Flight Centre Travel Group’s efforts to support employee mental health amid the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a win at Benefits Canada’s 2023 Workplace Benefits Awards on Oct. 20.

The travel company won in the Mental-health program category for companies with fewer than 1,000 employees for its Healthwise program, which includes a focus on mental and emotional health. “We’re super excited,” says Anna Fisher, the organization’s health and wellness director. “It’s great to be recognized for some of the things we’re doing and to know we’re doing a good job [supporting employee mental health].”

Read: Employers taking holistic approach to mental health as coronavirus pandemic wanes: expert

Flight Centre’s programming focuses on maintaining mental well-being to cope during challenging times as well as to prevent stress. The pandemic was a particularly stressful time for employees, as customers cancelled or altered plans in the wake of ongoing travel restrictions.

“[The pandemic] was a struggle, both for furloughed employees and for those who kept working — there were no commissions coming in, it was all refunds or exchanges or people trying to get out of places quickly,” says Fisher. “It took a big toll on our people and we’re still recovering, but things are definitely better than they were.”

In 2022, as part of its Canadian Mental Health Week initiatives, Flight Centre launched its ‘Encouraging the Conversation’ podcast, in which the company’s employees — including Fisher — share their experiences to help reduce stigma.

The company also encourages workers to disconnect when needed, encouraging them to set clear boundaries and to step away from work when they’re out of the office or on vacation. It also offers onsite wellness amenities such as a meditation room at its Toronto head office.

Read: Expert panel: How storytelling can support employee mental health

To ensure new employees receive mental-health support from their first day, Flight Centre hosts monthly onboarding sessions that provide resources and cover topics such as the impact of social media, connection and practicing gratitude on mental well-being.

The company also provides its leaders with training to recognize and respond to mental-health warning signs, as well as how to create a work environment that encourages open and honest communication and how to prevent and identify potential workplace emotional triggers.

“We rolled out the [mental-health training program] to give our leaders a bit of confidence and let them know it isn’t all on their shoulders to handle their job plus people who are struggling with mental-health challenges,” says Fisher. “It gives them the knowledge to identify the signs that someone is struggling and then point them to the resources they need.”

Read: 71% of Canadian employees say mental health impacted their ability to work in the past year: survey