The organization’s chief mental-health officer discusses sharing lived experiences, a new employee and family assistance program and maintaining his own mountain biking trail.
Q: What top challenges do you face in your role?
A: In a professional services firm, where the demands on people’s time are significant, it can be challenging to find the proper integration for mental-health sessions. We’ve accomplished a lot to break stigma, but in a culturally diverse team, everyone’s starting bar for mental health is different — it’s an ongoing challenge to ensure our employees recognize that so they can be in a better position to support each other. That being said, I don’t see this as a challenge; to me, it’s an opportunity.
Q: What new programs or initiatives are you looking to implement?
A: Since human connection is critical to our mental health, I’d love to implement a network where employees can pick a new friend or confidant in another office with whom they can exchange ideas, feelings and be there for one another. When people recognize their role in the mental-health space — to listen and encourage others to access resources — it becomes easier to be there for one another. Another initiative for this year is to have numerous lived-experience videos on our mental-health portal so employees can find a mental-health ally within the organization. The ability to connect with a colleague who has the same lived experience and has accessed help would be very powerful.
Q: How do you judge the success of a program or initiative?
A: I’m an accountant first so I love numbers, data, analysis and other concrete information I can rely on. In the mental-health space, it can be difficult to have the perfect key performance indicators. Our employee engagement surveys include a number of mental-health questions and our employee and family assistance program utilization, which is always above the industry average, is a big one. In addition, I’m so fortunate in my role to have many employees who allow me into their circles of care — the volume of people reaching out is another way I judge the success of our initiatives. For example, I just visited with our teams in Montreal and I was booked solid for two days of amazing interactions.
Q: What key mental-health issues do you expect in the coming year?
A: One big challenge is the number of Canadians without a family doctor. When I look at this through the lens of mental-health support, it’s a difficult scenario when considering the need for medications and who’s monitoring those medications if an individual is using a walk-in clinic and seeing different medical practitioners each time. Another issue is aligning benefits with providers that offer holistic health services that comprise both mental and physical health. And it’s also important to stay current, since the role of leaders in this space is evolving faster than ever.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?
A: My free time is focused on family and travels in our small recreational vehicle. I enjoy activities like mountain biking, stand-up paddle boarding and downhill skiing. As for hobbies, designing and maintaining my own mountain bike trail, which has more than two kilometres of skinny elevated bridges, rock gardens, berms and even a teeter-totter. This keeps me young and contributes to my mental and physical health.
Q: What’s your favourite employee benefit and why?
A: Hands down, it has to be our brand new EFAP program, which is fully integrated with our $3,000 mental-health coverage to ensure ongoing care. For example, it now includes a clinician who works with employees right away versus an administrative person. You have a choice of clinician to ensure a cultural fit and can also get ongoing care.
Jennifer Paterson is the editor (on leave) of Benefits Canada and the Canadian Investment Review.