Refreshing and re-communicating its mental-health program during the coronavirus pandemic led to 3M Canada’s win at the 2021 Workplace Benefits Awards on Oct. 14.

Back in 2013, the manufacturing company began a journey to “empower employees to refresh, re-energize and feel well,” according to its award entry. However, while the wellness program was effective, the data was telling a different story — its mental-health claims were spiking, up 137 per cent between 2011 and 2016.

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3M Canada conducted focus groups and discovered employees were stressed, burned out and in need of actionable information and programs to support their mental well-being. So it built on its existing mental-health programming by launching a targeted strategy. This included its wellness program, Empowering Healthy Living, which allows staff to track and earn points for healthy behaviours, including mental well-being; set a personal goal and track progress against it; access 20-minute mindfulness sessions; connect to an employee assistance program counsellor; and learn from infographics and videos.

“We did the employee focus groups, listened to what we thought the needs were, where we were maybe lacking in some resources and tools and that’s when we started building a pretty robust mental-health/health and wellness program for them,” says Jacqueline McLennan, benefits specialist at 3M Canada.

During the pandemic, in particular, the organization focused its programming and communications around mental-health support. It promoted the importance of mental health through its town halls and built up a resources guide to ensure employees could find the supports they needed.

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“Our president, Penny Wise, is extremely supportive in helping promote all of our mental-health support,” says McLennan. “So every town hall, there was always time allotted to reiterate and promote those tools and resources available to our employees. . . . We ended up putting together an employee guide of everything and how you access it, so it made it a really good, easy reference — a one-stop-shop guide for our employees.”

Many of the mental-health programs and tools that have carried 3M Canada through this tumultuous time were implemented long before the global pandemic was declared almost 20 months ago. This includes mental-health training for managers and mental-health and resiliency training for all members of staff.

In addition, during the pandemic, the company’s existing mental-health strategy helped make it simpler to mobilize and expand its resources to address emerging and pandemic-specific mental-health issues. While mental health was the cause of 13 per cent of short-term disability cases pre-pandemic, mental-health cases dropped to 10 per cent in 2020. And last year, mental health wasn’t even in the top three categories of the company’s disability program.

“We have a lot of preventative programs already in place for our employees to utilize and also those programs that are available, like DepressionCare and InfluenceCare, to try to prevent them from feeling like they have to go off sick,” says McLennan. “A lot of times, that actually helped the employees not actually go off sick — they were dealing with it before they were feeling like they couldn’t go to work.”

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