Case study: Bell Canada trains leaders in mental health

When it comes to tackling mental health issues, Bell Canada is one organization that’s putting its money where its mouth is. Its annual Let’s Talk campaign is aimed at reducing the stigma of mental health—and, since 2010, it has committed more than $67.5 million for mental health initiatives.

With respect to workplace mental health, Bell realized that it needed to lead by example. Moreover, there was a good business case for doing so: the Mental Health Commission of Canada estimates that 500,000 Canadians miss work due to some form of mental illness every week.

Lucie Dutil, vice-president, HR, with Bell Canada, describes the company’s initial pledge to better workplace health as a little daunting. “We realized that there were no workplace best practices in mental health. An important part of our work is to develop and integrate those best practices into Bell. We knew from Day 1 that was going to be a long-term investment and that change would take time. After two-and-a-half years, we can already see a big difference at Bell.”

Bell’s initial focus was on training for leaders: understanding mental health; reducing stigma; recognizing the early signs; identifying the dos and don’ts; and knowing when and how to reach out for help. To date, more than 4,000 Bell people leaders have gone through the program.

The mandatory training was so successful that Bell went even further. “Leader demand for deeper knowledge, along with more practical scenarios, was one of the reasons Bell decided to extend the coaching. The other reason was to ensure that Bell was meeting the requirements of the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace,” says Dutil.

Bell has partnered with Queen’s University and Morneau Shepell to launch the Mental Health Workplace Training program, the first university- certified workplace mental health training program aligned with the National Standard. This enhanced program—available to all employers and their employees—builds on the previous training with three modules aimed at extending the scope and influence of Bell leaders by giving them additional skills, strategies and resources. Outcomes of the new training include leaders developing coaching skills and effective management practices focused on early intervention, recovery and return to work. All Bell team leaders are required to complete the first two modules. Upon completion of the optional third module, participants receive a certificate from Queen’s.

While Bell has made considerable progress in increasing awareness and reducing stigma, Dutil emphasizes that there is more to be done. “But together, we can make a difference. The training changes the way our leaders face these situations—they are more empathetic and manage efficiently and uniformly across the organization, and they are better equipped to support our employees. This is a critical step in addressing workplace mental health effectively.”

Paula Allen is vice-president, research and integrative solutions, with Morneau Shepell.

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