Making mental health and well-being the foundation of an organization’s culture wields success for employers.

Well before the coronavirus pandemic put mental health in the spotlight, Schneider Electric was taking a proactive approach to psychological safety in the workplace by naming it as a priority and building a culture of inclusion that allows employees to bring their authentic selves to work.

To do this, the organization recognized it would have to thread well-being throughout its workplace culture, says Claire Guichard, vice-president of human resources. While Schneider Electric knew the road to a psychologically safe workplace would be gradual, it also knew the effort would pay off in increased productivity, creativity and innovation.

Read: 60% of Indigenous workers feel psychologically unsafe on the job: survey

There are consequences for organizations that don’t ensure they have a psychologically healthy and safe workplace, says Sarah Jenner, executive director of Mindful Employer Canada. “It affects employers in so many negative ways — in absenteeism, presenteeism, short- and long-term disability, productivity and the way employees interact with each other. But it can also extend to external relationships with clients and customers as well.”

Taking proactive steps

Shifting the discussion from mental health to putting the onus on employers to create a psychologically safe work environment is what we need to be doing — promoting well-being and preventing harm of employees, says Michael Mousseau, national well-being and engagement consultant in Canada at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

By the numbers

62% of Canadian employees said emotional, mental and physical fatigue is their top issue;

37% said they feel unsafe talking about mental health at work;

55% of these respondents cited lack of trust in their employer
as a top reason, followed by embarrassment (50%) and fear of discrimination (40%).

Source: Sun Life Assurance Co. survey, October 2021

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Schneider Electric increased its focus on psychological health and safety by launching a number of programs to help employees manage the subsequent stress and strain. In 2021, it introduced the Not Myself Today digital platform, which provides all staff with tools to help support their mental health and the company’s focus on psychological health.

Read: Expert panel: Preparing a psychologically safe return-to-workplace plan

Not Myself Today empowers employees to acknowledge that “it’s OK to not be OK,” says Guichard. Through the platform, staff gain access to a toolkit that includes learning modules, a mood tracker, ice-breaker discussions, resource sheets, “let’s get talking” scenarios for managers and employees, tools that help managers respond to mental-health concerns, as well as interactive quizzes, videos and webinars.

Schneider Electric also expanded its mental-health coverage in 2020 by doubling the allotted amount per employee, removed the requirement for physician referrals and expanded the list of health-care professionals covered under the plan. The organization is planning to double the coverage amount again in 2022. It also introduced a well-being app, implemented company-wide rest and recharge days, created an online well-being Yammer community and held virtual town hall events focused on mental health.

Leading with social intelligence

The pandemic has given psychological safety a new lens, says Jenner, noting it’s now doubly important for company leaders to be trained on how to manage a team of people with social intelligence, so they can create trust and lead with accountability and inclusiveness.

Read: Focusing on employee experience helping build new, improved work culture

With the return to the workplace set for many employers this year, they’ll have to focus on engaging employees and ensuring they have a voice, which includes creating return-to-office policies that incorporate feedback, she says. “When employees have a voice, they feel safe coming forward and that’s going to have a huge impact on all of an employer’s policies and processes.”

Schneider Electric introduced a mobile polling app that allows employees to measure their mental well-being and track their moods. During monthly meetings, the HR team takes 10 minutes to complete the online poll. Although the results are anonymous, it provides managers with a live barometer of the team’s overall well-being score, says Guichard.

Jenner suggests employers outline the role that managers play in creating a psychologically safe workplace and provide specific levels that team leaders must reach with engagement. This could include measuring managers’ social intelligence to ensure they’re leading with empathy, support and trust management and then holding them accountable if they aren’t.

Read: Q&A with Schneider Electric’s Thierry Miras

“If my employees aren’t happy, that doesn’t make me feel good as a leader,” says Jenner. “If I can tell they’re disappointed in their job roles or that they’re struggling or facing challenges and if I’m not willing to support them to have a healthy work experience, that’s going to affect our programs that we develop and the content we create for clients.”

With different social media resources, an unhealthy workplace is no longer a secret, she adds, which will affect an employer’s ability to recruit talent. Individuals now feel empowered to seek out work environments where they feel they’re creating connections with co-workers and where they’re valued and appreciated.

Guichard agrees. “Companies with leaders that care about mental health and the importance of a psychologically safe space will stand out among the crowd.”

Lauren Bailey is an associate editor at Benefits Canada.