And share. If there can be a champion in one’s organization…this really has an impact on culture. You’re normalizing it for your staff, you are modelling for them that it’s OK that you talk about this. You want to share that you have resources available.”
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