Aligning a mental-health strategy with an organization’s business values is key to ensuring the program has a long-term impact on employees and the company, according to one employer.

“From our perspective, aligning with one of your strongest values, whether it’s safety or cost savings, and demonstrating how you can align with that and leverage what’s already going on, was a really quick win for us,” said Lisa McCarney-Warus, workplace mental-health specialist at Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc., during a panel discussion at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s annual conference in Toronto on Tuesday.

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Since Enbridge introduced its first mental-health campaign in May 2013, it has built its strategy under the umbrella of safety, which is one of its key priorities. “We have an incredibly strong safety culture,” said McCarney-Warus. “We start every meeting in the organization with more than two people with a safety moment. So we started creating mental-health safety moments.”

A key milestone for the organization was changing its safety strategy to include both physical and mental-health safety. “We viewed that as a really key milestone because we recognized that would maintain the focus on an ongoing basis, regardless of staff changes or other things that happen in the organization.”

The panel discussion focused on three employers’ implementation of the national standard of Canada for psychological health and safety in the workplace. Christine Devine, wellness specialist at Michael Garron Hospital, said her organization’s move towards better mental health in the workplace started when it took a broad scan of the inherent risks of working in a health-care setting, such as on-the-job violence and a trauma-infused environment.

Read: Michael Garron Hospital wins mental-health award for holistic approach

“Then it was constantly gauging what our employees were saying and then reminding them or communicating to them how we listened and what we had implemented as a result of their feedback,” said Devine, noting the hospital has brought in a number of programs, including emotional intelligence training for all new employees. “It is a very clear message from the organization. This is the way we expect people to treat each other and communicate, and that’s set on Day 1.”

Today, there isn’t a conversation with senior leadership at Michael Garron Hospital that doesn’t ask how it may affect staff, noted Devine. “The standard . . . gives us a wider lens to appreciate the stresses people are under and to acknowledge the fact that we bring our whole selves to work. And our whole self is who takes care of the patient. So the health of our health-care provider directly correlates to our quality of care that we can provide.”

Read: Panel discussion: How to support employees with PTSD

At Bernardi Human Resource Law LLP, the adoption of the national standard has helped its lawyers become more enlightened in their roles and the advice they give, according to Lauren Bernardi, a lawyer and human resources advisor who also spoke on the panel.

“I’ve seen, certainly from a culture perspective, we’re much more collaborative and engaged and there’s more of a team focus,” she said. The law firm has also introduced the Canadian Mental Health Association‘s Mental Health Works program, so all of its lawyers received training on understanding mental-health issues. “For all of the lawyers in the firm, I think there’s a shift in the lens through which we see these problems,” said Bernardi.

For Enbridge, one of the biggest changes has been in its benefits package, said McCarney-Warus, noting the organization added cognitive behavioural therapy to its employee assistance program. It also learned, through survey results, that its employees didn’t know a lot about the benefits available to them. “So we spent some time actively promoting those and educating our employees about them,” she said.

“We already had fairly high use, but we actually saw a 26 per cent increase in that one year in the use of our program. Our goal was not just to have people call when they were suffering or in crisis but use it regularly so you were moving that barrier to accessing help when you need it. That’s something we’re continuing to do and expand across our organization.”

Read: What you don’t know about your employee assistance program

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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